Weekend Plans: The Layered Beer or How to Drink Science!

Half and Half image from One Perfect Bite

I have decided that I am going to create a new feature, obviously titled Weekend Plans to post on Friday in anticipation of the weekend. Considering my love for food, beers, cocktails and other such beverages, I hope to introduce you to something new to try over the weekend. For my premiere post I have chosen to talk about one of my favorite creations, the layered beer. Because… beer is awesome.Layered beers are at once loved and hated among beer drinkers. You have those who think mixing beers is an abomination (and rightly so considering some of the concoctions that have been attempted by brave and stupid souls.) Then you have those like myself who believe the right combination can unlock hidden wonders and make for an interesting and enjoyable experience.

Unlike the cocktail, the key to a good layered beer (in the American style) is to make sure the two beers mix as little as possible and instead create two distinct layers. This is where science comes in (geeksquee!).

Look kids, this is what science looks like! This is what science looks like.

For the amateur bartender (like myself) the most important factor is going to be relative density. This is why one of the most common beers for layering is Guinness (although other porters and stouts can be used), due to the relative density between Guinness and most lagers. An experienced hand can layer two beers of very close relative densities, but I’m just not that good.

When pouring, I have found the best way is to use a tool called a Black and Tan spoon (aptly named after the most famous of layered beers). But, with a little practice a regular large spoon will do in a pinch. So start with the more dense beer (usually the lighter in color like a lager or pale ale) and fill the glass about half way or to taste.

This is my current favorite tool for the job – Image courtesy of  www.thegreenhead.com

After it has had a moment to settle, take your spoon and place it over the center of the glass with the curved side up (upside down) and pour your less dense beer (often a porter) slowly over the top. The spoon will disperse the beer causing less surface pressure on the bottom layer of beer. Again, let the beer settle, and you should have yourself a tasty and beautiful indulgence.

Now, on to the part you care about, the drinks themselves. As I stated, the most common of the layered beers is the black and tan. Traditionally this is made from Guinness and Bass Pale Ale. I love this beer personally, and will often order it at chain bars where the bartenders can often be of varying experience (I hate telling others how to do their job, so I go with this drink as most bartenders know it by name.) Still, you always run the risk of getting someone who knows what this is, but not how to do it properly. The good news is, even if the beers mix too much, you still have beer! So it is a win.

But it doesn’t end with the Black and Tan. I would argue that the entire point of this is to get a drink that satisfies your personal tastes and wants. So here are just a few of my favorite variations.

The Eclipse – Guinness and Blue Moon: Crisp and refreshing, a Belgian white (wit) like blue moon can add a light wheat finish to your layered beer. This one is also often known as a Black and Blue or Dark Side of the Moon.

Snakebite – Cider and… well, your choice: There are many variations on this drink depending one where you order it. The constant is a hard cider like Woodchuck. Some like it with a dark and light contrast by pairing it with Guinness (many will say this isn’t a Snakebite at all), but I prefer this one with a lager. My current preference is Pear Cider & Kona Longboard Lager.

Black Tire – Guinness and Fat Tire: I discovered this one recently when it was recommended to me at my local Alamo Drafthouse (the best movie theater ever) by a bartender there.

Bottom line, there are probably hundreds of variations out there that can be found all over the internet, and your local bar. So if this is new to you, get out there and broaden your horizons. If not, leave a comment and let us know about your favorite versions of this drink so we can all share in the joy.


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