Sidle up to any pub around St. Patrick’s Day next month and you’re likely to come across patrons ordering pints of pale ale or lager topped with Guinness. The low-density dark beer floats on top, creating the elegantly two-toned concoction known as a Black and Tan in England, its probable country of origin. The Irish are partial to the drink, but prefer to call it a Half and Half, in light of their rather contentious history with the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Forces, often nicknamed the “black and tans” for their uniforms.
“There’s a lot of folklore involved in terms of when the Black and Tan was invented,” says Joe Bisacca, co-founder of Elysian Brewing Company. “Personally, I would guess it came from somebody who wanted to have that last pint of stout, but didn’t want to have something that was so heavy.”
Whatever you call it, the combination of rich, sultry stout cut with a lighter counterpart is delicious and has been a stalwart of our drinking repertoire since it wormed its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 1889. While it may be one of the most famous beer combos, it’s hardly the only one. Chuck Champagne in your Guinness instead of lager and you have a Black Velvet; swap the bubbles for barleywine and you’re holding a Belgian Blacksmith; mix hard cider with your stout and you’ve got a Snakebite. The morning after drinking one too many Irish Car Bombs—that semi-curdled hot mess of Baileys, Guinness, and Irish whiskey you probably chugged in college—you might soothe your hangover with a Redeye made of lager, tomato juice, and Tabasco.
When you blend those two together, the flavor components from the super hoppy IPA and the citrusy pale ale balance each other out. It becomes a different beer than the sum of its parts.”
American pubs and breweries hardly have a monopoly on the concept. German drinkers may be uptight about their Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity laws, but once the brewing process is over, they get downright sacrilegious. On a summer day in a Bavarian beer garden, you’ll find locals downing liters of Radler, lager with lemonade, or ordering a Schmutziges, “dirty one,” laced with Coca-Cola.
“There’s a long history of blending beers, but not all blends work out,” Bisacca says. “It’s a lot of trial and error.”
Trial and error is how Bisacca and his coworkers stumbled across a rather ingenious combo. One evening, the team was hanging around in the cellar having a few after-work beers. They mixed together Space Dust, an American imperial-style IPA, and Superfuzz, a blood orange pale ale, and lo and behold, the Fuzzduster was born.
“It was just one of those chocolate-and-peanut-butter Reese's eureka moments,” Bisacca says. “When you blend those two together, the flavor components from the super hoppy IPA and the citrusy pale ale balance each other out. It becomes a different beer than the sum of its parts.”
Before long, the Fuzzduster was the cool thing to order at internal events. Word of mouth spread and bartenders around the Seattle area started to offer it.
“It caught on pretty fast. I think part of what made it cool was the fact that participation was required. I would never bottle Fuzzduster. You can’t pour a pint of Fuzzduster,” Bisacca says. That being said, there’s nothing to stop you from pouring the two beers into a one-pint glass in the comfort of your home, as many members of the brewing community have taken to doing. “What makes it fun is that you have to actually blend it together, that’s why it took off in pubs.”
This wasn’t the first time that the Elysian brew-wizards got creative with their low-lift beer cocktails. A Lindemans Kriek Belgian lambic adds a fruity kick to Elysian’s Dragonstooth Oatmeal Stout, for instance. For the time being, the brewers are content to sip their Fuzzdusters, but there’s no telling what new alchemy the future might bring.
“We’ve been kind of experimenting since Fuzzduster caught on to see what else might blend well,” Bisacca says. “I think the result should be at least as good as what you started with, if not better. Plus, it’s fun to play with your beer.”