The Ben and Jerry’s Flavor that Left a Bad Taste Behind

When it comes to experimenting with flavors of ice cream, none are as aggressive or creative as the people at Ben and Jerry’s. They once had movie theater-themed ice cream called “Peanuts! Popcorn!” — it was “caramel ice cream with white fudge-covered caramel popcorn, toffee-coated peanuts, and a caramel swirl” per the package — for example. That flavor was a limited run in 2000 and hasn’t been back since, but it probably tasted pretty good. Not all flavors are winners, though; take “Peanut Butter and Jelly” a riff on the classic sandwich, for example. This mash of “peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter bits and strawberry jelly,” per Ben and Jerry’s website, debuted in 1989 and went away in 1990 — people just didn’t like the taste.

And then, there’s “Black & Tan” — the ice cream so bad, Ben & Jerry’s felt compelled to apologize.

That flavor combo, as noted in the pint above, is “cream stout ice cream swirled with chocolate ice cream.” The name, flavors, and look are an homage to a different type of pint — a beer cocktail known in most of the English-speaking world as a Black and Tan. The drink is made by taking two types of beer, one pale (the tan) and the other dark (the black) and layering the latter onto the former. Because the pale beers used have a higher density than the stout used as the dark beer, if you pour the stout slowly into a glass that is already half-filled with pale ale, you’ll end up with two distinct bands of beer, as seen below.

That’s what Ben and Jerry’s was trying to recapture… but in ice cream form.

How did it taste? That’s unclear — because few people tried it. The product was controversial almost immediately when it first hit freezers in 2006 in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. (That link goes to their press release and also shows a cross-section of the ice cream if you’re interested.) And no, it had little to do with the idea of making beer-inspired ice cream. It had to do with the name.

The drink pictured, again, is known in most of the English-speaking world as a Black and Tan — but that word “most” is important. In Ireland, they call it the Half and Half. That’s because “Black and Tan” has another meaning there — one associated with violence and civil strife.

In 1919, Ireland and its then-master state, the United Kingdom, engaged in a bitter guerrilla war as Ireland tried to gain independence. They succeeded in seceding and the conflict came to a close, officially, in July of 1921. But during the hostilities, the UK needed more men to police Ireland than they had already enlisted, so the UK recruited temporary constables to supplement the regular police force. Acting under color of law, these men tended to be more aggressive than they should have been; per Wikipedia, they “became infamous for their attacks on civilians and civilian property.” Which is to say, in Ireland, this police force was not only hated, but also seen as evidence (to the Irish at least) of the cruelty of the UK toward its people.

So what does that have to do with ice cream and beer?

These ad hoc police officers didn’t have uniforms — there weren’t enough to go around — so the government did the best they could with what they had. And what they had were a lot of surplus constable tops — dark green, to the point of appearing nearly black — and extra khaki pants used by soldiers in World War I. The paramilitary force earned a nickname from their attire; they became known as the Black and Tans. The phrase, ever since, has drawn the ire of the Irish.

If that’s news to you, don’t feel too bad — it was news to Ben and Jerry’s, too. They thought the term only referred to the drink; they had forgotten that it has a very negative, violent connotation in Ireland. And that ultimately doomed the flavor. As Ben and Jerry’s page of “flavor flops” explains, “Irish ice cream fans reminded us of the unsavory connection, and we apologized.” As the flavor was a St. Patrick’s Day stunt, the company felt it was best to pull the product from freezers.

Bonus fact: Ben and Jerry’s isn’t alone in evoking the ire of the Irish due to a “black and tan” product. Six years after the ice cream failure, Nike had one of their own. They came out with the “Nike SB Dunk Low” — see it here — which similarly had the two-tone design, and which they informally called the “black and tan.” The Washington Post reported that Nike similarly apologized for the unintentional error (but Nike did not remove the shoe from shelves).

From the Archives: Prawo Jazdy: Ireland’s Worst Driver. It’s not his fault, though.