The black and tan sundae is an ice cream sundae made with vanilla ice cream and topped with both hot fudge and caramel topping. It is usually given an extra topping of both almonds and whipped cream, before being garnished with a cherry. You’ll find the black and tan sundae in most traditional ice cream parlors. There are numerous traditions as to where the sundae was first made; claims to creation of the first ice cream sundae are mostly made by folks from Ithaca, New York, and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Variants of the original sundae, wherever it was first made, soon emerged in plenty, and the black and tan sundae has been one of the most popular. It is the most ordered sundae at Fenton’s ice-cream parlor in Oakland, CA, which has been making the sundaes since the early 20th century.
Though the black and tan sundae may reference the colors of chocolate and caramel, there are several more explanations for the name. First, a black and tan can be a drink of mixed stout and ale (typically Guinness Stout® and pale ale), popular in Ireland and the UK. Ice cream parlors in the US owe at least some of their popularity to Prohibition. If you couldn’t drink alcohol because of lack of availability, you could at least eat ice cream. Thus the black and tan sundae may be a suggested alternative to the Irish black and tan, or half and half as it is sometimes called.
There’s unfortunately a seamier side to the name black and tan, which Ben & Jerry’s® found out when they created their Black & Tan Ice Cream flavor in the mid 2000s. Though the ice cream flavor was created to celebrate all things Irish, and actually contains stout ice cream combined with chocolate, some Irish and Irish Americans were exceptionally angered or insulted by the reference. British paramilitary forces called Black and Tans were used to squelch the Irish War of Independence in the 1920s. These soldiers were notoriously brutal, and attacked not just fighters but also towns and innocents. They are despised by many Irish for their brutality. Some Irish had a laugh at the ice cream flavor, and at the black and tan sundae in general, but many were not amused.
Perhaps due to this unfortunate portion of Irish history, you may see the black and tan sundae listed as a turtle sundae. Typically though, turtle sundaes, and turtle candy contain either peanuts or pecans instead of almonds. You’ll certainly find black and tan sundaes topped with a variety of different nuts, and some ice cream parlors differ on whether or not to heat the caramel sauce as well as the hot fudge. Others serve the sundae with room temperature chocolate and caramel sauce and omit both hot fudge and hot caramel.