Champagne is wonderful, Guinness is great. But if you put them together?
It reads terribly on paper. It looks like a drink thrown together at dumb o’clock by hapless, drunken ogres possessed of an unquenchable thirst — one that must be satisfied whatever the cost: “Oh! Look! We have Guinness. We have champagne! Let us defy the rules of the natural world and raise from the depths of despair a griffinesque monstrosity of a beverage.”
Yes, the Black Velvet cocktail is one of equal parts Guinness and champagne. It does sound terrible on paper. But it’s rather good if it’s done right. Don’t believe the hype? Mix one for yourself, or avail yourself of one at Bar Margaux in Melbourne when you can.
The story goes that the Black Velvet was created at the Brooks Club in London on the day after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, died in 1861.
What we do know is that this imperious combination of equal parts Guinness and champagne is one that, in Europe in the 1890s and up to at least the 1930s, also goes by the name Bismarck. Under that moniker the drink appeared in Frank Newman’s French-language cocktail book, The American Bar; in Frank Meier’s The Artistry of Mixing Drinks from 1936 the two drinks are linked.
Meier’s book asks for the drink to be made over ice in tumbler glass, but we prefer the way they do it at Bar Margaux: served up, in a flute.
To the uninitiated, even the mere mention of these two ingredients co-mingling in a glass can inspire disgust. I mean, Guinness isn’t for everyone, is it? And the idea of splashing some bubbles about it doesn’t make intuitive sense. But if you do like Guiness, and you like champagne, chances are you're going to love this drink.
And like life itself, the Black Velvet tastes best when you use good champagne. Sure, it’s not a cheap drink — it wasn’t back in the 1800s either, when old timey bartender Harry Johnson wrote about the drink (which he called Champagne Velvet), that “it is rather an expensive drink, but a good one.”
Too right, Harry.
Black Velvet cocktail recipe
- one part Guiness
- one part champagne
- Ensure both ingredients are well chilled. Pour one part of Guiness into a chilled flute glass.
- Top with one part of champagne. Stir and serve.