Black Velvet

Mornings? You can keep ‘em.

Even though I have all the daytime demands that come with being a middle-aged family man unburdened by independent wealth, I still prefer coming at the morning from the other side — seeing the sunrise as a tip that it’s time to go to bed rather than as the cue that it’s time to start making the goddamn donuts.

But, what can you do? Well, when the opportunity presents itself, you can start the day with a drink.

A disclaimer: I almost never start the day with a drink. When I stagger into the kitchen most days, it’s the coffee cup I’m reaching for to pull me out of my bleary haze; a drink at that hour? Might as well go back to bed, which isn’t a bad idea at all, but one that brings us back to those daytime demands I mentioned earlier. But sometime the day just swings that way; either it’s a special weekend or a holiday when you have the luxury of squandering an hour or so at the breakfast table or of slouching back to bed after tucking in to the bacon and brioche, or you’ve got guests, in which case you could use a damn drink to get everyone through the ordeal of beginning a new day together.

(Or, you could also be thinking of a breakfast drink because today is Mixology Monday, hosted by Kevin at Cocktail Enthusiast, and Kevin has chosen “Morning Drinks” for this month’s theme.)

Anyway, there are some grand morning drinks out there — think the Ramos Fizz, the French 75 or the Milk Punch — as well as the old standbys (the Bloody Mary, of course, and its frequent companion, the Mimosa) — and once you start thinking about it, almost anything can make a case for itself for winding up in your cocktail glass just as the toast is being buttered.

But, think carefully here: for all their beauty, the Ramos Fizz and the French 75 are perfect morning drink s only when prepared by someone else. Really, if you’re still waking up and possibly shaking off the effects of the night before, do you really want to commit yourself to compounding elaborate mixtures of ingredients and rat-a-tatting them in the cocktail shaker anywhere near your tender head? And as for the Bloody Mary and the Mimosa – well, they’re not bad, necessarily, especially if you’re using decent booze and good ingredients and take a little care in the preparation. But every time I drink a Bloody Mary or one of its kin — this is usually in the once a year department, typically on New Year’s Day — I find myself asking, “Is that all there is?” Ditto for the Mimosa, and the answer, of course, is “Yes — sorry.”

So — what’s tasty and fortifying, gentle on the head, palate and stomach and easy enough to prepare so you can mix yourself a drink with little fuss, or knock out a bunch for a crowd? Consider the Black Velvet. True, there’s no hard booze in there, but at this hour that can’t be considered a crime, especially when one of the ingredients is champagne, which makes everything in life just a little bit better. The other ingredient? Beer — stout, to be precise, and as any hangover survivor can attest, the bubbles and the barley are among the most useful curatives known to man (also on that list: champagne, which makes all of this absolutely golden). No shaking or cautious jiggering is required, and the only advance prep the Black Velvet requires is that you stick the beer and the wine in the fridge the night before.

The Black Velvet reportedly originated in 1861, at Brook’s Club in London, following the death of Prince Albert (at least, that’s what the Guinness website states — I’ve done exactly no digging to verify the claim). There’s another version of the drink in circulation, made with cider in place of champagne; I haven’t tried it so I can’t speak to its character, but if you’re looking for an excellent breakfast companion (especially if you’re mixing for friends), shell out the extra cash and go for the bubbly. There are also recipes that insist this drink be layered, a la a Pousse Caffe. Should your breakfast require a floor show or other dramatic effects, feel free to go that route; for me, I’m happier with the stout and the champagne joining each other on equal terms, the ferric tang of the Guinness finding its mate in the fruity snap of the wine, and the distinctive bubbles of each beverage brightening the outlook for the day ahead.

Black Velvet

  • Guinness or other stout, chilled (but, really, Guinness)
  • Brut champagne or other dry sparkling wine, chilled

Fill a champagne flute (fancy!) or a Collins glass (for more generous-size drinks) halfway with chilled champagne. Gently add the stout (careful, this can be a foamy production) to fill the glass. Give the whole thing a cautious stir, then proceed with the morning’s business.

That’s my suggestion for a decent drink to start the day — for more suggestions, head over to Cocktail Enthusiast to see what other folks recommend for morning drinks.

2 Responses to Black Velvet

  1. I’ve had the Guinness and hard cider before. It’s very good if a bit frothy when mixed too quickly. A bartender in Grand Cayman made it for me but he called it a Snakebite. That is usually a very different drink. Either way I can recommend the cider.

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