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A Thin Line Between Grape and Grain
by Christopher Sawyer
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.6

If you live by the old wives tale of never mixing the grape (wine) and the grain (beer), then you've never experienced the Black Velvet trip.

Consisting of one part dark stout beer and one part champagne or sparkling wine, a Black Velvet is a nocturnal dream concoction seldom experienced. Rumor has it the mixture is not only a fine alternative to cider and a sensational afternoon starter or aperitif, but it also may be an unlikely hangover remedy. Go figure!

Usually served in a pint glass, a Black Velvet finds provincially pale straw, rose or golden sparkling wine slowly being poured atop robust black stout. The finished product resembles a fine latte -- perfectly separated -- for the drinking generation. (This style is a variation on the famous Black-and-Tan, which blends amber-colored Bass lager with Guinness Draught Stout).

The name of the drink actually has nothing to do with movies (International Velvet or Blue Velvet). According to The Guinness Drinking Companion, the mixture was invented in 1861 at London's Brook's Club the very morning after Prince Albert died. Seems the majority felt champagne alone was simply too cheery to mark his passing, so it was combined with Irish stout to invoke a more somber mood. However, through the years, people have realized that it's cool to smile when drinking this established mix.

Keep in mind there are usually two problems in ordering a Black Velvet. First, bartenders often don't know what you're talking about. Trust me. Then again, it's always a hoot to enlighten them. Think of it as a chance to teach a lesson regarding a mixed drink that's been served up for over a hundred years -- tete-a-tete!

The second problem stems from figuring out which sparkling wine to pair with the stout beer; though generally what's used is whatever bubbly the bar's pouring by the glass. Fine establishments usually offer a good choice -- perhaps a brut or a blanc de blanc, blanc de noirs, rose, Cava, French or American. Rule is that the dryness of the wine pairs nicely with the coffee-flavored, medium bitterness of a Dry or Irish stout. However, if you favor sweetness, both Imperial and Irish stouts are known to have caramel and sweet malt flavors. Experimentation is always a gas! (No pun intended.)

Guinness Draught is usually a sure bet since it's poured in almost every bar and restaurant worldwide. But if you want to branch out a bit, American Imperial stouts also work great with sparkling wines. For instance, North Coast Brewing Company's Rasputin Imperial Stout coupled with NV Roederer Brut is a brilliant combo. Rogue's Imperial Stout paired with Mumm Cuvee Napa's sweeter NV Blanc de Noirs is another tasty duo.

Really, the ultimate situation lies in walking into a local microbrewery and pairing the establishment's deepest, richest stout with some sparkling wine or Champagne.

"Oh bartender, I'd like a Black Velvet..."

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