[Black Velvet, Drink of the Week]

Black Velvet

We've been accused of lacking creativity come Saint Paddy's Day, and it's true: Without fail, you will find us at a decidedly non-Irish pub with a Black Velvet in hand, quietly honoring the Emerald Isle's patron saint, who banished small reptiles from the island back in 441 AD. We'd be more open to change if only there were another cocktail with Irish ties, or if selecting an Irish whiskey didn't make for so much trouble.

We always pass on the offensive green beer, but order one-quarter Guinness Stout to three-quarters champagne, for a Black Velvet that combines sparkling wine's verismo with Guinness' unaffectedness. We can't promise that this drink is truly Irish, but we've yet to come across an Irish person who's taken overt offense. The author of the Bar & Cocktail Companion, who has the unfortunate name of Michael Jackson, insists that this Black Velvet is "the most delicious Gaelic-Gallic conspiracy since Wolfe Tone's rather more political essay." We wholeheartedly agree, but confess that the drink's more traditional tale links it to London's Brooks Club, an establishment that we doubt catered well to the Irish. By most accounts, a barman mixed the drink for patrons in honor, or at least notice, of Prince Albert's death in 1861.

By the late '30s, the Black Velvet had made it as far as Manila, where Charles H. Baker was sipping the drink by the Mariveles, "an extinct volcanic peak cooling its heel across the Manila Bay." A monk interviewed by Mr. Baker reported that the Black Velvet "is an expensive sort of drink, but when you think it over, it's worth it." To which Mr. Baker added, "It will save life, nourish, encourage, and induce sleep in insomniacs."

We're not too surprised by Mr. Baker's findings. After all, Guinness has long been recommended as a medicinal tonic. High in iron, Guinness revives a dampened spirit with its roasted barley and domestically grown grain. In fact, blood donors in Ireland receive a pint or two of Guinness, instead of crackers or cookies, to help them recover and presumably return for another donation in a few months.

As we follow the golden mean, sipping our Guinness cocktails, we may be inspired to carefully broach the Troubles associated with other Irish liquors, noting one of life's great ironies: Bushmills and Jameson, the Irish whiskeys primarily distinguished by the politics of religion, have been owned by the same French company, Pernod, for about 10 years, and to that we're not sure if a toast or tears is in order.
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