Although spontaneous day drinking can be a very free-form thing, planned day drinking is at its best when there is a theme. I got a message from Bubby Friday that basically said it had been a while since we blew a day just drinking and he felt it might be in order this weekend. With this in mind, when I awoke yesterday and looked out at the weary gray day, it just seemed to fit that we go looking for Black Velvets.
Black Velvet is a drink comprised roughly of 50% stout and 50% sparkling wine. That’s really all there is to it. Some will say champagne is the right ingredient while others will insist that cava or some other bubbly will do. Seldom are these people addressing the way the different aspects will affect the drink, no one is saying the sweetness of prosecco will play better against the bitter stout, rather they are implying that cheap is better or, even more to the point, that champagne is too good for mixing. Be that as it may, Black Velvets in pubs should simply be whatever sparkling they have open mixed with whatever stout they keep on draft. At home, just grab whatever the cheapest bubbly you would drink alone is (for some that may be Kritter while with others it is Veuve) and mix it with your favorite stout. It truly is a glorious gray day, day drinking drink.
When pub-hopping it is important to know there is a version of the drink called a Poor Man’s Black Velvet that is cider and stout, which in New York establishments tends to be layered à la the Black and Tan. This is fine as long as you either enjoy the sweet cider or stop once you have drunk your way through the black. So off we went looking for some libations, we figured the East Village offered the most promise.
First stop was Nevada Smiths on Third Avenue. The World Cup of soccer is coming up and Bubby wasn’t sure where to watch so Nevada Smith’s seemed a natural place to start. They are a British-influenced bar so it was a safe bet the would have the British drink, plus Bubby would get the lay of the land for soccer watching before he needed to get there by something like 7 am and pay a cover. The Black Velvet here was a poor man’s layered into a pint glass, Guinness Stout on Magner’s cider. Not exactly the dry, crisp drink I had promised him, but at least a start and quite nice while watching a rerun of a famous England victory from the ‘70’s.
The next place we passed that seemed it might have one was Jack Dempsey’s on Second Ave. The bartender told us she would also be serving a poor man’s so I requested she use the Bare Knuckle Stout as opposed to Guinness with the Magner’s in the interest of variety. So there we sat, watching a subtitled version of The Matrix 2 (awesome that way, you read about one word every five minutes and it is usually “siren’s blaring”) seeing if we could tell a difference; we felt this version more smoky.
One & One became our next stop, again a poor man’s Guinness and Magner’s, this time with Elvis’ music and a rousing discussion with the locals on whether the Egyptians had made beer before the vitis vinifera grapes were turned into wine.
Next stop d.b.a., where the bartender asked “cider?” and Bubby, sick of hearing me complain about the sweetness of the poor man’s version said “actually champagne.” So this one was made with Compte de Gasconne and O’Hara’s stout. Lovely, huge and expensive, because it was served in a pint the bartender saw fit to charge fourteen bucks a piece, it was most of a bottle of bubbles after all. The irony in this cider-less version is its taste of apples. Properly made, a Black Velvet is reminiscent of apples, good stout has roasted red apple notes, and bubblies tend to range from green apples off a steel knife to Macintosh skins, depending on constituent grapes and time on yeast.
Four down, we decided to go eat and imbibe our last while we waited for a table. So there we sat at the bar at Blue Smoke with a perfect Black Velvet each. In a white wine glass it was 50-50 cheap champagne and good stout. With the sun set, we had finally found the perfect British gray day cocktail at the only place that made sense in this crazy mixed up town: a BBQ restaurant.