The drink was first created by the bartender of Brooks's Club in London in 1861, to mourn the death of Prince Albert, who was Queen Victoria's Prince Consort. It is supposed to symbolise the black or purple cloth armbands worn by mourners.
A Black Velvet is made by mixing equal parts of stout and Champagne or cider (no ice). Traditionally served in a beer tankard.
A Black Velvet can also be made by filling a champagne flute halfway with sparkling wine and floating the chilled stout beer on top of the wine. The differing densities of the liquids cause them to remain largely in separate layers (as in a pousse-café). The effect is best achieved by pouring over a spoon turned upside down over the top of the glass so that the liquid runs gently down the sides rather than splashing into the lower layer and mixing with it.
- When cider or perry is used in place of the more expensive champagne, it is still known as a Black Velvet in the originating country, the UK. Outside of the UK the cider version is sometimes referred to as a Poor Man's Black Velvet to help the bartender differentiate between requested ingredients.
- In Germany, a version of this mixed beer drink made with Schwarzbier (a dark lager) and served in a beer stein or beer mug is called a "Bismarck", after Otto von Bismarck. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the "Iron Chancellor" supposedly drank it by the gallon.
- A variation called Velluto Italiano – Italian Velvet – substitutes two parts Birra Moretti La Rossa as the grain component and one part Prosecco as the grape component. The drink was developed to span the range between sweeter cider and dryer champagne variations while taking advantage of the increased interest in Prosecco in the United States.
- The Champagne Velvet appeared in Jacob Grohusko's 1910 cocktail guide Jack's Manual, and called for equal parts cold porter and champagne, stirred slowly in a goblet.