I was in Indiana this past weekend and, as per my custom when in the Hoosier State, I went to pick up one of my preferred Hoosier brews. Right near the Upland Dragonfly was a six-pack of Champagne Velvet with a scribble at the bottom saying “A Legacy Honored by Upland Brewing Company.” I’d heard of Champagne Velvet and it’s revival by Upland and was intrigued. In spite of the name I decided to try it. Actually with a name like Champagne Velvet I would have had to try it regardless.
Now in my humble opinion, Champagne Velvet sounds like the color of a Buick or the name of a not so classy nightclub. I’m pretty sure that I would advise most brewers away from naming one of the creations “Champagne Velvet” (though as I noted above, I’d have to try a beer named Champagne Velvet just to find out). But this particular brew dates back to the turn of the 20th Century and I’m willing to bet that naming conventions were a bit different back then. And I will reiterate, there is some odd appeal to the name, even if it is just an overwhelming curiosity.
I brought my find back and asked my grandma if she knew Champagne Velvet. She immediately said that it was out of Terre Haute, Indiana and one of the beers that my grandpa used to drink until the brewery shut down in the 50’s or 60’s. This was back before the dominance of Miller and Budweiser, when regional and local breweries reigned. Champagne Velvet was akin to Grainbelt in Minneapolis, Narragansett in New England, Stroh’s in Detroit (there’s also a Stroh’s ice cream, by the way), or National Bohemian in Baltimore. Most of these breweries either folded or were consumed by the growing giants of today’s beer landscape through consolidations, mergers, and acquisitions.
The Terre Haute Brewing Company, the old brewers of Champagne Velvet, was once the seventh largest brewery in the United States. Terre Haute was a major brewing and distilling city due to its proximity to the raw crops involved and railroad links. In 1990’s a worker cleaning out the old brewery came across a notebook and sold it to a local Champagne Velvet enthusiast. That notebook, it turns out, had the original Champagne Velvet recipe. Fast forward to a couple of years ago and Champagne Velvet it once again on the shelves. It was popular in its first life and appears to be pretty popular on its second go around.
It’s actually a pretty great beer. Beer Advocate gives it an 80 (out of 100). Keeping to lagers and pilsners (as Champagne Velvet is a pilsner) the Beer Advocate score for some other beers are: Budweiser – 58, National Bohemian – 70, Stella Artois – 71, Grain Belt – 76, Yuengling – 77, Pilsner Urquell – 82. The fact that it’s a true resurrection (they are using the original recipe) and it’s brewed by a local brewery like the good old days makes the return that much sweeter.
So the next time you find yourself in the Hoosier State (or somewhere that Upland distributes) grab some Champagne Velvet and toast to true brand resurrection. Or just enjoy a good pilsner.