News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 23, 2012

Mark Bennett: A Hoosier brand gets a shot at new life

BLOOMINGTON — Thank goodness, Paul Dresser wrote down the words and music to “On the Banks of the Wabash.”

And that Max Ehrmann put “Desiderata” on paper.

And that Walter Braun grabbed a pencil, scratched out the recipe to Champagne Velvet beer, and tucked it into the pages of his assistant brewmaster’s journal in 1901 at the old Terre Haute Brewery.

Imagine Terre Haute without that song, that poem, that beverage.

Most of history disappears, as generations pass and the details go with them. Sometimes, a tradition survives through chance or determination. Champagne Velvet endures through both. Its legacy entered a new chapter this summer.

Upland Brewing Co. in Bloomington has purchased the rights, including the trademark and registration, to Champagne Velvet from Mike Rowe, the Terre Haute businessman who in 2000 revived the beer with the “million-dollar flavor” and produced and distributed it locally from the Terre Haute Brewery until 2006.

The acquisition by Upland, the state’s second-largest brewery, creates the possibility of the widest distribution of Champagne Velvet since the Terre Haute Brewery closed in 1958. In its 14th year, Upland sends its beers to all 92 Indiana counties, Kentucky and Wisconsin, and, later this fall, to southwest Ohio. Its product line includes seven year-round styles of English and German ales and lagers, as well as a dozen seasonal beverages and another dozen beers offered periodically. The addition of a historic Hoosier brand, CV, marks a first for Upland.

“If you’re in our industry, it’s one of the most successful brands in the history of beer,” Upland owner Doug Dayhoff said. “That, and it’s an Indiana brand, and a local brand.”

Dayhoff emphasized that Upland has not yet formalized any marketing or distribution plans for Champagne Velvet, which would be produced in Upland’s impressive, new 38,000-square-foot brewery on Bloomington’s outskirts. Through the end of this year, the company hopes to gauge through social media, including Upland’s Facebook page, public interest in a re-introduction of CV.

“That’s our question — how much love and interest still exists for that brand and its history,” Dayhoff said, while strolling through Upland’s brewery Wednesday morning. “We think there’s a lot, but we want to find that out.”

The appeal of Upland’s beers has grown 20 to 25 percent annually during the past few years, Dayhoff explained. Its operation outgrew the original site, on 11th Street in downtown Bloomington, where the popular Upland brew-pub opened in 1998. The firm recently completed a $3 million renovation of the new brewery building, and began brewing there a month ago.

Dayhoff estimates Upland will produce 340,000 gallons (or 150,000 cases) of its beers in 2012. “We’ve grown a lot,” he said.

Rowe rejuvenated the fabled Terre Haute brewing district in 2000. He’d uncovered Braun’s CV recipe in 1990, and spent the next decade re-creating the signature drink of a brewery that once was America’s seventh-largest. Working from the historic Terre Haute Brewery building near Ninth and Poplar streets, Rowe produced Champagne Velvet for six years, until leasing the facility to the Indianapolis-based makers of a line of Belgian beers, Brugge Brasserie. CV production ceased at that point. The Brugge firm moved its operations and equipment to the Indianapolis Broad Ripple district earlier this year.

A few years after Champagne Velvet output ended, Dayhoff and the Upland folks began talking with Rowe about the beverage’s next chapter. They finalized the sale of the rights this summer, Dayhoff said. Rowe also confirmed that agreement Wednesday.

“We’ve known Mike for years and cheered on the sidelines as they re-launched the brands,” Dayhoff said, standing beside the Upland bottling line. Such camaraderie is not uncommon in Indiana’s expanding craft-brewing industry. The growth of a market for locally produced goods benefits all, he said.

“Other brewers and other craft brewers are really on the same team in moving that cultural issue forward,” Dayhoff said.

When it comes to Hoosier brewing, Champagne Velvet — whose key ingredient was corn flakes — holds a prime spot in the state’s culture. At its peak, 46.5 million gallons of CV were produced a year by 950 workers in Terre Haute. It started with that recipe Walter Braun wrote down in 1901, and helped launch in 1902.

One hundred and 10 years later, a new generation of Indiana brewers is considering new possibilities for CV.

“Back in the day, it was one of the beers that set the benchmark for quality,” Dayhoff said. “We’d like to think that should be preserved.”

Here’s a toast to that spirit, passed from Braun to Rowe to the team at Upland.

 

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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