News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 25, 2013

Champagne taste comes home again

Upland Brewery stages Champagne Velvet beer sampling

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Jugs full of recipes for potential Champagne Velvet styles sat on a table inside The Copper Bar on Thursday evening, and beer enthusiasts were welcomed to a sampling by the brand’s owner and developer, Upland Brewing Co.

Copper Bar owner Rob Lundstrom pointed to an old Champagne Velvet sign displayed in his bar, noting its history dating back to the original brew.

“We had it on tap,” he said, recalling his own dismay when the local brand was discontinued.

But with the Bloomington-based Upland Brewing Co. having secured the rights to resurrect it, Lundstrom said he looks forward to once again serving a historic beer in a historic bar.

“We’re really excited about them taking an interest in it,” he said amid a rush for samples. “We know they’ll do it right.”

Doug Dayhoff, president of Upland Brewing Co., said the return of Champagne Velvet is being coordinated alongside his own company’s 15th anniversary. A full 150 years of Indiana brewing heritage is involved, and Dayhoff said his team takes the history seriously.

“Here, try some,” he said, offering samples of each of five different batches of potential Champagne Velvet.

Dayhoff’s “Brew Crew” has been experimenting with the recipe for some time, and brought their options to Terre Haute for taste trials by locals. From The Copper Bar to Speak Easy, Friday’s, Mogger’s and Sonka’s, the group wanted Champagne Velvet’s hometown to have a crack at determining its flavor. Each of the variations include “heritage German yeast,” and different combinations of malt-to-corn ratios and hopping techniques.

Champagne Velvet was the flagship brand of the Terre Haute Brewing Co. from the early 20th century through the 1950s, brought to America from Germany by brewer Anton Mayer.

Matt Wisley, assistant brewer of Upland Brewing Co., said Mayer was from southwestern Germany, and as part of the team’s research, they have included the “Tettnang Hops,” which originated there. Inspired by the old notes of brewing assistant Walter Braun, circa 1901, the group has managed to stay true to the style that might have bubbled up from its creators.

“It’s a pre-Prohibition pilsner,” Wisley said, explaining that it is slightly bitter with a taste of corn, robust and light in color. These recipes are what American beer would taste like today had Prohibition not radically changed the industry, leaving it open to what would eventually become known as macro-brews, he said.

Dayhoff said the flavor of American beer has been “ratcheted down” since the 1940s and 1950s as brewing companies became larger and sought to appeal to universal tastes.

But that’s just not how beer is everywhere, he remarked. European brewing is still a local and regional process, with unique flavors and styles throughout the continent. America too once had a wide diversity of beers as immigrants moved westward, changing their recipes along the way. And with the return of Champagne Velvet, Dayhoff said he hopes to bring some of that heritage back to life.

In addition to its restaurant and brewery in Bloomington, Upland Brewing Co. distributes product throughout Indiana, into Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, Ohio, and southern Wisconsin.

The samples offered Thursday evening included “Batch 1” and its Czech Pilsner strain of yeast, a 60-40 barley-to-corn ratio and a late boil addition of Mt. Hood Hops. “Batch 4” featured a Bohemian Lager strain of yeast, an 80-20 barley-to-corn ratio, and First Wort Hopping with Tettnang.

“So we took a little liberty with the recipe,” Wisley said, pointing out the original notes found referenced a 60-40 ratio of barley to corn.

Dayhoff said the group will continue soliciting feedback on the styles before hosting another tasting event at the brewery in Bloomington Sunday. Passing out T-shirts inside The Copper Bar that evening, he said the company hopes to have a commercial launch ready by April.

Terre Haute businessman Mike Rowe was among the tasters with a savor for the history. As owner of the Terre Haute Brewing Co. beginning in 1999, he secured the naming rights to Champagne Velvet from Pabst and made the product locally for about six years before ultimately selling it to Upland Brewing Co.

“Oh, I’m enjoying this a lot. They’re doing a great job,” he said, samples in hand.

Rowe donated old brewing records to the process in an effort to help Dayhoff’s team stay true to the history. Upland Brewing Co., he said, is among the larger producers in Indiana and has a great shot at resurrecting the brand.

“And they care about the history and the legacy,” he said.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.