TERRE HAUTE —
What kind of coincidence is it that Champagne Velvet made its reappearance in Terre Haute on New Beer’s Eve?
“It’s ironic. It’s accidental,” said Upland Brewery President Doug Dayhoff on Saturday outside Sonka’s Irish Pub about the unofficial beer-drinking holiday that marked the end of Prohibition.
A horse-drawn beer wagon pulled up only minutes later, bringing kegs of the pre-Prohibition pilsner to Terre Haute for the relaunching of the beer “with the million-dollar flavor.”
A large crowd gathered both inside and outside of the Sonka. Cheers erupted as the wagon made its way west along Wabash Avenue. And cheers came again as the first keg was carried inside the tavern and attached to the Upland tap behind the bar.
The first glass, dispensed by Dayhoff, went to Mike Rowe, the man who found the beer’s long-lost original recipe, then spent years tracking down and purchasing the Champagne Velvet trademark before doing his own brief relaunch of the popular beer produced by the Terre Haute Brewing Co. until it closed in 1958.
Rowe recently sold the rights to CV to the Upland Brewing Co., which has been producing hand-crafted ales and lagers in Bloomington for the past 15 years — to great critic acclaim.
“The outpouring of interest and support from people in this area has been absolutely mind-blowing,” Dayhoff said of the rebirth of Champagne Velvet. “The level of interest from people in the area is great.”
But that should come as no surprise historically. Dayhoff — who knows a lot about beer and its history — said that beer has been a regionally produced beverage throughout human history. That was until the last half of the 20th century, however, when it became the norm for large U.S. super-breweries to mass produce the beverage, thereby crowding out the smaller local businesses, such as the Terre Haute Brewing Co.
And it was no surprise that Saturday afternoon’s relaunch of Champagne Velvet drew large crowds to Sonka’s Irish Pub, then the Copper Bar, and finally to Mogger’s Restaurant and Pub as the horse-drawn beer wagon made its way through downtown Terre Haute.
“Something just resonates about beer,” Dayhoff said. “It’s a social drink.
Rowe seemed as pleased at the public excitement about the CV event as he was with the taste of the beer.
“It’s very good. Excellent flavor. I think they’ve hit it,” Rowe said while sipping the first glass. “These guys are meticulous about the process and the heritage of this beer.”
Dayhoff said that a key to recreating the CV taste was respecting the tradition and ingredients that went into the beer-making process. The 1901 pencil-written recipe by Walter Braun — Terre Haute Brewing’s assistant brewer — did not mention the types of hops that were used to make the beer. But Upland purchases hops grown in the Yakima Valley of Washington state, and those were the type of hops that used to be grown by brewers in the Wabash Valley.
This is also the first beer produced by Upland that uses corn.
“The barley grown here contained too much protein,” Dayhoff said. “They had to use corn to balance the barley. The barley grown here in the 19th century couldn’t make a good barley beer. That’s where corn got into beer production.”
A smile spread across Rowe’s face as Dayhoff shared some of the beer knowledge that goes into producing Upland’s products.
“What you’re hearing right here is to me the most important thing,” Rowe said. “Their attention to detail, because that early recipe didn’t have hops details.”
The celebratory attitude outside Sonka’s continued as a discussion developed on whether it is possible to be arrested for drunk-driving while driving a horse-drawn beer wagon.
Turns out, it is. But the man driving the single-horse wagon was the designated driver of that vehicle for the evening, so the revelers had no worries.
Several of the beer-tasters congratulated Rowe and Dayhoff on their CV revival achievement.
“It is just exciting,” Rowe said. “And I feel just so comfortable in the fact that it [CV] couldn’t be in better hands. They appreciate the heritage of it.”
Ironic or not, today marks the 80th anniversary of the lifting of Prohibition on April 7, 1933, as sales of beer in the U.S. once again became legal.
On the evening of April 6, 1933, as documented by online source Wikipedia, people reportedly lined up outside breweries and taverns, waiting for midnight when they would be able to legally purchase beer for the first time in more than 13 years. Since then, the night of April 6 has been referred to as “New Beer’s Eve.”
That could be a local new tradition as well, as April 6, 2013 becomes known as the day CV returned to Terre Haute.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.