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December 6, 2012

MARK BENNETT: Tasting panel to help find Champagne Velvet’s ‘million-dollar flavor’

TERRE HAUTE — Rounding up enough volunteers to serve on a committee can be a struggle.

Upland Brewery probably won’t have any such difficulty with its new project.

Last summer, the Bloomington-based company bought the rights to Champagne Velvet, the beverage that occupied a huge presence in Terre Haute history from the turn of the 20th century until the closing of the local brewery — once the seventh-largest in America — in 1958. Upland plans to reintroduce the beer in Indiana and the Midwest in April, but first the company wants the general public to help shape CV’s new era.

The 1990 discovery of Terre Haute Brewing Co. assistant brewmaster Walter Braun’s original Champagne Velvet recipe — handwritten in 1901 — gave Terre Haute businessman Mike Rowe enough ingredient information to re-create the beer at the historic facility from 2000 to 2006. Braun’s recipe, though, was “intriguingly incomplete,” as Upland Brewery describes it. The precise types of barley and hops used, alongside corn flakes, were not spelled out, said Doug Dayhoff, Upland’s owner. So, any re-creation of CV involves some creativity.

Also, Champagne Velvet’s taste undoubtedly evolved as brewing machinery changed, Dayhoff explained. Likewise, 21st-century techniques — featuring stainless steel equipment — differs from 1901, 1921 and 1958.

“So we’ve got a wide range of possibilities that give us some directional options,” Dayhoff said. The Upland brewing crew is researching potential “heirloom ingredients” to help match the original “million-dollar flavor,” but the missing detail in Braun’s notes still leaves a bit of mystery.

As a result, Upland will soon assemble a “CV Tasting Panel,” whose “20 or so” members will begin their task late next month. Panelists will sample and assess an array of six to eight “pilot brews” of the new Champagne Velvet, crafted by the Upland brewers, to help finalize its taste. They’ll need to complete the study in time for the first commercial batch to be brewed in February, with the launch following in April.

“We just thought it would be fun to bring in people who care about regional beers,” Dayhoff said Wednesday afternoon.

Put down the phone. Upland wants to survey the public about more than just Champagne Velvet’s flavor. The company also is conducting online surveys to pick the look of the labels, and the slogan; members of the CV Tasting Panel will be chosen in a random lottery of people who participate in the online label and slogan surveys.

The label survey is now open and runs through Saturday. By going online to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/cvart, participants can view several CV labels from various points in the beverage’s history and rank them by preference. The winning choice will become the anchor artwork for CV promotions.

Then, during the week of Dec. 17, Upland will conduct a similar poll to choose the CV slogan. People who participate in either of those two surveys will be entered into a random drawing to serve on the CV Tasting Panel. Those selected will be notified of the opportunity by email, according to Upland.

Those opinions are important, Dayhoff emphasized. “There’s a science to panels and getting people’s unvarnished opinions,” he said.

Upland’s purchase of the CV rights, including its trademark and registration, from Rowe moves the drink’s legacy from Terre Haute to Bloomington, but it revives a significant piece of Hautean history. The surveys and tasting panel give local folks a chance to, essentially, offer Walter Braun a few suggestions 111 years later.

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

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