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Upland revives vintage Champagne Velvet lager

Champagne_Velvet(1)Damn right your dad drank it. That slogan belongs to Canadian Club whiskey, but it could just as easily apply to Champagne Velvet, an iconic Indiana lager that was one of the best-selling beers in the region during the 1940s. Originally brewed by Terre Haute Brewing Co., the beer had been out of production since the 1970s. Thanks to Upland, it’s back. Guided by a nearly century-old dusty notebook containing the original brewer’s mash bill recipe, Upland’s brewers have been able to create a modern replica of this pre-Prohibition lager first brewed in the early 1900s.

“There are a lot of craft breweries who think that they invented regionally brewed, flavorful beer. But of course we’re all walking in the footsteps of giants,” says Upland’s president Doug Dayhoff. “With CV, you can step into that footstep. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers would have drank this beer.”

Upland first brewed Champagne Velvet as a one-off anniversary project in 2013, but liked it so much that they’ve packaged the beer for wider distribution this year. If the idea of Uplanda brewery known for its experimental ales and soursbrewing an adjunct lager seems a bit strange to you, Dayhoff doesn’t see it that way.

“I think the reason adjunct has a horrible connotation generally, and rightfully, is that it’s an ingredient that is less expensive and is less flavorful. But from my perspective, that’s not why they used it back in 1902,” Dayhoff says. “It would be less authentic for us not to use corn than to use it.”

After 30 test batches, Upland brewers finally settled on a recipe that’s a close interpretation of the original Champagne Velvet flavor.

“What we ended up with is a pilsner that’s a lighter flavored beer than a big randy ale, but it is flavorful and distinctive. It has a beautiful corn flavor that you cannot detect in the big domestic lagers. You won’t be mistaking it for an industrial domestic lager,” Dayhoff says.

But how have craft beer drinkers responded to it?

“The biggest surprise for us was that many of the bars that are pouring this beer are actually some of the beer-geekiest bars,” Dayhoff says. “They’ve embraced a great-tasting lager that has a good local legacy.”

Like Miller High Life, the “Champagne of beers” which recently introduced retro packaging inspired by its past labels and signs, Champagne Velvet likely also benefits from a hefty bit of drinking nostalgia.

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OUT: 5 vintage holiday beers from the cellar

BEER NAME / DISH NAME / PERSONWe’ve assembled our beer gifts and baked beer-spiked desserts until our oven cried “quit!”—so maybe it’s time we treat ourselves to a small present. We dipped into our cellar to pull out seven vintage holiday beers, some of which held up and some of which turned out to be lumps of coal. Here are the five we recommend uncapping this winter, ideally in front of a toasty fireplace.

Goose Island Christmas Ale 2012
Goose Island recommends aging Christmas Ale up to five years, but this 2012 is absolutely peaking now. Not overly spiced, the brown ale’s hops offer a bright pine bitterness reminiscent of a fresh-cut Christmas tree. As the beer warms, dark cherry flavors add complexity. Most impressive, though, is the creamy, lively body, which hasn’t lost any vitality in the cellar.

Mother’s Imperial Three Blind Mice 2012
This 9.6% imperial brown still came in hot. The alcohol plays a dynamic role, adding not just heat but spice and sweetness. Dark fruit characteristics are still bright on the initial sip, with roasted coffee on the tail. Two years in the cellar contribute to a dryer finish, though this big boy could probably handle another year before it reaches its prime.

Avery Old Jubilation 2009 or 2010
Sorry, Santa’s reindeer ate the birth certificate on this one. Regardless of whether it’s four or five years old, this Avery winter warmer is one to pull now. The nose offers chocolate covered raspberry and other strong stone fruit sweetness, while age lends an earth tobacco bite to the sip. The body has flattened out, and likely wouldn’t survive another winter in the cellar.

Point St. Benedict’s Winter Ale 2010
Crisp, clean fig and raisin flavors taste surprisingly bright for a four-year-old beer, especially at 6.2% ABV. Grape mustiness, like a cross between unsweetened purple grape juice and lighter red wine, is the only indication that this is a vintage pull. Drink it now, while it still feels this fresh.

Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs Of Christmas Ale 2012
The honey is definitely this beer’s “it” factor. Whether there’s any science to it, the honey seems to preserve the distinctiveness of the ginger and clove, like the spices have fossilized in amber. Lively carbonation and a cohesive spice-sweetness make this beer “a dang delight,” as one of our editors put it. Drink it up this winter.

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Chasing Cantillon: Gabe Gordon talks new sour project, Beachwood Blendery

Beachwood - BlogA little bit of science, a little bit of art, or a little bit of old wood and spiders? Even Belgian brewers don’t completely know—or won’t say—what combination of factors produce their world-class lambics. But Beachwood Brewing owner Gabe Gordon intends to find out… on American soil.

Beachwood Blendery, his newly announced sour beer project in Long Beach, Calif., is the culmination of a long fascination with Belgian lambics and gueuzes. “The original [Beachwood] Sour Fest was put on as an excuse to showcase the pallet of Cantillon that I had split with my friends from San Diego,” Gordon says. “I just thoroughly adored and loved drinking sour beer and specifically traditional lambics. Now that it was time for another project, it was time to just go ahead and start toying with the sour side of things myself.”

Gordon, along with Beachwood brewmaster Julian Shrago and barrelmaster Ryan Fields (formerly of Lost Abbey and Port Brewing), will soon have an entire sour beer playground at their disposal. Construction should wrap up in early January on the 100-year-old Long Beach building, which will house a temperature- and humidity-controlled barrel room capable of replicating the conditions of a Belgian aging room.

“There’s lots of old wives tales about how lambics are made. Why is lambic different than American sour beer? Maybe it’s the magic air of the Senne River Valley or the wood. Everybody has different theories,” Gordon says. “If we want to make something as interesting as lambic, we should build a place that has all the individual parts of what a lambic brewery has.”

That also includes a copper-lined koelschip (a sort of shallow tub traditionally used to cool wort) located in the building’s rafters. Though even Gordon doesn’t know whether details like copper lining or a building with 100-year-old wood is the magic “it” factor that produces a delicious lambic-style beer, he’s wants to cover all his bases.

“We really want to be able to start categorizing all the methods that we use and find out what makes for a similar flavor profile that you find in lambic and gueuze. That’s the whole goal.”

While his inspiration and methods are traditional, don’t expect to see kriek or framboise from Beachwood. Instead, Gordon plans to make use of exotic fruits and experiment with yeast and bacteria strains to produce something that’s close to—but not exactly—a lambic or gueuze. Technically, Beachwood can’t call its sour beer lambic or gueuze, as those are geographically protected terms, but Gordon says he wouldn’t refer to his beers that way regardless.

“Out of pure respect, whether it was a designation or not, I would never even suppose to call it something like that,” he said. “The goal is to produce something as interesting and complex as gueuze. What will we call it? I don’t know.”

He expects the first batches of beer from this time-intensive project to be ready for consumption in six months to a year, and Gordon admits they’ll be a work in progress. “For the first year, we’ll just be doing a lot of super-experimental beer, toying with recipes and different strains of bacteria and yeast. We’re putting out a series of fun, interesting beers for us as well as for our customer base to grow with the project. It’s going to be really cool to have more than it just be myself and Julian and Ryan dictating the way things go.”

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Pairing: Beer & popcorn


Don’t re-gift that tin you got from your insurance guy: Try these beer pairings for a holiday snack that really pops.

cheddar + brown ale
Cheddar popcorn’s addiction factor sails when salty, cheesy tang melts right into a brown ale’s soft dark malt and chocolate; you’ll be caught orange-handed.

butter + ESB
If only you could sneak beer into a movie theater: An ESB’s nutty, sweet toffee and biscuit flavors easily adopt salty, butter-soaked popcorn.

salted + Berliner weisse
Longing for summer? A Berliner weisse’s refreshing lemony tartness and the popcorn’s salt are like a sunny day by the sea.

caramel + bock
Candylike caramel corn finds a kindred caramel note in a malty bock; the beer’s smooth toasted bread and nuttiness take it from Crackerjack to sophisticated snack.

kettle corn + coffee stout
If you’re a two-sugars-please coffee drinker, then kettle sweetness will feel right at home beside a stout with espresso and dark roasted notes.

red pepper + oatmeal stout
A creamy, chocolaty stout has dark grainy notes and a dash of bitterness in the finish; add south-of-the-border chile spice and you’ve got a pair as rich as mole.

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Expanded craft beer choices coming to domestic Delta flights

delta_craftbeer_120414C(1)Next time you fly, you may not have to wait until you land to begin your beer vacation.

Delta Airlines earlier this month announced an expanded in-flight selection of seven craft beers on major U.S. routes, including offerings from Ballast Point, Stone, SweetWater, Blue Point, Brooklyn Brewery, Newburyport Brewing and Samuel Adams.

Samuel Adams beers are available on all domestic Delta flights, but if you want to sip a Ballast Point Sculpin or Brooklyn Brewery Lager at 30,000 feet, you’ll have to fly certain routes. Look for local options on the following routes: Delta’s West Coast Shuttle between Los Angeles and San Francisco; between New York-LaGuardia and Boston, Washington-Regan National and Chicago-O’Hare; between New York-JFK and LA, San Francisco and Seattle; and between Atlanta and New York-LaGuardia, Washington-Reagan National and Dulles, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa and New Orleans. Stone and Lagunitas beers are complimentary on the West Coast Shuttle, as are Newburyport and Blue Point beers on the East Coast Shuttle. Craft beers on other flights are priced at $7.

Not on one of the routes listed above? Better finish a pint before you board.

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