History on Tap: Upland's Champagne Velvet Returns
While many Hoosiers might not know it, drinking Upland Brewing Company’s Champagne Velvet beer this summer is tantamount to supporting Indiana heritage. The crisp pilsner (called “CV” for short) was the flagship of Terre Haute Brewing Company, once America’s seventh-largest beer producer and a major employer during the town’s “Sin City” era before the brewery was shuttered in the late 1950s. If not for the chance discovery of a dusty notebook two decades ago, Indiana’s most beloved beer of all time”—as beer geeks, historians, and CV cultists call it—might have been lost forever.
Flash back to the late 1990s. In Terre Haute, a worker cleaning out the basement of the company’s decrepit building stumbles on a brewer’s bible. He approaches Mike Rowe, a local businessman and known collector of CV memorabilia. Rowe buys the book for $20, though he’s convinced he has been ripped off. Inside, however, Rowe finds a piece of paper with 1901 letterhead and a handwritten pilsner recipe. He teams with a microbiologist in town and confirms it’s the long-lost original formula for CV. “It truly was like finding something historical, that you can actually taste,” Rowe says.
Rowe bought the CV trade-mark from Pabst in 1999, opened a microbrewery in a historic section of Terre Haute, and relaunched the CV brand to the thrill of loyalists. But in 2008, CV production ceased when Rowe struck a deal to lease his brewery to Broad Ripple’s Brugge Brasserie, whose offerings were decidedly more Belgian than CV.
Last year, Upland purchased the rights to CV from Rowe to again revive the heralded brand. Brewers whipped up four pilot batches, mimicking the circa-1900, German-inspired taste as closely as possible by blending corn, malted barley, and both Cluster and Tettnang hops (the latter named for the region of Germany from which CV’s forefathers emigrated). Tasters’ favorite version hit liquor stores and groceries across Indiana in the spring, and Upland offers it on tap.
The retro label and chipper slogans—“Beer with the Million Dollar Flavor” and “CV for you, CV for me!”—all pay homage to the original product. The CV name, Rowe says, was a nod to the beer’s “sparkling as Champagne” and “smooth as velvet” qualities. “[The name] really appeals to your senses in a way that doesn’t necessarily make sense,” says Tim Spears, Upland’s director of business development.
As for CV’s “most beloved” status on a burgeoning roster of Hoosier beers, Spears admits there’s no data behind the claim. “I and thousands of others consider it fact,” he says. “That’s all.” You’ll just have to hoist a cold glass this summer and decide for yourself.
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the July 2013 issue.