Ale Like Champagne

Champagne.

Brut IPA is the niche beer style of the moment in the US and has been the focus of several substantial articles with headlines such as:

BRUT IPAS ARE THE BONE-DRY, CHAMPAGNE-LIKE BEER HOPHEADS CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF

Apart from mak­ing us thirsty all this got us think­ing about the ten­den­cy to com­pare beer to Cham­pagne and how far back it goes.

With­out too much dig­ging we found this in an edi­tion of the Dublin Evening Post from 1783:

LEINSTER ALE -- sparkles like champagne.
SOURCE: The British News­pa­per Archive.

Bear­ing in mind that Cham­pagne as we know it was still in the process of being invent­ed in the 18th cen­tu­ry, and that its ten­den­cy to sparkle was still con­sid­ered a fault by many, this rates as pret­ty quick off the marks.

The most famous ref­er­ence to beer resem­bling Cham­pagne is one most of us came to via Michael ‘The Beer Hunter’ Jack­son who said that Napoleon’s troops called Berlin­er Weisse “the Cham­pagne of the North”. As he was­n’t much of a foot­not­er we haven’t been able to iden­ti­fy his source but this Ger­man book from 1822 says (our trans­la­tion, tidied up from Google’s auto­mat­ic effort, so approach with cau­tion):

Berlin’s ‘Weiss­bier’ is a very pop­u­lar drink in Berlin, which, when it is of good qual­i­ty, is dis­tin­guished by a yel­low­ish col­or, a wine-like body, a slight­ly acidic taste, and a strong sparkle, so that the French mil­i­tary gave it a name: Cham­pagne du Nord.

Real­ly, though, it’s just an irre­sistible com­par­i­son, isn’t it?

Often the sim­i­lar­i­ty is mere­ly super­fi­cial – most lagers would look like Cham­pagne at first glance if you poured it into flutes – but some­times there is a real sim­i­lar­i­ty of flavour and mouth­feel. Most­ly, though, it’s just irrev­er­ent fun to sug­gest that the Toffs are wast­ing all that mon­ey and effort acquir­ing Cham­pagne when if only they weren’t such snobs they could have some­thing just as good for a frac­tion of the price.

4 thoughts on “Ale Like Champagne”

  1. Search terms “cham­pagne + beer + his­tor­i­cal” make me think of

    Your French­man is vain
    Of his frothy Cham­pagne,
    His Bur­gundy and his Bor­deaux, sir.
    But a swag­ger­ing tot
    Of Octo­ber, I wot,
    Would send all the lot down below, sir!”
    – “Octo­ber Brew”, anon. mid-C19

    (from mem­o­ry, from the ver­sion record­ed by Peter Bel­lamy on the album The Tale of Ale)

    It’s a curi­ous piece (fea­tured here ear­ly on, as I remem­ber) – it starts by rec­om­mend­ing “Octo­ber” because it won’t get you as drunk as quick­ly as spir­its, then says it’s bet­ter than wine (as above). So is it say­ing “Octo­ber“ ‘s good because it’s light & you can knock it back (like Berlin­er Weiss and cham­pagne (myth­i­cal­ly*)) or because it’s strong & will get you trol­lied (like Bur­gundy, Bor­deaux and cham­pagne (in real­i­ty))? (As well as being good because it’s British, dammit, but that goes with­out say­ing.)

    *Grow­ing up, I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber there was a belief going round that cham­pagne did­n’t actu­al­ly get you drunk, it just made you hap­py – or, at worst, that it did­n’t get you drunk near­ly as quick­ly as oth­er, less classy kinds of booze.

Comments are closed.