Beer history Generalisations about beer culture

Ale Like 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:


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 replies on “Ale Like Champagne”

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.

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