To consume Champagne and other carbonation-based life-forms
If you were near a television in the 1970s, during commercial breaks on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, you might have been informed that Miller was “the Champagne of beers.” The spots primed a permanent association of the two beverages in the young and impressionable “X” generation, countless members of which were also watching. One would think this early introduction to the vagaries of written analogy would prove good practice for the SATs:
Miller is to Champagne as, say, Hamm’s is to refreshing.
Wrong. Or at least, I scored none too well. But it does beg the question, what is the beer of Champagne? All these years later, I decided to find out.
After several experiments with as many beers, I deduced that the “Beer of Champagne” is, “who the f--- cares and get me another.”
I’ve written enough stunt-drinking articles to know that me and the other hacks on the booze beat are just monetizing our alcoholism. Comparing Champagne and beer is like comparing apples and oranges or, more accurately, grapes and grain. If this were Sunday school, I’d go further and add that one makes the blood, the other the body, and we could transubstantiate our two-fisted drinking into a religious experience. But isn’t it anyway?
As Dr. “Bones” McCoy might point out, “They’re both carbonation-based lifeforms, Jim,” and as such, have inalienable rights to be imbibed in equal measure by one and all. There are some key differences, however.
Consider this—beer comes in both bottles and cans. Champagne comes only in bottles. These range from single-serve sizes to the Nebuchadnezzar, which is 15 liters or equivalent to 20 regular bottles of wine, or four gallons if you were going to put it in your tank (don’t do this). In between is a veritable roll call of biblical and Babylonian characters who’ve lent their names to various bottle sizes: Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Methuselah. Why these became names of bottles instead of a triple-bill metal concert is beyond me.
There is an exception to the sparkling wine no-can-do spirit—Sofia Coppola’s Blanc de Blancs mini cans. The filmmaker’s namesake blanc de blancs blend comes in pink 187 milliliter cans sold in four-packs in a decorative pink box. Somehow, this packaging premise manages to evoke the title of all her movies at once: The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. See what I mean?
Frankly, the only container from which one should drink sparkling wine is the bottle it came in. As anyone who’s ever tried to take a slug straight from the bottle quickly learns, it’s rather like taking a sip of water from a fire hose. Simply tipping the bottle the necessary 22 degrees to take a swig activates the natural effervescence, releasing a veritable explosion that will go right up your nose. It’s been clinically proven that it bypasses the digestive system entirely and just goes right to the brain.
There are other ways to have Champagne “go straight to your head.” Like through your mouth. The sense of levity and lightheadedness one experiences when drinking a glass of bubbly is actually the sensation of your brain floating within your skull. The bubbles are like life jackets for your brain cells. Think about it. But not while drinking Champagne—you could capsize a neuron.
Another difference between beer and Champagne is that the latter is inherently classier because it originated in France and the French insist c’est vrai. This is why it’s used in celebrations. Because we celebrate almost anything in our culture, we tend to go through quite a bit of Champagne, a fair portion of which never makes it into a glass so much as everywhere else. Spraying a bottle of bubbly on your teammates in the locker room signifies victory. In contrast, spraying beer on your teammates in a locker room means you want to fight. Smashing a bottle of champers on the prow of a new ship is a traditional nautical ceremony. Smashing a bottle of Miller on a ship results in the waste of a perfectly good boat.
Like environmental programs that issue carbon credits, we should enact a Champagne conservation act. For every bottle that’s destroyed or otherwise used in a manner that sidesteps drinking it, a bottle should be sent to me. I’ll be sure it’s put to good use as a “Champagne offset” and even send you bumper sticker: “This Champagne’s CO2 is balanced by Daedalus Howell.”
Yes, the carbon dioxide that creates the bubbles in bubbly is the same gas you’re offsetting with carbon offsets. The gas is released as the natural yeasts in Champagne’s secondary fermentation die off and build up as sludge in the bottle. This is why they require occasional riddling, wherein some dude rotates the racked bottles to disperse the sediments. It also causes carpal tunnel syndrome, besides sounding like something a Batman villain would do. And just to bring it full circle, in 1967s “Ring Around the Riddler” episode of Batman, actor Frank Gorshin’s Riddler disguised himself as the evil prizefighter “Mushi Nebuchadnezzar,” so named, it seems, to provide a half-ass rhyme for the line, “any aggressor should beware his successor.” Hmm. They could have rhymed Methuselah with “duh,” it works just as well.
It’s a shame the marketing minds at Miller never thought to bring the Riddler in on their campaigns, since the precise moment that “Miller Time” actually occurs remains something of a riddle (“Riddle me this, Batman, when are you both a champ and a pain”? I could go on but I won’t). Sparkling wine, however, can be enjoyed any time for any occasion. Here are my top three reasons I think you should pop a cork:
(1) You didn’t wake up dead. If you did, you would be a zombie. If you truly desire to join the ranks of the undead, you can achieve a similar state, without all the occultism, simply by drinking 12 or more glasses of Champagne in rapid succession. Trust me—after this, you will act, feel, and look like a zombie. You might even moan “Brains...” as you clutch what’s left of your own.
(2) The discovery of the Higgs boson particle in the Large Hadron Collider. What does it mean? Well, you can replicate the findings of the CERN scientists by getting a pal, two flutes of champagne and “colliding” them repeatedly by clinking them in a toast. After each such collision, analyze their contents by tasting them. Repeat the exercise ad infinitum until one of you sees the “God Particle.” Takes about eight tries.
(3) You woke up dead. Hooray, you’re a zombie! Let’s raise a glass to walking dead! If you’ve got the brains we’ve got the Champagne!
My sparkling wine of choice is anything by Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma, California. A review of some of their sparkling darlings helped win me my first national writing award back in 2007. Here’s an actual quote from my review: “The Sonoma Brut was a fine curtain opener—a spiny, mean little thing with an acid tongue that suggested a smack on the lips from a femme fatale’s kid sister—haughty, brash and delightfully immature.” And, yes, I was paid to write that. Now, if only I’d used it on the essay section of the SAT.
Daedalus Howell gets bubbly at DHowell.com.
From the 2012 Fall issue of SONOMA