Don’t be a Champagne sucker

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CHAMPAGNE? More like SHAM-pagne, if you ask me.
Every New Year’s Eve, it’s the same ol’ swill: overpriced bottles of sweet, fizzy bad wine posing as a drinkable beverage worthy of celebration.

An entire year goes by, and none but the most pretentious puckered-palates touch the stuff.

But flip the calendar and, pop, we’re shooting corks and slopping the bubbly like we’re Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “Top Hat. ”

Gimme a break.

Champagne is rich people booze, priced to pinch your wallet hard enough to make you think you’re buying something special.

Dom Perignon at 160 bucks a bottle? The grapes are no different from regular wine, and it’s no harder to make, so howcum it’s so expensive?

It’s the P.T. Barnum Theory of Sucker Economics at work, separating the dumb from their cash. Smart drinkers see through that scam.

And by the way, if it’s cheap, it’s not real Champagne – just some over-CO-2’d dregs from California. Korbel? Krap!

Champagne’s dirty little secret is that it’s actually fortified wine, just like Thunderbird. The grapes from this region north of Paris aren’t sweet enough to produce a suitable amount of alcohol, so the Frenchies dump buckets of sugar into the casks before fermentation.

Even then, there’s no guarantee the bottle is actually drinkable.

Champagne vintages are like episodes of “Star Trek”: You can never tell if this is a Picard or a Kirk until you actually drink it.

Normally, I don’t waste this much space bashing an alcoholic beverage – you know, choose your own poison. But in this beer-drinker’s world, it’s about time we found a superior malternative to shampagne.

This New Year’s Eve, try one of these instead:

  • Gueuze Vigneronne Cantillon – Tart, dry, with a touch of grape from the muscats added during maturation.
  • Framboise Boon – A raspberry lambic whose wild yeasts produce a sparkle in the glass. Try Frank Boon’s Mariage Parfait for something even drier.
  • Unibroue Blanche de Chambly – A light, almost lemony Belgian-style white ale from Canada.
  • Kindl Berliner Weisse – Another wheat beer, from Germany, it’s so tart (almost sour) that the brew is usually cut with fruit syrup. Try it straight on Monday night.
  • Victory Golden Monkey – The Downingtown brewery’s version of a Belgian tripel is strong, but not heavy like a stout or barleywine. Split a bottle with a friend.
  • Corsendonk Christmas Ale – Everybody tastes something different in this brew: orange, chocolate, lemon. The best thing is you can find it in extra-large bottles that should put those grape-filled jeroboams to shame.
  • Miller High Life – It’s the champagne of beers!

And what will we toast this year? Here’s a sixpack of glad tidings:

  1.  Coors will finally pay for polluting the unfortunately misnamed Clear Creek in Golden, Colo. You might remember the beer factory polluted its source of water last year Рthe equivalent of peeing into your own beer Рwith a spill that killed 50,000 fish. After months of talks, the state Wildlife Division accepted a $500,000 payment.
  2. Guinness will take over the former Pabst brewery outside Allentown. OK, it’s not beer they’re brewing; instead, they’ll churn out some loathsome alcoholized fruit drink under the Smirnoff label. But at least it puts out-of-work brewery employees back on the payroll.
  3. Yards Brewing is getting close to opening its new facility in Kensington. Located in a former bottling facility for the old Weisbrod & Hess brewery (Rheingold) at Amber and Hagert streets, the move marks the return of one of the neighborhood’s long-lost industries.
  4. Worldwide beer consumption is up for the 15th consecutive year. Japan’s Kirin Brewery says it rose by 2.6 percent, to 136.1 kiloliters. I have no idea how much that is, but it sounds like more than a few dozen sixpacks.
  5. Beer as bait. In England, a man who hates Christmas cut short a two-week holiday stay in an underground bunker for a pint. In California, marathon organizers are trying to lure runners with a free post-race beer.
  6. The city finally got its first beer-related historic marker. It’s at Poplar and American streets, Northern Liberties, near the site where German immigrant John Wagner brewed America’s first lager beer in 1840. Beer historian Rich Wagner (no relation) gets the credit for years of lobbying the state historic commission to commemorate the birthplace of the nation’s most popular beer style.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a 2-year-old bottle of Victory Old Horizontal.

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