The Intriguing Harmony of Krug Champagne in a Beer Glass at a Pub

By | 13 March 2024

Adelaide’s Exeter Hotel is an unlikely yet beloved Australian second home for the prestigious Champagne house.


Nick Ryan

Olivier Krug leans back against the front bar of Adelaide’s Exeter Hotel while Australian musician Nick Cave observes closely from within a frame on the wall. He holds an enchilada in one hand; its edges are charred, and the center is cold—a result of cooking that’s only possible in an old toaster oven. In his other hand is a 7-ounce beer glass, a favorite of budget-conscious retirees and individuals with an irrational fear of their beer getting warm too quickly.

This out-of-place scene becomes even more so when you look closely at the glass. His last name is elegantly engraved in gold, yet it is not filled with beer, but with the beverage that has made his name synonymous with the very best Champagne. However, contradiction is what the Exeter does best. In different parts of the globe, outlets boasting the highest sales of Krug are typically luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. In Australia, this honor was held for a significant length of time by a venue masquerading as a pub, where the spirits of thought-provoking patrons and barroom bards still linger over worn-out stools and those avoidable restrooms that you’d think twice before using even in the direst of circumstances.

The association between a supremely esteemed Champagne house, a star in the portfolio of the globe’s top ranking luxury goods firm, and a pub in Adelaide with a bare minimum dress code that politely suggests ‘pants’ may seem peculiar at first glance. However, on closer inspection the correlation begins to make sense.

Respected Australian wine journalist, Philip White, is the one who persistently nudged the publican of that time, Nick Binns, to introduce Krug to the pub’s traditional chalkboard wine menu still on display above the bar. This was during the mid-80s when the pub was gaining a reputation as the favourite haunt for Adelaide’s community of artists, writers, and importantly, winemakers. This establishment was known for offering a mythic Clare Valley product made by Wendouree as house red, poured at the bar for just A$6 a glass.

During this era, White was essentially part of the furniture, with several bar stools elegantly shaped by the contours of his physique. Being a close friend of Olivier’s father and uncle, Henri and Rémi Krug, he was of the belief that such a unique pub deserves nothing less than truly bespoke Champagne. Binns struggled with how to appropriately price a wine that was pricier than the entirety of his current selection, resulting in applying the same minimum markup he used for all other beverages. Consequently, it became the most affordable venue in Australia to purchase a bottle of Krug.

Drinking the world’s premier Champagne amidst the rugged charm of the Exeter presents an amusing contrast, which is further emphasized by a local custom of consuming this high-end fizz from the simplest of vessels. Bar staff offer flutes when Krug is ordered, but those privy to the tradition demand petite beer glasses instead. The origin of the 7-ounce “butcher” glass dates back to times when Adelaide slaughterhouse workers would get to the rail yards five minutes ahead of the livestock they were collecting to sneak in a quick beer at a pub nearby.

Enjoying “a butcher of Krug at the Ex” has become a customary practice among those in the wine business visiting the region, and this peculiar tradition has gained global popularity. Enology students from the University of Adelaide club together their limited resources to indulge in this trend at the academic year’s culmination. Over the past 35 years that I have been partaking in this practice, countless wayward choices have been justified with the statement, “It’s never too late for Krug.”

Following the release of the 166th edition of Grande Cuvée, Olivier decided to commission 166 butcher glasses. These embossed, numbered glasses were swiftly purchased, with each bottle sold corresponding to a single glass. Olivier has glass no.1, Kevin Gregg, the current owner, holds no.2, and I prize no.3. Each subsequent release maintains this convention. Clémence, Olivier’s daughter, received her glass during her inaugural visit in 2023, where she also demonstrated her impressive darts skills at 2 a.m.

This butcher-glass tradition epitomizes both Krug’s and the Exeter’s distinguishing feature: a strong demonstration of the Australian habit to honor in an inverse manner, expressing respect for something extraordinary through apparent nonchalance.

And that’s something Olivier Krug has learned to love through several visits in recent years. “Krug is comfortable wherever people love Krug,” says Olivier each time he comes back to the bar that underlines that principle more than any other. It’s an unlikely pairing, but somehow it just works. 

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