JAL Adds Cristal to First Class Champagne List

One of the highlights of any first class flying experience for many people is the complimentary champagne. Airlines are in a constant effort to help their first class products stand out by offering some of the most premium wines and champagnes available. And now one airline is making a notable change to their roster. JAL (Japan Airlines) just made a switch-up in its champagne line-up and will start serving Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne 2009 to its first class passengers in 2018.

Cristal comes in UV-resistant orange cellophane wrapping.

This change is technically a bit of a downgrade as their current champagne offered is Salon which goes for over $400 a bottle. Meanwhile, Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne 2009 is closer to the $200-$300 range. Of course, price isn’t everything when it comes to champagne but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

The interesting history of Cristal

Cristal has an interesting history. Many view it as the first prestige cuvée in the in the Champagne region dating back to 1876. It was created for Alexander II of Russia who during an unstable political climate feared assassination. He thus ordered that champagne bottles for his Three Emperors Dinner be made clear, so that he could see the bubbles and so nobody could hide a bomb beneath them (which apparently could happen with dark bottles). So a Flemish glassmaker created a clear glass champagne bottle with a flat bottom and the champagne took on the name Cristal.

In the 90s and early 2000s, Cristal became hugely popular with hip hop and rap culture. The drink went by names like “Crissy” and could be spotted in tons of music videos and in rap lyrics from hip hop legends like Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and many others. As a kid who grew up listening to a lot of hip hop during that era, I always associated Cristal with being one of the most luxurious beverages on the planet. (And I wasn’t too far off, as it received a rare perfect 100-point score from Wine & Spirits magazine in 2002.)

But in an interview with The Economist in 2006, Louis Roederer managing director, Frederic Rouzaud, said he viewed the attention from rappers with “curiosity and serenity” and when asked if he thought the association with rappers was good for the brand, he stated, “that’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

Many hip hop artists saw this as a dig to hip hop culture and boycotts of Cristal (led by Jay-Z) began and eventually it just sort of fell of the hip-hop map. Apparently Cristal is still doing fine, however, and never actually took a major hit from the rappers’ boycott. Still, I believe (as well as many others) that Louis Roederer made a mistake in not embracing hop-hop’s love for the bubbly.

Final word

Cristal-rapper beefs aside, it will be interesting to see what other airlines begin to switch up their champagne offerings in the future. I’m a big fan of both Krug and Dom Perignon which are both served by Singapore but other airlines have introduced new options like Cathay Pacific offering Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006. Maybe we’ll start to see a re-emergence of Cristal in the future? Who knows, but it is great to see more options popping up all around.