Ballantine IPA To Return

ballantine-ipa
This is exciting news. Pabst is bringing back the iconic Ballantine IPA, one of the few ales made by a bigger brewery, and one of the only examples of an India Pale Ale before the 1980s. There were, I believe, maybe a dozen or so American IPAs after prohibition, though by the 1960s Ballantine was the last man standing. I’m not sure when they stopped making it initially, sometime during the 1970s I believe, although they did bring it back briefly in 1995, only to discontinue it again. But beginning next month, it will be back again, brewed at Cold Springs Brewing in Minnesota. That’s actually good news, I think, because they’ve been brewing the canned 21st Amendment beers, so they’re already familiar with making hoppy beers. Also, the Pabst brewmaster, Gregory Deuhs, used to brew for Redhook at their Woodinville, Washington brewery.

ballantine-ipa

When I first started drinking beer, Ballantine Ale was around, but I never had the IPA, sad to say. I remember talking to Michael Jackson about his memory of how the beer tasted while sharing a cab from an event back to our hotel at GABF one year in the 1990s. He recalled it fondly, though it was probably closer to what today we’d consider an English-style IPA, in his recollection of it, though I believe he thought it was around 45 IBUs. It appears that the new version will be 7.2% a.b.v. and 70 IBUs, which is at the upper end of the BJCP guidelines, making it more like a modern American-style IPA. I may be wrong about this, but I’d be surprised if it was like that in the 1970s, not even Liberty Ale, which was (pun-intended) revolutionary in 1975 when it was released, was that high. Liberty Ale is 5.9% a.b.v. and around 47 IBUs.

Apparently, the new Ballantine version “uses four different malts and eight different hops, as well as hop oil to finish it off. American oak chips are used in the process, harking back to the oak and cypress barrels used for the original beer.” I’m certainly very interested to try it. It seems like a great move, given that IPAs are such a growing category, for Pabst to revive it now when interest in them is at an all-time high.

From the press release:

First brewed in 1878 by P. Ballantine & Sons Brewing Company in Newark, NJ, Ballantine India Pale Ale was the only American-made beer that successfully continued the tradition of the 19th century IPAs once Prohibition ended. This was due in large part to the brewery’s steadfast commitment to ‘Purity, Body, and Flavor” — as exemplified by the three interlocking Borromean rings found on every bottle.

Ballantine’s brewers were meticulous about ensuring that the beer’s gravity, alcohol content, IBUs, and hopping rates remained consistent well into the mid-20th century. Another unique method that characterized Ballantine India Pale Ale was a hopping process in which the distilled oils from a hop-and-water mixture were added to the brew, giving the beer an intense hoppy flavor that was quite distinct from its competition. P. Ballantine & Sons was also rumored to have matured the India Pale Ale in huge wooden vats for up to a year in order to help develop the ale’s original flavor.

In order to replicate the original recipe as closely as possible, Pabst Master Brewer Gregory Deuhs reverse-engineered the beer, ensuring the robust heritage and quality of the 136-year-old brew was properly reflected in the 21st century version.

“I began this project with a simple question: How would Peter Ballantine make his beer today?” said Master Brewer Deuhs, adding, “There wasn’t a ‘secret formula’ in anyone’s basement we could copy, so I conducted extensive research looking for any and all mentions of Ballantine India Pale Ale, from the ale’s processing parameters, aroma and color, alcohol and bitterness specifications. Many brewers and craft beer drinkers would be impressed that the Ballantine India Pale Ale of the 1950s and ‘60s would rival any craft IPA brewed today.”

Over the course of two years and over two dozen iterations of five-gallon batches handmade at his home near Milwaukee, WI, Deuhs finally struck gold.

“Unlike recreating a lost brew from long ago, I had the advantage of actually being able to speak with people who drank Ballantine back in the day,” continued Deuhs. “Their feedback was crucial to ensuring that the hoppy, complex flavor that was revered for over a hundred years was front and center in my recipe.”

It will be sold in six-pack bottles and limited-edition 750 ml bottles beginning in northeast market, and hopefully released in wider distribution after that.

ballantine-ipa-back

Here’s some more info about the new Ballantine IPA:

  • Dry hopping and the addition of hop oil has long been credited as the key to the beer’s unique profile. In addition, a proprietary brewing method ensures that every drop of Ballantine India Pale Ale comes in contact with American Oak, effectively capturing the robust flavor and heritage of the brand. With the reintroduction, an entirely new generation of craft beer enthusiasts will experience what made America’s Original IPA so exceptional.
  • In the 1950s, Ballantine was the third largest brewery in the country, going on to become the primary broadcast sponsor for the New York Yankees. Despite stiff competition, the IPA continued to flourish as its dry hopping process gave the beer an intense, distinct hop presence, unlike anything else available in the United States at that time.
  • In the 1970s, taste preferences changed and American lagers edged out the IPA, a trend that was abruptly reversed with the craft beer movement of the past few years. This increased interest in craft beer gave Pabst the perfect opportunity to bring back America’s Original IPA.

Comments

  1. Donald Gortemiller says

    If this comes out with the Massive Oak and Hop flavors I remember, then they should immediately start work on a Ballantine Burton Ale Resurrection!!!

  2. Gary Gillman says

    Important and salutary news, thanks Jay. It all sounds wonderful, except I am a little chary of the oak chips thing. Ballantine IPA, which I drank many times, did not have a marked wood flavour. I won’t say it had no wood taste, but very little. From everything I’ve read, the large oak containers used to age the beer were always lined, as Pabst surely knows, but possibly the researchers considered that despite being lined they imparted some wood character to the beer, What it did not have was a buttery “Chardonnay” taste so Pabst, if you are ready, go easy on the chips department: the main thing was the big malt and hop character. After years of entreaties by beer mavens including me, they finally did the right thing and brought this puppy back. Good for them, and the results will soon show.

    • Donald Gortemiller says

      We must be thinking of different beers. The Ballantine IPA of the mid to late 70′s had stupefying hop bitterness and tremendous oak character. The second go around of the ’90′s had none of this and was disappointing.
      I hope my memories have not been clouded by the years.

      • The Professor says

        I agree, Donald. Despite the fact that it was rather expensive at the time, it was actually my go-to brew (especially during my college years). I drank boatloads of the stuff beginning in the late ’60s when it came from the original Newark brewery (15 miles from where I lived). It was, in fact, the second sixpack I ever bought for myself when I was about to come of age ;-) (the first was Pabst Bock).

        I have very vivid memories of how the original Newark NJ brewed IPA tasted and through the years have researched the brew quite a bit. Conversations with some of the people responsible for making the stuff confirm that the original product was _at least_ 70 IBU (sometimes higher and, especially by the 1980s, a bit lower). And I agree that it had a very intense “wood” character. I don’t know if it was a byproduct of their yeast, a characteristic of the Bullion hops they used, or if if it was from their giant wooden aging tanks…but the wood character was _definitely_ part of the beer’s palate. I have recently tasted a bottle of the original IPA dating from sometime in the mid 60s and while the hop character has obviously faded, the aroma and taste of oak was quite striking in it’s intensity. I must say I was quite surprised at how well it held up .

        I hope they are able to recapture some of the old magic. I find most IPAs made in recent years to be deficient and lacking the great balance and intense, clean bitterness that the old Ballantine product had. If the powers that be at Pabst had any brains, they would have initiated this attempt at a _faithful_ re-creation years ago.

  3. says

    Very good news. But, Pabst, the company with no brewery actually has a brewmaster?

    Of course I am waiting and hoping for them to reintroduce Falstaff. Of course with an updated recipe. Perhaps the rarest beer was the one small batch of Falstaff they put out rather recently to maintain the trademark. No idea where it was released so perhaps that was only a rumor. Keep up the good work

    • says

      Don, yes actually most, if not every, contract brewer, especially large ones like Pabst, have a brewmaster who oversees the production and brewing, tweaks recipes, etc. Even at brewing companies with their own equipment, the job of brewmaster involves very little actual time brewing on the equipment, but instead overseeing the staff, maintaining the process, and a host of other important big picture jobs. A brewmaster typically comes up through the ranks, having done all of the brewing jobs and eventually oversees younger brewers. So for someone like Pabst to have a brewmaster is very important, because that’s the only way to insure your contract is being carried out to your satisfaction and they’re creating a consistent product.

      • Gary Gillman says

        And furthermore, Greg Deuhs has first-class qualifications. Check them out on his linkedin page. This guy is all about beer and I took comfort from that when I first read of the revival here. Still, I hope this beer doesn’t taste like, say, the Innis & Gunn beers aged on wood staves. That would ruin it.

  4. Beerman49 says

    Like Jay, I never had the early version, tho I did drink the regular Ballantine Ale (which was of the “American light” style). In the 70′s I preferred Molson’s (the original, now called “Export Ale”) & Carling Red Cap (which had more body, & another candidate for resurrection); Labatt 50 hadn’t yet made it down to DC area before I moved back to CA late 1978.

    I tried the 90′s version on one of my trips east; agree w/the other commentators that it pretty much sucked. May the new version be better (& come in BROWN bottles instead of that hideous pale green)!

  5. Carl says

    The “oak flavor” that has been added to this beer is disingenuous. Ballantine IPA was originally aged in oak vats for up to a year, yes, but these vats were lined so as not to impart any flavor from the wood. All the research done on this and no one dusted off that little chestnut?

    • The Professor says

      You raise a good point, Carl, but….
      It’s true that their many enormous oak storage vats had to have been lined in some way, but the fact of the matter is that however the oak taste got into the original product, it _was _present. Whether it was, as some have speculated, a byproduct of the hops used back then or a byproduct of the year long aging in the vats somehow managing to sneak a bit of oak into the flavor profile…who knows.
      But the oak presence was most definitely a characteristic of this beer, especially in the Newark days.

      In fact, last year I opened up one of several bottles I have of the original Bally IPA (dating from sometime in the mid 1960s) and despite the expected lack of any significant hop presence after such a long time, I was quite surprised by three things: 1) The condition of the brew—very mild sherry notes indicating that oxidation was minimal; 2) The malt backbone still shining through quite impressively considering the age of the bottle (almost 50 years); and 3) The subtle but distinct “oakiness” in both the nose and the taste.
      So there is no question whatsoever that the “oak” character was there…and any attempt to reproduce the flavor of the original Bally IPA would require getting some of that in there in some way.
      I expect to be giving the new product a try within the next few days. It will certainly be interesting comparing it to my vivid memories of the original, which was my first-choice beer for well over a decade (until the drastic formula changes in the 1980s)

  6. Dan Vasey says

    I regularly drank Ballantine IPA and would say it’s hard to classify as English or American. Several sources put the bitterness at 70 IBUs, and I agree. Hop flavor and aroma were too intense for an English IPA, but not at all citrusy or piny, rather very herbal and woody. Ballantine distilled and fractionated their own hop oils, from Bullion. They used the floral and fruity fractions in the XXX ale, the herbal and woody fractions in the IPA, which complemented and buttressed the oak flavor. There was some fruit from the yeast as well.

  7. Rich says

    I only drank the version that was available in the nineties. Crack open a bottle and you could smell it across the room. Was very sad to see it go but the store manager said they sold a case a month. Hopefully this new version catches on with the hipster generation and we can enjoy it for years to come. As a Jersey guy if love to see Ballantine become the big bang it once was. And see those silver can beers go back to the Rockies where they belong.

  8. Paul Therrien says

    I drank Ballantine ale back in the early 70′s after getting out of the Air Force. I really loved the stuff, and it was available just about anywhere, on tap, in cans and bottles. Too bad it went out of favor. It should be available again, the IPA, in just a few days and I’m so looking forward to having it again in the glass bottles.

  9. david fournier says

    I just received an un-opened 6oz. bottle of ORIGINAL of Ballantine IPA from my aunt. Her father, my grandfather, drank it back in the day and had some bottles stashed amongst his carpentry tools. For what ever reason she hung onto this bottle, and another with no label, for the last 60 years or so. Could these be used to re-create the original recipe?

  10. The Professor says

    I’ve got several bottles of the old IPA mostly from the 1960s but (including at least one from the 1950s) and a number of bottles of their Burton Ale. I’m certain an analysis could be done to determine _certain_ aspects of the original brew (color, FG, ABV, etc.), but the hop presence is long gone by now so it wouldn’t offer much of a clue about the flavor or unique balance of the original. The old sample I recently tasted did still taste of malt, and it did still have the much discussed “oak-like” character.

    After some difficulty, I’ve finally had a chance to taste the new version. Quite different from the original, but quite good.
    The big problem (at least here, smack in the middle of what is stated to be the primary distribution area) it is virtually impossible to _find_ the stuff. Most retailers claim they’ve never heard of it and the few that have heard of it stated flat out that they had no intention of carrying it. Even the designated Pabst distributors here (whom I managed to get on the phone in an effort to find some) seemed fairly ambivalent about getting it into the stores. One of them even seemed annoyed that people were asking about it. (!?!?!?)

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