It all started with a mystery. Well, with the purchase of a long-forgotten brewery brand and a mystery, that is. When Pabst Brewing acquired the Ballantine brand in 2005 they weren’t 100% sure what they would do with it, but they did know they wanted to keep the memory of the old brewery alive.
Master brewer Greg Deuhs took it upon himself to memorialize the old brewery the best way he knew how, and that was by resurrecting their iconic Ballantine India Pale Ale. After two years of research and test batches brewed in his own kitchen, Deuhs and Pabst have come up with a beer that is as close to the original as possible. At this point you’re probably wondering why they didn’t just pull up the old recipe, scale it to fit their current system and brew away. Well, that’s where the mystery comes in.
The Mystery of Ballantine IPA
Before the time of computers and digital file storage, things like recipes and procedures for brewing beer were stored the old fashioned way, on paper at the brewery. Copies were made for day to day brewing, and the originals were kept in a safe or locked cabinet. When the brewery was shuttered in the 1960s it is believed that the original recipes were lost to exiting employees who may very well have the original Ballantine India Pale Ale recipe in their attic or basement still today.
Deuhs and Pabst unlocked this mystery by studying the ingredients available at the time, talking to experts in past brewing practices, and best of all, by brewing batches and having people familiar with the brand taste them.
While we’ll never know how close the newest iteration of Ballantine IPA is to the original, the important thing is that it really is a great beer.
The original Ballantine IPA used some pretty interesting brewing practices to craft the iconic beer, many of which are far too costly or difficult to do on a large scale today. One such practice is the aging of the original beer in oak barrels for 6-12 months. While some higher-cost beers today do this, aging a standard IPA today like this would be far too time consuming as well as resource consuming as well.
This practice has been replaced with aging the beer on toasted oak spirals now, which is a newer brewing practice that requires far less time and oak to get the same flavor and profile.
The original Ballantine India Pale Ale also used a complex hopping system that involved grinding up the fresh hops and cooking them in a partial vacuum to extract their oils. While using hop oil is a practice today, this unique method yielded a very specific taste and bitterness that is hard to duplicate, even though it seems to have been by the brewers at Pabst.
The original IPA also used ingredients that aren’t that common today, and required quite a bit of testing to find suitable replacements for. Some of the hops believed to have been used in the original Ballantine beer are hard to come by for small batches and nearly impossible to find for full-scale production. These hops were profiled and suitable replacements were found when necessary.
Fact From Fiction
Any brewery that’s been around since the 1840s is bound to have equal parts fact and fiction included in their story, and Ballantine is no different. The Ballantine Brewing Co. was founded in 1840 in Newark, New Jersey by Peter Ballantine, an immigrant originally from Scotland. The original brewery’s name was the Patterson & Ballantine Brewing Company, but in 1850 Peter bought out his partner and had his three sons join him in the family business.
In 1857 with his sons onboard, the name of the brewery was changed to P. Ballantine and Sons, a name it carried with it until 1972 when the brewery closed up shop.
The brewery changed hands a few times over the years, peaking at the 3rd largest brewery in the US in the 1950s before finally starting to decline in the 1960s, as the brand’s beers started to be contracted out and quality decreased. Beer has been produced up until the late 1980s with the Ballantine name, even though the beer itself was a far cry from its glory days.
Jumping ahead to today, the Ballantine name is back and the same focus on quality and taste is once again a focal point for the brand. The revived Ballantine India Pale Ale is not only a great IPA for today, but a great representation of what possibly the first American IPA tasted like.
History is great, but enjoying a Ballantine IPA is what’s important. The beer itself uses four different malts and eight different hops, including a special hop oil addition in lieu of the standard dry hopping. Even though there’s quite a bit of bitterness and hop flavor in this beer, there’s still a nice balance between the malt and the hops, but still leans more towards the bitter side of things, as an American IPA should.
The beer pours clear and bright with a frothy white head. The aroma is very hop forward with some caramel malt in the back. Overall it’s a fresh hoppy aroma that makes your mouth water.
As for taste, the first thing you should notice is a slight malty sweetness followed up by a hit of hoppy citrus and bitterness. The hops transition as you taste the beer from citrus to resin with some slight piney tastes. The finish continues to be hoppy and it leaves a lasting bitterness even after you swallow.
The oak chips perfectly mellow the beer out just enough to keep it from being harsh, but allow it to carry though all the hop flavor you’d expect from an American IPA. Even though this beer comes in at 7.2% ABV and 70 IBUs, it retains quite a bit of drinkability.
Overall, Ballantine India Pale Ale is a world-class beer that is thankfully available for us to drink again. Crisp, clean, and hoppy enough for any hop head, this beer is one you need to try.