Earlier this month, big news swept the IPA world: Pabst is resurrecting Ballantine IPA. What exactly is Ballantine IPA, a beer that prompted USA Today to write the headline “Going hipster, Pabst resurrecting Ballantine IPA,” and why should you care? For starters, it was bitter before bitter was cool.
Ballantine India Pale Ale was first produced in 1878 by P. Ballantine & Sons Brewing Co., a now-defunct New Jersey brewery that, by the 1950s, was ranked the third-largest brewery in the country. In its time, the beer was allegedly the hoppiest IPA in the States, due to the use of dry-hopping and hop extract (sounds kind of familiar, no?). It was aged on oak, too. So, by my calculations, that means there are legions of retirees who can rightfully claim “first” to drinking an oak-aged, dry-hopped IPA, a style that’s pretty popular these days.
But by the 1970s, as lagers continued to dominate the market, “America’s Original IPA,” as some might call it, was put out to pasture. But IPAs are back, and Pabst—brewer of dozens of brands, including hipsters’ chosen lager, Pabst Blue Ribbon—has decided the beer’s idled away on the sidelines long enough. Pabst is putting Ballantine IPA back in the game.
The resurrection of Ballantine IPA was no easy feat; it was a two-year passion project of Pabst brewmaster Gregory Deuhs. What took so long? Well, there’s no known Ballantine IPA recipe that Deuhs could copy. Instead, he had to reverse-engineer the beer based on recorded specs (like ABV and IBUs), historic knowledge of available ingredients and, the coolest part, interview people who once guzzled down the beer, possibly at old-timey New York Yankees games, of which Ballantine was a sponsor.
“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,” Deuhs said in a release. “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.”
So, perhaps reconsider saying, “It’s not your grandfather’s beer,” when you crack open that next IPA. Your grandfather was likely drinking IPAs back when your dad was still in short-pants.
Pabst is planning to launch Ballantine IPA this September in Northeast markets, including New York, New Jersey, Boston, Philly, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Maine. The beer will be packaged in sixers and limited-edition 750-mL bottles, which you can expect to flood your Instagram feed any day now.
So, why should you care? First, it’s a “new” IPA. Tickers gotta tick, you know. But, it’s also a pretty well-researched approximation of what American IPAs tasted like pre-Prohibition, and after “The Noble Experiment,” in the days of massive brewery consolidation. Macro lager producers of the past have pretty much white-washed this country’s beer history—the fact that IPAs were even a thing back then might shock some—so it’s pretty unique to taste a bit of history, even if it’s a rough estimate of the historic beer.[Image courtesy of Ballantine IPA/Pabst Brewing Co.]