Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ballantine India Pale Ale

I really like the old retro beer brands, for some reason they just speak to me. I suppose it's because, when I was a little kid, dying to taste a sip of beer, the adults around me at the time were unironically drinking Schlitz, Olympia, Old Style, Old Milwaukee and the like. So, when I heard that Ballantine had revived their long lost IPA, I knew I had to try it. I already knew I really liked the Ballantine XXX Ale. There is a very good story on the All About Beer website on how they approached recreating the recipe for this IPA when they no longer had the actual recipe. The bottle indicates they started brewing their IPA in 1878. 

The beer pours a really lovely, clear, yet deep, copper, amber and dark orange in color. There is a very tall, thick, foamy, somewhat creamy head of off-white that leaves sedimentary rings of lacing on the glass. The aroma is oranges, citrus tang, with light passion fruit and guava over a rich, deep, caramel malt. The taste follows the aromas, hitting the same notes, lots of orange and caramel malt, and then pow! A wave of powerful bitterness, exponential bites of grapefruit skin, hits the finish. The bitterness becomes spicy. The beer drinks very smooth and round, with a light, well-matched carbonation.

This beer belies the notion in our heads that back in the day, before the craft beer revolution, everyone drank light golden beers like Budweiser. This notion probably is true for a few decades in the recent past, but there were recipes like this out there from what was, in its time, a very large brewer. Also, check pictures of people drinking beer around the time of Prohibition. I saw two recently, one taken the day before Prohibition took effect, the other the day it ended. In each, everyone you can see in the bar is drinking a very dark beer, obviously a porter or stout.

Here is some history on the Ballantine brewery: Ballantine first started brewing in Albany, New York in 1833. It moved in 1840 to Newark, New Jersey. It quickly became one of the top five brewers in America. It grew to be the third most popular beer in America by the 1950's.  It had celebrity endorsements that included Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway in his only commercial endorsement ever. They also sponsored the New York Yankees, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Celtics, even owning that team for a time. It's symbols include the "XXX" and the three rings of "Purity, Body, and Flavor" inspired by the interlocking wet rings left on the bar when founder Peter Ballantine drank a pint. The brand was sold to Falstaff in 1972, and then to Pabst in the early 1990's, where the brand remains today.

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