The Rise and Fall of America’s Original IPA

It’s no surprise that IPAs are the most popular beer style in the world right now with New England IPAs taking the spotlight.

But before the hazy IPA craze, beer drinkers were demanding dank, hoppy, high IBU West Coast IPAs from breweries like Lagunitas, Russian River and Stone Brewing, just to name a few. These iconic breweries popped onto the scene in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

But what about the years before that? Even though IPAs can be traced back to the 1800’s, it seems there were only a few on the market until the mid-90s. Ballantine India Pale Ale was one of the top-selling in America.

THE ORIGIN STORY 

This story begins in 1840 when Peter Ballantine, an immigrant from Scotland founded a beer company called Patterson & Ballantine Brewing Company. In the beginning he rented an old brewing site that dated back to 1805 and began creating his ales.

Around 1850, Ballantine was able to buy out his partner and purchased land near the Passaic River in Newark, NJ. He invited his three sons to join the family business and in 1857 they renamed the company P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company.

Peter ran the brand until he died in 1883 just months after his oldest son had passed. His second oldest son controlled the brand until he died in 1895. The youngest son would run it until he died in 1905.

Following his death, the company was controlled by the VP, George Griswold Frelinghuysen, who was married to Peter’s granddaughter.

THE ORIGINAL RECIPE 

Ballantine India Pale Ale rolled out around 1878 introducing the new Americanized style which gave more emphasis on the hops versus common English IPAs that are a bit more malty. 

The original recipe used some unique practices that are uncommon today and would be either too expensive or difficult to produce on a large scale.

  • It was aged in large oak barrels for 6 to 12 months
     
  • They would grind the fresh hops and cook them in a partial vacuum to extract the oils which were later added during the aging process

Things were going well for Ballantine and then boom…Amendment 18 was passed, banning the sale and consumption of alcohol. The company was forced to consolidate and began manufacturing malt syrup to survive.

Not sure what malt syrup is….we weren’t either. 

It’s a sweet syrup made from malted barley. It starts out as “wort”, which is what brewers use to make beer, but in this case, it is condensed down into a thick syrup.The flavor is described as being similar to blackstrap molasses but not as overpowering.

Although surviving prohibition, by the time the 21st Amendment had passed in1933, the Ballantine family was ready to sell the company.

That’s when two brothers, Carl and Otto Badenhausen bought the brand. Through the use of clever marketing tactics and celebrity endorsements, they grew the company through its most successful years peaking in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

When television ads started airing, Ballantine Ale was the first tv commercial for the New York Yankees.

We found a few old tv commercials from the 50’s – 70s.


What adds to the allure of this IPA is the mystery that surrounds it. The original recipe was reportedly lost sometime after prohibition when the company was sold and relocated to a new brewing location.

Here’s what we do know:

  • The original recipe was a 7.2% ABV wood-aged beer
  • 60 IBUs
  • Unique aroma and bitterness from the hop oils addition
  • Went on the market post-Prohibition in 1934
  • However, some historians have noted that the first printed references to the company making a beer designated India pale ale appeared as early as 1878

During the mid-60’s Ballantine saw a decline in sales due to the rising popularity of lighter lagers with less alcohol. When the brand was sold to Falstaff Brewing Corporation in 1972, they closed the original brewery in Newark and continued to brew elsewhere.

They did not strictly adhere to Ballantine’s India Pale Ale recipe and over time it became a watered down version of itself. They used less hops, it had a lower ABV and they removed the barrel aging process.

After hitting hard times, Falstaff was sold to Pabst Brewing Company and Ballantine’s India Pale Ale was discontinued in 1995.

Fast forward to 2015, after the seeing the craft beer market start to boom and a resurgence of IPAs, Pabst wanted a way into the craft beer market. Thus the idea to recreate the iconic IPA was born. 

Because the recipe no longer exists, Pabst’s master brewer Greg Deuhs had to rely on old analytic reports from the 30’s that contained info about the ales alcohol, bitterness, gravity level. He spent two years researching what type of hops and ingredients brewers were using around that time.

Gregs final recipe included eight different hop varieties, four specialty malts, hop oil and the use of oak staves to introduce wood similar to the original barrel aging process.

So what does it taste? We’re not sure because we weren’t able to get  a bottle before this issue published but we did find some reviews…here is one of the 5 star reviews.

  • The beer poured with a dense light-tan head, with a deep amber color. Great hop aroma immediately on opening the bottle – possibly attributable to the hop oil used in the fermentation. Truly what an IPA should be,
    and will have a permanent place in my beer fridge. – LawrenceHandy