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Pabst IPA: Welcome to 2014

Ballantine IPAOK, officially, we’re talking about the return of Ballatine India Pale Ale. But Pabst owns the brand and here’s a key quote from Pabst brewmaster Greg Deuhs: “We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA.” So I think there’s merit in the headline.

In any event, very good news, given that now perhaps more people will give this underappreciated India Pale Ale style a try.

News so big it warranted a story in USA TODAY with this headline: “Going hipster, Pabst resurrecting Ballantine IPA.”

Enough silliness. Ballantine India Pale Ale has an important place in American brewing history. Mitch Steele provides the details in IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. A press release announcing the revival indicates the new version will be 7.2% alcohol and contain 70 IBU. That’s pretty close to what it was right after Prohibition (7.2%, 60 IBU) and unlike what it was by the 1970s (6.7%, 45 IBU, less as the decade went on).

Also in the press release, Beuhs says: “I began this project with a simple question: How would Peter Ballantine make his beer today? 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.”

He brewed more than two dozen five-gallon test batches at home.

“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,” he said for the press 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.”

The new version is made with eight different hop varieties, although it isn’t clear what they are. After Prohibition the brewers distilled the oils from Bullion hops at the brewery and added them to storage tanks, its aroma making it as unique among American beers as its alcoholic strength and bitterness. Later, they ran Bullion, Brewer’s Gold or American Yakima through a hammer mill before dry hopping, grinding them to “a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust.”

Here’s what Michael Jackson wrote about Ballantine IPA in his 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer: “Like a half-forgotten celebrity, thought by some admirers to have retired and by other to be dead, Ballantine’s has been living in quiet obscurity in Rhode island. Now, it is making something of a comeback.” He notes that brewers added Yakima and Brewer’s Gold hops in the kettle. “IPA’s colour is a rich copper in the British tradition, its head thick and rocky, its nose and palate intensely aromatic, and its body firm and full.”

Although Pabst later made a beer it called Ballantine IPA, the version served at the Great American Beer Festival in the mid-1990s did not resemble the one Jackson described. The 2014 Ballantine India Pale Ale surely will taste more like it did in 1955 than in 1995, but the IPA field is a little more crowded now. And if it really is to taste “genuine” how prominent should the citrus-pine-fruity-maybe-pungent aromas and flavors that pretty much define American IPA be? Those were not desirable back then.

Farmers didn’t begin growing the Cascade hop, the first to come out of an American hop breeding program, until 1972. Centennial was released in 1990 (although available earlier — that’s a blog post in itself), Chinook in 1985, Simcoe in 2000, Citra in 2008, El Dorado in 2011, Mosaic in 2012, Lemondrop in 2014, Equinox in 2014 — notice a trend? Ballantine IPA is stepping out of a time machine into an entirely different hop world.

23 Responses to Pabst IPA: Welcome to 2014

  1. Gary Gillman August 15, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    Certainly it is excellent news. I have no doubt that the many who have called on Pabst to do this (my voice amongst them via the odd note to the company over the years), have finally been heard. It sounds like a determined effort was made to go back to an early palate for the beer, which is all to the good.

    The wood chips treatment part, mentioned on Jay Brook’s summary of the news, concerns me a bit since I first drank the beer in the mid-70’s and do not recall a woody character. By all reports I’ve read, the beer was always aged in lined tanks, the lining was wax in the 1800’s (again from various online sources I’ve come across. Also, the tanks would have been reused countless times and would have been fairly neutral in their effect IMO). Therefore, the oak contact with the beer surely was nil or minimal.

    The Bullion and Northern Brewer hops might have imparted a stemmy character that some would think is oaky, Fuggles can do it too. So I hope Pabst goes easy with the wood chips. It would be a pity in particular to impart a buttery Chardonnay taste to the beer, since it never had that from the 70’s-90’s and I doubt this ever characterized the beer. If the chips impart only the slightest wood note, one you couldn’t tell was there unless you knew, that is the way to go.

    I agree 100% Stan that a citric “new school” hop taste should be avoided. Ballantine IPA never had that, it was much more English in character. Sam Adams Stock Ale is pretty close, say if you blended that with Greene King’s or Wells Young’s IPA and boosted the ABV.

    Also, some here will recall Woodstock IPA brewed by Alan Kornhauser in the north west about 15 years ago: that was an intentional replication and he got very close. If this new beer will be similar it will be a winner.

    The bottles when available are anxiously awaited.

    Gary

  2. Jeff Alworth August 15, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Lemondrop? Sounds like a hop I’d love. Lemony Sorachi Ace tastes like dill to some in my close circle, so I’ve been waiting for a replacement.

    As for Ballantine, Pabst would do well to key on tradition as much as flavor. We’ll see if this has legs. It could tell us a lot about the current state of the market.

  3. Jack Horzempa August 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    Stan,

    Below is some additional information from Greg Deuhs that was posted by jesskidden on a beer forum.

    “… this was a real challenge. Hops we found used in the original beer was obviously Bullion. Also a very good possibility was Brewers Gold, Northern Brewer, Fuggles, and maybe Cluster. To mimic those hops, we needed to use a combination of hops, to include Magnum, Columbus, Cluster, Fuggles/Willamettes, Cascade, Target and Brewers Gold. The real trick was recreating the hop oil. We found a hop farm in the UK who could make for use two different hop oils. One is very citrus-y, and the other more floral, earthy, piney. The hops used in the oils were all English varieties and I can tell you the Bullion and Target were used. The combination of the oils provides the beer a very unique and complex profile of pine, citrus, herb, woody and earthy flavors and aromas…70 IBU’s is our target but I can tell you we’ve easily made that mark, and do not plan to dip below that.

    There are no adjuncts in the current recipe. Is this due to the high degree of attenuation with the brewhouse we are using in Cold Spring, MN. Using flaked corn would have made the beer too dry. We use 2- Row Pale, 2 types of 2-Row Caramel, Carapils, Acidulated Malt and German Munich. About 80% pale, 10% munich, 6% Caramel and the rest carpools (sic) & acidulated malt.

    As for the wood aging, that is a tricky but key element of the beer. To replicate the wood aging, we devised instead of a hop cannon, a “Wood Cannon”, where we can pack a stainless steel cylinder with Oak spirals and circulate beer through it. The result is a very subtle hint of wood, without being overpowering.”

    Cheers!

    Jack

    • Stan Hieronymus August 17, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

      Thanks for posting this, Jack. It is an interesting question: how anal should we be about using the exact same ingredients as in the past? Or is it best to simply focus on the taste?

      Magnum, Columbus, Willamette, Cascade and Target are all post-1972 hops.

      • The Professor August 18, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

        I think that the taste is what it ultimately should be about, and kudos to Mr. Deuhs for wanting to do it right. Economics probably prevent the new brew from enjoying the full year of aging the original had, but nowadays that would probably be too much to ask for.

        I’ve been fanatical about this brew since my first taste of it in 1969 (I lived 15 miles from the Newark brewery). Subsequent research of my own began in the late 1970s when I was determined to try to home brew a version. By that time, the writing was already on the wall for this brew because while it seemed to initially survive the move when the Newark brewery closed in 1972, the dumbing down of the brew was beginning.

        My conversations with ex Newark employees (beginning around 1980 and continuing through that decade) confirmed that in the beginning of the 1970s, the brew was definitely still clocking in at at least 70 IBU, still at at roughly 7.5%ABV, and still aged for one full year prior to a last dry hoppoing and a generous dose of the brewery’s home made hop oils.
        And there_ was_ most definitely a significant wood character present in the original product. In fact, a vintage bottle I tasted last year (one of 5 I own) STILL had a distinctive character of oak both in taste and nose (though predictably, virtually all of the hop character was long gone). Whether it came from the hops used (one of the brewers told me it was predominately Cluster and Bullion) or a residual note from the presumably lined wooden aging vats is unknown…but an oak like character _was_ definitely there. By the beginning of the 1980s that aspect of the beer’s palate was greatly diminished.
        I’m rooting for Pabst on this one. I hope they succeed in a credible re-creation of this historic brew (a true craft beer in the best sense of the word), and I hope it is not summarily dismissed as an “industrial beer” product (as hard core beer geeks are wont to do).
        We’ll see how well Pbst did with this. They have sure mishandled Ballantine XXX over the years.

        • Gary Gillman August 18, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

          Excellent notes. I wish Deuhs had gone with Northern Brewer and Cluster, that would have been perfect, with any distilled hop oil added from a pre-’72 variety. Interesting about the wood. I guess with a long storage in a large wood container, albeit lined, the wood got in somehow, that and/or the effect of the hops. I look forward to your taste notes.

          Gary

  4. Gary Gillman August 17, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Fascinating. I am less concerned now about the wood treatment but perhaps more so due to the hop bill. As you say Stan, why use so many post-’72 hops? I do like though the hop oils option Deuhs mentioned, because one Internet source states (this circa-1970) that drinking the beer was like munching pine trees. So that part fits in. Surely many or all of the old hops Deuhs mentioned are still available, I wonder why those weren’t used? I like the all-malt mash bill, since in the late 1800’s I doubt adjunct was used. Net net, I feel good with some lingering reservations. If Deuhs hits it out of the ballpark, this will be a major event in American brewing history apart from which, Pabst will shift a lot of dollars with this one.

    Gary

  5. Gary Gillman August 17, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Stan, this is a radio interview the other day with Greg Deuhs in which he discusses the beer. This was posted on a beer forum in which Jess Kidden (a pseudonym I believe) participated. Unfortunately, the announcers talk way too much, but if you are patient, Greg’s explanations do shed light on various matters. Also, the announcers were provided with samples of the beer, and one can appraise the colour – it looks exactly right. For all their talk, it would have been nice to get a decent taste note – all I heard was “citrus”. Quite honestly, that is a term I don’t really like hearing, but I will reserve final judgment when I get a bottle.

    http://www.wilknewsradio.com/Friday-Beer-Buzz-Blog/6986026

    Gary

    • The Professor August 19, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      I agree that the constant reference to the term “citrus” is a bit off-putting and possibly constitutes a ‘warning’ of sorts to keep expectations in check (citrus was NOT a part of the original flavor profile)…also, the long aging of the original most assuredly had an impact on the flavor of the product, which I was able to prove for myself with my homebrewed attempts over the last 30+years (all cold aged for anywhere from 8 to 12 months).

      But still, if Pabst and Mr. Deuhs succeed in coming even _close_ to the original classic despite the ingredient substitutions and lack of aging, my hat will be certainly off to them.

      This is something Pabst should have done many years ago and Gary is absolutely correct in categorizing it as a milestone if they are successful.

      I hope that any success they enjoy will serve as motivation to rescue the regular Bally XXX Ale from the current sad state it is in.

      • Gary Gillman August 19, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

        I’d only like to add, if Greg Deuhs is reading, all of us greatly appreciate what you and Pabst are doing. It is overdue, but no one takes it for granted. And: when the first taste notes roll in from the old hands, don’t be shy to make some adjustments for the next batch. The Prof is right that a citrus note – meaning a modern, grapefruit pith taste – never characterized the beer. Given the blend of hops being used, it would be easy eliminate any such citrus in the nose or taste, a small adjustment to the hop bill could achieve it I’m sure. There is no shame in doing so if it comes to that. The beer will gain distinctiveness in the market not by being like other IPAs, but by being different, i.e., itself.

        Gary

        • The Professor August 19, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

          A BIG +1 from me on all of that, Gary.
          It sounds like Greg has really done some good homework, and kudos go to him for suggesting this to the powers that be and for taking it on. Not an easy task in light of the fact that the original brewery records are long gone and that there aren’t many guys left that were responsible for making the original product (not from the Newark days, anyway).

          On a humorous note, I’ll share something that happened just this morning. Since it hasn’t turned up in any stores here yet, I called one of the NJ distributors to see about getting some availability info. I got passed around on the phone a bit and after being on hold for a time, I finally got to someone I could ask, so I inquired as to when we could expect to see the IPA in the stores.
          I’m putting his reply in quotes, but please do note that I _am_ paraphrasing the gist of his somewhat convoluted answer:: “You should be seeing it soon. We haven’t had any for a while (!?!?!) because it’s a seasonal product, you know…it’s probably been almost 8 months since we had any.”

          I guess he hasn’t read any of the press releases. 😉

          • Gary Gillman August 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

            One point that might usefully be added in case Stan, Prof or others have a view is, no discussion has occurred (that I saw) whether the product is pasteurized. In my view, pasteurization never makes a beer better. I feel I can taste it in some of Anchor’s beer, for example. It would be interesting to know how Pabst will approach this aspect. I always felt I could detect a burned caramel taste in the Milwaukee-brewed version and never liked it for that reason. Since the beer will be available in draft form, it is possible that type will not be pasteurized and the bottled version will be.

          • The Professor August 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

            I’ll be curious about the pasteurization question as well. Any verson if the Bally IPA I ever had was pasteurized (including the bottled Newark brewed version I enjoyed before they closed up shop). I know that earlier labels referenced expected sedimentation in the bottle, presumably indicating that it was still ‘alive.’ The keg version of the IPA (presumably un-pasteurized, as all keg beer was in the past) was long gone by the time I discovered the product. Ballantine XXX however _was_ still pretty widely available on draft and yes…there was a difference… a nice difference indeed.
            With filtering technology having advanced in the intervening years, I too would be curious as to how this revived product will be treated for stability.

  6. Gary Gillman August 19, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    Ah, the party line, it goes on forever. Bless the beverage store guys nonetheless. 🙂

    Gary

  7. Stan Hieronymus August 21, 2014 at 3:47 am #

    Thanks to Gary and The Professor for keeping this rolling in my absence. A lot to consider here, but I’ll certainly be surprised if it is not pasteurized.

  8. Gary Gillman August 21, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    Thank you Stan and I trust it is okay, since the thread has become a kind of repository of historical Ballantine IPA information, to post the 1982 programme of the inaugural Great American Beer Festival. There is a description contained of Ballantine IPA, this is when it is made in Indiana. And lo, we learn it had a dollop of Cascade in it! I think Greg Duehs may have been smiling because “everyone” had been saying the beer was never grapefruit or citric but clearly, it was using Cascade a good 10 years before its demise in Milwaukee. This doesn’t take away from the fact that the Newark and Cranston beers surely did not use Cascade. It does though lend point to his approach to use the ingredients of today… Let’s all taste, raise a glass and enjoy. A certain Zen-like acceptance has installed itself in my formerly febrile brain on this issue. 🙂

    http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/1982-Program.pdf

  9. Gary Gillman August 28, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    From a recent BA review, “Fragrant grapefruit and big citrus peel notes…”.

    Hmm. I did say I’m good with a bit of this character (consistent perhaps with 1980’s/1990’s Ballantine IPA history), but this doesn’t sound encouraging.

    Gary

    • The Professor August 28, 2014 at 11:49 am #

      I’ve been sipping on this stuff for the past few days, having managed to find a couple of the 750ml bottles that have begun spottily appearing in NJ (the sixpacks are currently m.i.a here).

      While this re-boot doesn’t have the same nuance or complexity of the original brew (which would probably be too much to expect) at least the current product definitely has a decent character of its own. The bitterness level is actually just as I remember it (when I was buying a sixpack every week or so between 1969 and 1979). The bitterness here _is_ of a different character and with less of a malt backbone to balance things out than before. I’m actually a bit surprised that they managed to achieve the level of hop aroma that’s present here. Even though it is of somewhat less intensity compared the original, it definitely makes itself known.

      I’m not dissing the product, not by a longshot…it really is actually _quite_ good judged on its own merit.
      In fact I even think that putting aside the fact that it is a reboot of a classic, in the end this release is probably a kind of milestone of its own when you consider that big brewer Pabst and Greg Duehs have brought forth a _very_ solid product…one that actually even manages to be better than a good number of products out there today labeled as “IPA”.
      Looks to me like the big corporate brewer is starting to its hair down!

      • Gary Gillman August 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

        But Prof, does it have the “typical” grapefruit aroma and taste of American Pale Ale? Some reviews suggest it does.

        Gary

        • The Professor August 29, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

          Gary…yes, there is some of that grapefruit and citrus aroma and flavor in there. Probably not at the level of so many of the “American style” IPAs out there, but it is still present and one of the few things I consider a bit of a negative in this particular release. That grapefruit/citrus twang is one of the things I dislike about most of the IPAs out there, the other being the green-hop flavor that also seems to be omnipresent these days (although many people seem to like both traits…I guess this IPA will taste ‘familiar’ to them).

          As I mentioned in a prior post, the bitterness _level_ is right on (in comparison to the original pre-1980 product) but the _character_ of the bitterness is markedly different. I can only assume that it is a result of the hop varieties selected because I’ve come a lot closer to the original character in my homebrewed attempts utilizing only Bullion, Cluster, and Brewers Gold, in enough quantity so as to still be a formidable presence after months of aging. I was never been able to nail the intense aroma of the original, and while Pabst hasn’t quite achieved it either, they at least have managed to give the aroma some presence.

          Again, Pabst has done a better job with this product than I could have _ever_ expected. I would buy this if they continue to sell it, assuming I could find it anywhere: some NJ retailers I called said they couldn’t get it, a few flat out told me that they had no intention of carrying it, and a couple said that they had never heard of the product.

          • Gary Gillman August 29, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

            Excellent notes, Prof, thanks so much for this. I remain bemused at the noticeable post-’71 hop character. Why would they do this? Your own efforts with Bullion, Northern Brewer and/or Cluster sound so much more logical based on what we “outsiders” know of the history let alone what Pabst must know. I will reserve final judgment until I try it, but this doesn’t sound encouraging.

            True, there must have been some Cascade character in the 80’s/90’s version, but at the same time, we all know that was a “last gasp” that never achieved the qualities of the Newark or even Cranston versions.

            I can only hope that future batches will knock down the grapefruit element and bring up the old-school hop character more – I encourage Pabst to do this if it is reading. Both because of historical verisimilitude, but frankly also to offer a real alternative out there. Why bother to buy yet another IPA that is quite similar to many out there now? The pure attraction of the label and name won’t do it, IMO.

            Gary

  10. Stan Hieronymus August 28, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Thanks for that tasting note, and the context, Professor. Makes we want to give it a try. How much are you paying for a 750?

    • The Professor August 28, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      The 750ml bottles I picked up were priced at $7.99 (and it’s the same at each at the few places that carry the product). No one I asked (including the distributors I phoned) could tell me what the 6-pack/12oz packages will be.

      Speaking of context, if I recall correctly, the last few 6x12oz packs of the Newark brewed version that I purchased in 1972 cost around $2.75 or so (and I remember it being a little higher in some places). Plug that number into an inflation rate calculator to translate that into 2014 dollars…the resulting number that comes up is really pretty surprising.
      It’s actually remarkably on par with the price tag on some of today’s ‘craft’ brews!

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