Friday, August 15, 2014

Albany Ale: A Blast From the Past

It's been along time since Albany Ale has been in the title of a post, hasn't it? I happened to have heard a bit of news today, so I decided to dust it off.

I dunno about it being the "original" IPA.
Pabst, it appears will be re-introducing Ballantine IPA. Pabst owns the name to a number of iconic American beers, including Schaefer, Old Style and Schlitz, and is of course the brewer of the hipster paragon PBR. It's likely that Pabst is looking to exploit the caché of another ironic, nostalgia beer, like PBR, and what with IPA being the most popular "craft" style, hipsters are the most obvious "target demo,  as the marketeers might say.

According to Pabst brewer Greg Duehs, in a Mike Snider August 13, 2014 article "We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA," Duehs continues in the article, " of my challenges was, how do we get into the craft business? I said that we already have the answer: Ballantine IPA." Ballantine IPA was one of the most popular beers the brewery made beers, if not one of the most popular beers of mid-century America, but the beer came about quite a bit earlier than that.

19th century American IPAs were quite common and Ballantine's version supposedly dates to the 1870s. It was revived after the repeal of prohibition, and "Aged on wood for a year" as its label stated, however its hey-day came during the 1950s and 1960s—an era by which IPAs were few and far between—but by the 1970s the beer had all but been bastardized, especially the after Falstaff acquisition of Ballantine in 1972. Pabst kept the IPA in rotation after their purchase of Falstaff until 1996, but it was a far cry from what the beer had once been.

The article delves briefly into the recreation:
In re-creating Ballantine IPA, Deuhs had no original recipe or company notes to fall back on. Instead, he relied on analytic reports from as far back as the '30s that tracked the ale's attributes (alcohol, bitterness, gravity level). He also researched what ingredients were likely used, historical accounts of the beer and beer lovers' remembrances.
So there you go. The much beloved Ballantine IPA is coming back from the grave.
What's that you say? What does Pabst recreating Ballantine IPA have to do with Albany Ale, you ask?

Oh yeah, I did add that whole Albany Ale thing to the title, didn't I?

Well, maybe this snippet from Upper Hudson Valley Beer—our, now available at both online-retailers, and fine local bookstores, book—might clear things up a bit:

...Dunlop had amassed quite a fortune. He owned grain and plaster mills near Syracuse and malt houses in West Troy and Albany in addition to his brewery. It was at this time that Dunlop hired fellow Scot Peter Ballantine as his brewer. In 1834, Ballantine bought Dunlop’s Market Street brewery. Dunlop went on to concentrate on his milling and malting business, eventually partnering with his son-in-law, Thomas McCredie. Dunlop’s son, Archibald, oversaw the family brewing business in Albany, operating a new brewery on Quay Street. Upon his father’s death, Archibald also partnered with Thomas McCredie in a brewery at the West Troy malt house location between 1852 and 1856.
Peter Ballantine continued to grow the old Dunlop Brewery, which he renamed Peter Ballantine & Co. He moved the brewery from Market Street to Lansing Street in the late 1830s and then finally out of Albany, relocating to Newark, New Jersey, in 1840. The brewery Ballantine opened in Newark evolved into P. Ballantine & Sons, one of the largest, privately held corporations in the United States by the mid-twentieth century.
See, now it all makes sense. 


  1. Indeed and the Albany connection is strengthened by the fact that I have read that the large oak vessels used to age the beer into the Newark period at least date from the 1830's. Thus, one can infer that the beer was later aged in vats used by Ballantine in Albany - probably not for IPA since that is a bit early for pale ale even in Britain, but other beers would have been vatted in the English way in all likelihood, possibly strong ale of the most potent Albany Ale-type.

    Just one cavil: from everything I've read, Ballantine IPA never fetched much of a sale for Ballantine. Ballantine XXX and lager did. It was a minor category but had a cult following from the post-war period until its demise in the 90's. The recreation sounds like it is going back to an earlier period for which recipes aren't available. Mitch Steele's IPA book has numerous recipes for Ballantine, some contributed by ex-brewers, but these would not go back to the 50's or earlier, not quite that far. I wonder if Pabst knew about Steele's book.

  2. Well, it is Pabst, who have proven that up until now they couldn't care less abou the authenticity of legacy products (including Ballantine).
    But if they are _really_ serious about recreating the old product they probably know about Steele's book (which is very good).
    It will be interesting to see how their new version of this great old classic turns out. There is yet to be an IPA produced that quality wise comes anywhere near what Ballantine was making 50 years ago. Greg Duehs seems sincere in giving it the old college try. Although Pabst appears to be foregoing the long aging that the original product called for (probably for economic reasons...time & storage space=$$$) they may have a good shot at this one.
    I for one really hope they can pull it off.

  3. The original Ballantine IPA pre-dates me, only by a few years, but nonetheless I never had it. I have heard that one of the key ingredients was hop oil, not just whole leaf or pelletized hops. Supposedly, a East Coast Yeast sells the Ballantine yeast strain (both ale and lager versions). I wonder if Duehs plans on using that, as well.

  4. Not sure about the yeast, but I'd hope that East Coast source will be used. (Apparently, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale uses the ale yeast). Comments on Stan Hieronymous's blog indicate an English source for distilled hop oil was selected to use in place of the old Bullion hop oil, so that sounds good. Also, that discussion references comments by Duehs that the wood treatment will be rather minimal - also to the good because those tanks in Newark were lined by all accounts. The proof will be out very soon! I hope you will post a review, Craig. Old timers have too much invested in this one: a fresh perspective is needed. I just hope you don't say it tastes like white grapefruit pith - that is one thing Ballantine IPA was not. :)


  5. (re-posting of the removed comment, with corrections regarding the yeast number)

    An interesting thing about the yeast: Al Buck of East Coast Yeast has suggested in the forums that the yeast strain which Ballantine used for their ales is _not_ the yeast that Sierra has settled on and used since they began. Speculation is that the Chico yeast (supposedly BRY96) may actually be (or may at least be be related to) what was banked and stored as Ballantine's "beer" strain...which, it turns out, was _also_ technically an 'ale' yeast.
    That seems plausible to me since BRY96, with it's remarkably clean profile, is pretty well known for it's proven ability to make a credible tasting 'bastard lager'.
    Interesting if true...would that mean that one of the top selling American 'lager' beers (made by what was once one of the country's largest brewers) may have actually been made with an ale yeast? :-0