Pabst is making another old-school beer move by resurrecting a classic brand, Ballantine India Pale Ale.
First brewed in 1878 at Ballantine Brewing Co., in Newark, N.J., the legendary beer in its original hoppy form was phased out in the '70s as big-brand lagers overwhelmed the marketplace. (A watered-down version remained on the market until the mid-'90s.)
Now Pabst Brewing, which has 30 beers including Old Style, Schlitz and Lone Star in its lineup, hopes to make a hit out of the revived beer at a time when flagship Pabst Blue Ribbon, or PBR, has been adopted by hipsters as cheap, cool and nostalgic.
When Ballantine IPA arrives in stores in six packs and 750-milliliter bottles next month, "We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA," said Pabst master brewer Greg Deuhs.
At the same time, Deuhs did a lot of work to create a brew that could also seduce craft beer drinkers, who are always craving new and often hoppy experiences. "When I came on board," he says, "one of my challenges was, how do we get into the craft business? I said that we already have the answer: Ballantine IPA." Pabst has owned the brand since its 1975 acquisition of Falstaff.
The IPA will be available in nine northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, including New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Appealing to the growing craft beer market as well as to hipsters and mainstream consumers could mean success for Ballantine IPA. While overall beer consumption fell nearly 2% last year in the $100 billion beer market, craft beer consumption grew 17% and accounted for $14.3 billion, according to the Brewers Association.
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.
After about two years of brewing test batches, he began pilot production trials at Cold Spring (Minn.) Brewing Co., which makes its own Third St. Brewhouse beers and contracts out its brewing capacity for other producers. "We wanted to make it as authentic as possible and a true craft beer," Deuhs says.
The IPA uses four different malts and eight different hops, as well as hop oil to finish it off. American oak chips are used in the process, harking back to the oak and cypress barrels used for the original beer.
As for Ballantine's taste, "The beer has a nice malt/hop balance, and leans more toward the hoppy side of the fence and not at all the malty-British-IPA balance I anticipated," says Bil Corcoran who runs My Beer Buzz, an online beer site and podcast, and has tasted it. "I thought it was a really enjoyable and distinct IPA. ... I do think they will draw in both the current craft beer drinker who appreciates a good IPA as well as the craft beer newbies who appreciate the historical or family links the Ballantine name carries."