P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company was an American
brewery founded in 1840, making Ballantine one of the oldest brands of
beer in the United States. At its peak, it was the 3rd largest brewer in the US. The brand is currently owned and operated by
Pabst Brewing Company. Throughout history it is best known for its Ballantine XXX Ale; however, in August 2014 Ballantine IPA relaunched and has been received with mixed reviews (3.46 on Untappd). Ballantine is Pabst's foray into the craft beer market.
Ballantine brewery in Newark, New Jersey 1906
The company was founded in 1840 in
Newark, New Jersey, by
Peter Ballantine (1791–1883), who emigrated from
Scotland. The company was originally incorporated as the Patterson & Ballantine Brewing Company. Ballantine rented an old brewing site which had dated back to 1805. Around 1850, Ballantine bought out his partner and purchased land near the Passaic River to brew his ale. His three sons joined the business and in 1857 the company was renamed P. Ballantine and Sons. The name would be used for the next 115 years, until the company closed its brewery in May 1972. By 1879, it had become sixth largest brewery in the US, almost twice as large as
Anheuser-Busch. Ballantine added a second brewery location, also in Newark, in order to brew
lager beer to fill out the company product line. Peter Ballantine died in 1883 and his eldest son had died just a few months earlier. His second oldest son then controlled the company until his own death in 1895. The last son died in 1905.
Following the death of the last son of Peter Ballantine the company was taken over by
George Griswold Frelinghuysen, the company's vice-president, who was married to Ballantine's granddaughter.
18th Amendment took effect in 1920, beginning
Prohibition. The company was forced to consolidate, and they manufactured malt syrup to stay in business. The Ballantine family continued to own the brewing company all throughout Prohibition. But by the time the
21st amendment was passed in 1933, the family was ready to sell the company.
An article announcing the return of Ballantine Ale just after
Prohibition was lifted
In 1933, after
Prohibition was lifted, the Ballantine company was acquired by two brothers, Carl and Otto Badenhausen. The Badenhausens grew the brand through its most successful period of the 1940s and 1950s, primarily through clever advertising. Ballantine Beer was the first television sponsor of the New York Yankees. It was during this period that the brand was elevated to the number three beer in the U.S. It was also during this period that the company grew into one of the largest privately held corporations in the United States. Ballantine Beer enjoyed a high level of success into the early 1960s, however, by the mid-sixties, the brand began losing popularity. In 1965 Carl Badenhausen sold the company but remained at the helm until his retirement in 1969.
In the mid-1960s the company went into decline. It was losing market share to lighter lagers with less alcohol content. Despite advertising efforts to revive the company, the owners agreed to sell the brand, the company, and all their assets to the
Falstaff Brewing Corporation in 1972.
The new owners closed the original brewery in Newark, started brewing elsewhere, and did not strictly adhere to Ballantine's recipes. Falstaff was successfully sued for violating the terms of the sales contract. The general consensus is that, under the stewardship of Falstaff, the beers remained faithful for a time to their original flavor profile. But Falstaff was doing poorly financially and was sold to Pabst in 1985. At an unknown point during these changes, the original recipes were lost.
Pabst continued to brew some of the Ballantine portfolios throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. They stopped brewing the IPA in 1996, and gradually all of the beers were discontinued with the exception of the flagship Ballantine XXX Ale. Throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s, Pabst continued to brew Ballantine's signature ale, but the recipe changed several times. The most notable changes are a markedly lower bitterness, lower alcohol content, fewer hops, and in general a much less assertive aromatic character. The use of distilled hop oil was discontinued until 2014 when Pabst Brewing Company relaunched a new version of Ballantine IPA.
Ballantine IPA's new logo, relaunched August 2014
In August 2014, a version of Ballantine IPA was revived by Pabst Brewing Company. Reports indicate that the original recipe has been long lost; however, some pains have been taken to attempt to recreate the palate and distinctive aroma of the original product. The recipe was reverse engineered by Pabst brewmaster Greg Deuhs. Because he had no recipe, he relied on analytical chemistry reports from as far back as the 1930s 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.
In an interview in September 2014, brewmaster Greg Deuhs discussed the possibility of bringing back other beers in the Ballantine portfolio: "Just on the Ballantine side we're looking at the Brown Stout, they also made a Bock as well as the Burton Ale, which was highly regarded. I would like to bring out the Burton Ale as the true Barleywine Style Ale that it was.[...]Right now our hands are full with the Ballantine relaunch, but yes, we are starting to stoke the fire on what we can bring back."
On November 13, 2014, Pabst announced that it had completed its sale to Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings, LLC. Blue Ribbon is a partnership between American beer entrepreneur
Eugene Kashper and
TSG Consumer Partners, a San Francisco–based private equity firm. Prior reports suggested the price agreed upon was around $700 million.
Because Ballantine XXX Ale has in recent years been widely sold in 40-ounce bottles, it is often lumped together with
Olde English 800 and other
malt liquors in the public mind. This is in direct contradiction with Pabst's vision for the brand today. Pabst revived Ballantine India Pale Ale to enter the craft beer market. It is unclear at this time if Pabst will take steps to align Ballantine XXX Ale more with the brand of the relaunched Ballantine IPA.
In July 2015, during an interview with John Holl, Kashper hinted at the possibility of building a small brewery in Newark, NJ, where the company was founded.
On November 16, 2015, Pabst announced that it would be reviving Ballantine Burton Ale for the 2015 holiday season. This new version was reverse engineered by Pabst brewmaster Greg Deuhs as was Ballantine IPA from 2014. This barleywine style ale has 11.3% ABV, 75 IBUs, and a starting gravity of 26.5 Plato. It is no longer aged 10–20 years in oak barrels, but to help recreate the flavor of the original, Pabst ages this reboot for several months in barrels lined with American oak. The major difference is that this rendition will be sold to the general public, while the original was only given as gifts to high ranking executives at the company, friends of the company, and VIPs such as President
Harry S. Truman. Pabst says this is a seasonal brew and have made no comment as to any further plans with Ballantine Burton Ale after the 2015 holiday season.
One of the first logos ever created for Ballentine
The Ballantine logo is three interlocking rings, a design known as the
Borromean rings. According to legend, Peter Ballantine was inspired to use the symbol when he noticed the overlapping condensation rings left by beer glasses on a table; however, this logo was not created until 1879. In some advertising campaigns in the mid-1900s, Peter Ballantine was referred to as "Three-Ring Pete"; however, it is unknown if this was his nickname when he was alive. The rings represent "Purity, Body, and Flavor".New York Yankees announcer
Mel Allen called it "the Three-Ring Sign".
Promotion for the Ale and Beer
Throughout the years, Ballantine offered a wide range of different products, some of these include:
The XXX Ale, their flagship product, which is top fermented.
Burton ale, never commercially sold, it was brewed to be given as a gift to Ballantine distributors, executives, and VIPs. It was a strong brew in the
barleywine style, aged from 10 to 20 years in wood prior to bottling. Surviving unopened bottles are still bought, sold, and traded to this day among collectors, more than 60 years after being brewed. Because of the long aging and generous hopping as well as an ABV content comparable to barleywines, the beer had remarkable keeping qualities. Still, it could be argued that since the beer was already long aged prior to bottling, it was probably already at its peak when finally bottled. Reports of modern-day tastings indicate that properly handled vintage bottles of this unique beer can still yield a complex (though somewhat faded) taste experience.
Ballantine as a sponsor and in popular culture
Hunter S. Thompson mentions drinking Ballantine Ale twice in his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. At the beginning of Chapter 12, Thompson writes "Into the Ballantine Ale now, zombie drunk and nervous." Later in Chapter 12, Thompson writes "'Ballantine Ale,' I said ... a very mystic long shot, unknown between Newark and San Francisco. He served it up, ice-cold. I relaxed. Suddenly everything was going right; I was finally getting the breaks." It is worth noting that Thompson's book was based on a trip he took with his attorney in March and April 1971, approximately one year before Ballantine sold to Falstaff.
The iconic American writer
Ernest Hemingway endorsed Ballantine Ale in a print advertisement. This ad was part of a larger campaign featuring authors and novelists, asking them "How would you put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?" Hemingway was the most prominent writer to participate followed by
John Steinbeck. Other writers who were in the campaign include:
Ballantine's Beer is referred to as "expensive imported beer" in
Sara Sheridan's Brighton Belle, a mystery set on the South Coast in England in the 1950s.
Alan D. Eames, beer writer and historian, who was considered the "Indiana Jones of beer," wrote about Ballantine IPA. "Ballantine India Pale Ale. Jesus, this beer is a holy sacrament! Dangerous, high-test, 44 magnum ale, its bitter, woody suds, reeking of spruce sap, overwhelm the nose and palate — God, this is fabulous ale." Later in the passage he pleads "The American beer industry — take the best ale in America and use all our advertising and packaging skill to render it such that no one in their right mind would ever venture to try it and then, 'let's drop it 'cause this brand just ain't selling.'" He concludes with "Oh well — Ballantine India Pale Ale, last bright jewel in the tarnished crown of American brewing, you haunt me still. Neither one of us fit into the scheme of things these days. May God preserve and protect us both." (1986)
Jasper Johns created a famous sculpture of two Ballantine XXX Ale cans titled Painted Bronze (1960).
Tom Wesselmann included two Ballantine XXX Ale cans in Still Life #28 (1964).
Beastie Boys mention Ballantine in their song "
High Plains Drifter". In particular, they refer to the
rebus puzzles that began being printed on the underside of the bottle caps during the Falstaff era. "I feel like Steve McQueen a former movie star, look in my rearview mirror seen a police car. Ballantine quarts with the puzzle on the cap, I couldn't help but notice I was caught in a speed trap."
GZA/The Genius of hip-hop supergroup
Wu-Tang Clan mentions Ballantine Ale numerous times on many different groups and solo albums, as have other clan members. GZA/The Genius most notably mentions the classic ale on the Enter the Wu-Tang album track "Clan In da Front".
The Notorious B.I.G. mentions Ballantine in "Long Kiss Goodnight" of his sophomore album Life After Death. "Distribute to, kids who, take heart like Valentine, Drink Ballantine, all the time."
Jay-Z mentions Ballantine Ale in "The Joy," a collaborative effort with
Kanye West and
Curtis Mayfield. "Taking sips of pop, six-pack of Miller nips, Pink Champale, Ballantine Ale." It is worth noting that today Champale and Ballantine Ale are both owned by Pabst.
Jay-Z also mentions Ballantine Ale in his 2010 interview with
Charlie Rose. Rose and Jay-Z talked about how the rapper used to sell crack cocaine. Rose asked "You never used it?" Jay-Z responded "No. Crack cocaine? No. [laughter] Come on, man. [more laughter] That's hardcore, man. A little weed. Ballantine Ale. Guinness Stout."
In the album art for
fourth album, each band member chose and/or designed four individual personal symbols to represent them. It is rumored that drummer
John Bonham chose an inverted version of Ballantine's Borromean ring logo for this purpose.
The Good Rats song "City Liners" from their 1979 "Birth Comes To Us All" includes Ballantine in its lyrics "And sneak a couple of his daddy's Ballantine".
The Billy Joel song “No Man’s Land” (album River of Dreams) includes the line, “bankers with their Volvos and their Ballantine’s”.
Rick Moranis sings about Ballantine's in "It's the Champagne Talkin'" on his Album Agoraphobic Cowboy. "Valentine's, It was Ballantine's, Easter, It was ouzo, Beaujolais, On Bastille Day, Labor Day, Absolut-no!"
Yankee Stadium (top), and Connie Mack Stadium (bottom), during their Ballantine years
New York Yankees broadcasts featured commercials with the jingle "Baseball and Ballantine/ Baseball and Ballantine/ What a combination/ All across the nation/ Ballantine, Ballantine beer."
Ballantine also sponsored the
Philadelphia Phillies on radio and TV for many years in the 1950s and 1960s. The scoreboard in right-center field at Philadelphia's
Connie Mack Stadium (previously known as
Shibe Park) sported a 60-foot-long (18 m) Ballantine Ale sign.
In 1963 and 1964, Ballantine sponsored a
drum and bugle corps based in Newark, New Jersey named the "Ballantine Brewers".
P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company owned the
Boston Celtics for a brief period of time in the late 1960s.
Ballantine Ale sponsored Three Ring Time, a comedy-variety show with
Milton Berle, in the early 1940s.
Promotional poster for Shotgun Slade, sponsored by Ballantine Beer
Ballantine Beer was the preferred beer of
Martin Crane on the television show Frasier. He drinks the lager in many episodes throughout the series, mostly from the can. In season 7, episode 24, he drinks a draft at the bar during Daphne's rehearsal dinner - lamenting his loss of both Daphne and his beloved Ballantine, brewing of which he noted was to be stopped. In season 7, episode 15, a Valentine's Day episode, he jokingly says to his beer can "Will you be my Ballantine?"
Mel Brooks adapted the
2000 Year Old Man character to create the 2500-Year-Old Brewmaster for Ballantine Beer in the 1960s. Interviewed by
Dick Cavett in a series of ads, the Brewmaster (in a German accent, as opposed to the 2000 Year Old Man's Jewish voice) said he was inside the original
Trojan horse and "could've used a six-pack of fresh air."
The syndicated western/detective television show Shotgun Slade had Ballantine Beer as its title sponsor.