Ah, the great brewing tradition of Ballantine's in Minnesota. Err... not really. Ballantine was mainly brewed in New Jersey and its originator Peter Ballantine first trained in Albany, NY almost 200 years ago. While, through the decades and centuries, the thread of Ballantine connects late 1900s US hoppy strong ale to hoppy early 1800s US hoppy strong ale - the current use of the brand is just the result of trading in intellectual property rights. And, sadly, the current branding misses the truth calling this beer "America's Original IPA - 1878"... which is just silly. As Craig posted on Facebook today:
Dunlop’s of Albany were brewing and exporting an East India Ale to New York City. This Dunlop is likely, Archibald A. Dunlop, son of the early Albany Ale brewing magnate Robert Dunlop. The younger Dunlop followed in his father’s footsteps, operating his family’s breweries in Albany, West Troy (now Watervilet) and eventually (for a very short two year stint between 1864 and 1866) on 11th Street in New tYork City. This ad predates Dunlop’s New York City operation, but nevertheless proves, IPA was being made in the States well before Ballantine’s claim of 1878. Coincidentally, Peter Ballantine worked for the elder Dunlop during the 1820s, and purchased Dunlop’s original brewery on Broadway. Ballantine would re-locate to Market Street before leaving Albany for Newark, New Jersey, in 1840, to establish Peter Ballantine & Co.
Here is the ad to the left from the 1860s that makes the point. Here's an 1866 business directory entry. It's also relevant to appreciate that the branding followed the beer. Strong hoppy ales were important and enjoyed in the US as far back as the 1830s. The use of "IPA" I suspect was fitting the beer that had been made one way or another in the Hudson valley from the 1600s into a modern branding model. After all, as you can read in our Upper Hudson Valley Beer
Robert Dunlop opened his brewery in Albany in 1806. By 1810 it was located on the eastside of North Market Street (now Broadway), just above Quackenbush Street, and one of the largest in the city, brewing 3,000 barrels a year. By the 1820s, Dunlop has amassed quite a fortune, owning a grain and plaster mills near Syracuse, as well as malt houses in West Troy and Albany, as well as his brewery.
That wee empire was all in place before Peter Ballantine made land in the USA and joined the business. Dunlop - and likely Ballantine - just make what they make out of indigenous or reasonably priced ingredients and then label it whatever is trendy. After all, Quinn and Nolan were making California Pale Ale in Albany in the 1870s. Whatever is going on, however, Ballantines may well be the bridge from the past to the present even if it is not the beer that originated the flavour profile in any sense.
So what to make of this restatement of the beer that may well have had many restatements over the best part of US history? It pours a brilliant orange amber under a massive rocky off white head. Orange marmalade and maybe a little cedar box on the nose. In the mouth, the body is maybe one tiny notch lighter than a modern IPA but well within the ball park. I think i feel brewer's sugar on the lips, too. Characteristic of first half of the 1900s ale for sure. The hopping is rustic with that cedar note carrying over but otherwise this is a fairly standard USA craft IPA. Which may be the point. Who is going to make a claim to be brewing the originator of a style and then present a flavour profile that is at odds with it - present a brew with, say, the cat pissy hops flavour characteristic of Cluster, the most likely choice for actual 1800s US brewers? Who is going to make that? No one. No money in that actual history stuff.
A perfectly good beer undiminished by a less than perfect back story. The BAers have a lot of respect but you can likely find a very similar beer for $10 a six in the US, about half the price of this beer.