A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part IV)

“A Still Old World Ale”

We have now determined, see Part III, what “still ale” really was: a stock, mainly draught India pale-type beer. Let’s examine one more early, post-Prohibition example, in 1934 in Plattsburgh, New York.

The beer was an India Pale Ale, advertised in October that year in the city’s Daily Press and brewed by the historic Fidelio Brewery in New York.  Even though dispense of ale from the barrel or by hand-pump had declined before Prohibition, the tradition was recalled half a generation later and revived. Plattsburgh was possibly a test market.

In the late 1800s ale, that is the pre-chilled, pre-carbonated draught form inherited from England, had a reputation as a winter drink. Here we see a vestige of the tradition so many years later, in the early New Deal period.

An India Pale Ale of itself was not remarkable in the Thirties – there were still quite a number of them. But to see one not served force-carbonated and chilled, or bottled of course, was unusual. By its description, a “Still Old World Ale”, Fidelio was telling us surely that the beer was naturally-conditioned, in the tradition of British cask ales.

However, even this IPA had to be spritzy to a degree. Horace Brown, the English brewing scientist who had investigated American breweries at turn of the century, stated a still ale bore a condition similar to the most carbonated English beers, meaning cask-conditioned beers. I suspect Fidelio’s IPA was well-primed to produce this level of condition. Probably as well it was roughly filtered or fined to present a reasonable clarity.

A day earlier a story in the same newspaper tipped the public that the beer was being released, and unlike the ad itself, described it as “sparkling”. This is the same term used by Quandt Brewing in Troy, NY the year before to describe its still ale, as we saw earlier in this series. Quandt’s beer was advertised in August and almost certainly was served cold and well-carbonated.

But here the Fidelio beer is being served the original way, at ambient temperature. Quite possibly the different season accounted for it. Since the beer was being served just “cool” at best, a lower than normal pressure would not be critical for the drinker, at least one prepared to broach a naturally conditioned beer to begin with.

I wonder if Plattsburgh-area soldiers drinking in English pubs 10 years later remembered the same thing back home in ’34…

The legendary Ballantine India Pale Ale, until being unwisely withdrawn by Pabst in about 1996, was the last of this tradition of still and frankly sparkling (in its case) American India Pale Ales.

In 1982 it was getting “four to five months” aging “in wood” according to Michael Jackson’s The Pocket Guide to Beer. Not so long earlier it was a full yearbut a few months still qualified. It was also, then, 1076 OG, with Brewer’s Gold and “Yakima” in the kettle, the latter probably the 19th century Cluster type.

Pabst brought back Ballantine India Pale Ale a few years ago. It had some wood treatment but to the puzzlement of some had the grapefruity signature of modern IPA hopping. A missed opportunity, in my view, and it seems the product was later withdrawn from the market. Hopefully Pabst will revisit the matter before long.