Ballantine Brewery Proudly Reviews Its Heritage, 1910

imageEstablished breweries and distilleries from the late-1800s until about 1960 often issued books describing their histories and products. These took different forms, from a narrative with a few illustrations to a lavish photo-record with a few lines of text. We have seen examples from Rochester, NY (a collective history of breweries), Pabst, Tetley in England, National Breweries Ltd. in Quebec, Stroh in Detroit, and more.

This link is a similar volume, from the former P. Ballantine & Sons, now part of Pabst. It has its own twist, however: the theme of revisiting the “inn” or “tap-room” of 1840. That was the year the brewery relocated to larger premises in Newark, NJ from its start in Albany, NY seven years before.

The slim volume depicts in attractive illustrations different classes of bar patrons of the day. They are shown as prosperous and older-looking, people who used the inn inherited from England sanely, for relaxation and enjoyment. And they drank ale and porter, drinks Ballantine specialized in. This was a neat device, probably spurred by the dark shadow looming Prohibition cast across the nation.

Despite the brooding atmosphere and early date for consumer advertising (1910), Ballantine’s marketers were able to promote effectively beverage alcohol. The faux-antique fonts and soothing tone create a vibrant tableau of the good old days. The subtext was to separate the saloon, with its associations of whiskey and excess, from the ancestral inn. Indeed Chaucer’s Tabard Inn Southwark was invoked. Tabard was a resting stop for religious pilgrims and  the book implies a connection between the “ministrations” of a drinking place and the good works of the pilgrims.

The book also functioned as a more straightforward advertising channel as it included the names of current Ballantine products and depicted some of the bottles.

This kind of advertising was fully justified, not just by the commercial norms of the time (or ours – advertising is the lifeblood of business) but by the fine products of the company. Ballantine flew the flag for the older style of malt beverage in America, ale. It also brewed porter, another drink inherited from Britannic tradition. Ballantine’s products in particular had an unquestioned high reputation in American brewing into and after the 1930s when brewing was restored in Newark (the book calls the 1840 town “little Newark on the Passaic”). The same was true of the great Canadian ales such as Molson’s, O’Keefe’s, Labatt’s.

image-1Ballantine XXX Ale is still sold to this day, as is Ballantine India Pale Ale, returned to the market after a 20 year absence. Even Ballantine Burton ale, mentioned in the book, made a brief reappearance a year or two ago. These beers have a tangible connection to a tradition which started in 1833 and whose quality and legitimacy were justifiably upheld. Indeed the tradition stretches for centuries prior to the 1800s which the book conjures in an appealing, perhaps idealistic, way.

At the same time, ale and porter are skillfully connected to contemporary consumer habits. The book notes the suburban trend of golf, and suggests its ales as the perfect post-game refresher. It also lists numerous foods which go well with beer, and shows a chafing dish, meant almost certainly to suggest Welsh rabbit, a popular dish then.

Oysters, seafood, “thick steak”, “roast beef”, “mutton chop” are all suggested as ideal to accompany English-style beer, as indeed they are. This book is one of the earliest sources which make a gastronomic connection, consciously I mean, between beer and food. The book links the foods of old England with the beers of old England in a way one wouldn’t see in the old land, or not in the same way.

(Maybe that’s the next trend after charcuterie/small plates: the chop house re-imagined).

Finally, the book is too carefully written to omit reference to “beer” – meaning here lager.  It notes the great popularity of the drink and even that Ballantine brews lager at a separate plant. Indeed its lager brands were listed in the book for good measure, but the heart of the book, literally and figuratively, is on good ale, the beer of tradition.

imageHow brewers of the day including Ballantine’s, and the “Mad men” of Manhattan who wrote this encomium, would be amazed and delighted to see the revival of ale and porter in America. A drink which by 1910 had a very small part of the market (although still profitable for its makers) is now well-established again, especially the ubiquitous IPA or India Pale Ale.

The thing we must remember about books such as this is, as I have sought to show in many ways including reference to period analyses, the products were really good. They were well-hopped and retained lots of body for savour and enjoyment. The old idea of beer as a member of the cereals food group, factitious as perhaps it was, was still an animating one.

Today that tradition of hearty taste and full savour has returned and you can find examples at all levels of the market, via craft production, similar beers as produced/carried/distributed by large outfits, and some imports. The choice of malt beverage has never been greater, for all tastes.

Note re images: the images shown herein are from the volume linked in the text above, via HathiTrust. All intellectual property thereto or therein belong to their lawful owner or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational or cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.