Beers of Empire Implanted in Newark, NJ




[See my following post as well for more thoughts on the brown October ale referred to below].

While lager had made huge inroads in America in the 1800s, ale and porter-brewing continued in parts of the country, especially the northeast where descendants of English settlers predominated. Brewers in that region included John Taylor (Albany, NY), Robert Smith (Philadelphia, PA), Greenway (Syracuse, NY), C.H. Evans (Albany, NY), Arnold & Co. (Ogdensburg, NY), P. Ballantine and Sons (mainly Newark, NJ), Frank Jones (Portsmouth, NH), and many more.

Some brewers made both ale and lager regardless of the tradition they issued from. Christian Feigenspan had German roots (Thuringia) but his Newark ale and lager plants turned out highly reputed beers, especially pale and amber ales under the P.O.N. moniker, or Pride of Newark.

Adam Scheidt in Pennsylvania made the John Bullish Ram’s Head Ale, a stock or IPA-type. Returning the favour so to speak, Henry Bartholomay  in Troy, NY was famous for lager.

P. Ballantine and Sons, founded in Albany, NY in 1840 by a Scots immigrant, was from inception a top-fermentation brewery. It established a separate lager brewery before 1900, when it had long been established in its second home, Newark. Its pre-Pro era Ballantine Export Beer was a lager, likely a Dortmund style.

boston beer companyThere is a pleasing, rather American dissonance in the case of Boston, MA. Norman Miller reports in his Boston Beer:A History of Brewing in The Hub that of some 24 breweries in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain at the end of the 1800s, some made only ale, owned by Germans, some made only lager, owned by Irish. In a Brahmin city, the Yankees appeared outnumbered.

Albeit dealing in lager, the mainstays of P. Ballantine and Sons were various ales, porter, brown stout. The ales included flagship XXX, in the tradition of the cream ales I discussed earlier. An ad below from a 1915 brewers’ journal dealing with brewers’ advertising stresses the American character of this beer.

I believe this a subtle dig at lager, reminding people of its German origins at a time anti-German sentiment was rising during WW I.

The prince of the Ballantine family was Ballantine India Pale Ale. The brand was given carefully-thought out advertising treatment before Prohibition as discussed in the article accompanying the ads below. One may note too the reference to “house organs” as a way to keep in touch with regular customers. The recent blogging controversy whether brewers should curry favour with consumers by personal appearances and “direct” online engagement isn’t anything new.

Many English-inspired breweries often advertised “half and half”. This was ale and porter mixed, or lager and porter (or stout). More rarely one saw an October ale or beer. The old English country specialty which inspired Hodgson’s Pale Ale and modern IPA was still reverberating, to no particular acclaim, in Depression-era America.

Haberle’s Brown October was introduced not long after Repeal by the Haberle Congress Brewery in Syracuse, NY, whose return in 1933 was discussed in the link just mentioned. Its staff would be agape to see how old styles have come back with elan. “It’s new because it’s old” might well be the mantra of the craft brewing movement. In Haberle’s day (1930s) ales were just hanging on. Lager’s ascendancy was ever-growing and selling something called October Ale must have seemed a quixotic if not semi-lunatic act.

To say Haberle Congress was ahead of its time is an understatement.

Ballantine also offered, after its return in 1933, a very long-aged Burton Ale as a rare customer gift. The Burton was apparently only brewed twice. Small amounts would be removed from the storage vats, blended with some IPA to freshen up, cased, and sent to star customers and friends.

The 1915 ads offered luxury enough but only represented part of Ballantine’s Brittanic specialties over the years. If one didn’t think too hard, it all might seem like “craft redux”, except of course this was 1915, 1933, or 1960. In other words, it’s the other way around.

America and Canada finally lost the essence of the top-fermented tradition, it occurred as the consumer society gathered pace from the late 40s. They also lost, or so I would argue, the best of the lager tradition, certainly by the 1970s. Not coincidentally, craft brewing revived from that period. What existed before finally returned.

And so, Ballantine IPA is again being brewed, by Pabst, current successor to Ballantine which closed in Newark in the early 70s. The new IPA has an updated taste profile, think grapefruit. It’s not that close to what it was, IMO. But it’s good to see the venerable name back. Pabst even brought back the Burton Ale for a time last year, and reviews were most positive. Rumour has it the brown stout may reappear soon, too.

The collection of ads below may look old-fashioned but are a savvy combination of old and new. The writing is informative but nuanced. As the journal writer noted, technical talk is mostly avoided.

Values like reputation and heritage are stressed but also cleanliness (“house cleaning every day”) to show modern science at work. Net net, we make it like gran-dad did but it comes out of a lab-inspected plant too – best of all possible worlds for the consumer.

The ads after 1933 have a more modern tone, but the early genius of Madison Avenue is quite evident below. All the right buttons were pressed. Ballantine understood it had a steak to sell but that people often buy the sizzle. It made sure to offer both. The image and reputation it had for 80 years before Prohibition provided a necessary but not sufficient basis for the restoration of the business. The rest came (on Repeal) courtesy the German Badenhausen brothers and a brewer imported from Scotland, a story unto itself.

You can buy Ballantine XXX today, Ballantine IPA, and the Burton Ale if bottles are still around from last year. It’s good to see them all on the shelves.

Note re images: The first image above is copyright Tavern Trove and was obtained from its site, here. The second image was from Flickr Boston via this website, here. Image below was obtained from HathiTrust, here. All are used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the respective owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.