India Pale Ale 1933-1980

I would identify five stages in IPA’s trajectory in America, by which I include Canada:

  1. The first importations before 1860 (Bass Pale Ale, Allsopp, etc.). Before that, American brewing was common beer, strong ale, and porter.*
  2. 1860-1900, when India Pale Ales from Ballantine, Greenway, C.H. Evans, John Labatt II, Molson’s, etc. were prominent in the market. First golden age of American IPA.
  3. 1901-1920 – IPA is now a semi-curiosity.
  4. 1933-1980 – IPA survives only vestigially post-Prohibition. American beer becomes increasingly homogenized, the crisp pale lager form.
  5. 1981 to present, IPA recreated with elan by artisan brewers.

In blog posting and journal articles I have discussed breweries and IPAs in each period. Period #4 covered a key progenitor of craft IPA – New Jersey’s Ballantine India Pale Ale.

During that time though, one still finds references to IPA, I’ll document some examples here. A late example is from 1962.

John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988) was a Beat generation novelist, poet, and essayist. He lived with his wife in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

In a journal entry for October 26, 1962, published in (1988) Kerouac and the Beats: a Primary Sourcebook, ed. Arthur and Kit Knight, he writes at p. 187 of  “… slow building talk with IPAs …”.

This can only mean Ballantine India Pale Ale, although it is interesting Holmes used the abbreviation IPA. Ballantine’s labels never used it as far as I know.

Holmes probably picked it up from literary or artistic associations in New York. The literati always liked ale – the real hipsters you know** – probably for the Anglo-American cultural resonance.

Another Bohemian writer, Don Marquis, writing in period #3, showed considerable appreciation for ale, see my essay here.

 

 

In 1936 the journalist and television star Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-1965), pictured, did a well-publicized world tour. It was a competition with two other journalists to see who did it fastest using public travel methods.

 

 

She  was 23-years-old, Chicago-born of Irish parentage, now working in New York. She wrote a book on the circumnavigation, preceded by news columns recording the stages. One was a breakfast in Gwadar, a port city now in south-western Pakistan.

She had flown in the night before from Shakar, and described her first meal:

 

The first Indian stop came at Gwadar at 10 o’clock, and there had our first meal of the day. The seasoned British officers, some of whom have lived in India many years, advised me that spicy foods keep one cool.

So I had curry—for breakfast. The inevitable lamb, hotter than weather, with pulao rice, and pickled cocoanut, and cooling chutney, and a bottle of India pale ale, shipped out from England.

Her column in the Albany Times-Union of 1936 gives further context. A full-page colour cartoon chronicling the trip appeared in the Chicago Tribune, showing her dining at said breakfast, beer bottle not shown (via Michigan State University Libraries).

No doubt Kilgallen and RJ Reynolds Tobacco, maker of Camel cigarettes and probably a trip sponsor, thought the tobacco connection enough.

The precise way she refers to the IPA is noteworthy. She probably had seen ads in New York for Ballantine’s India Pale Ale or other brands. She took took care to specify here the bottle was “shipped”, from England far away, not something local as the “India” might suggest.

IPA is now divorced from its late-1800s connotations of a standard American brewing product.

In 1917, or period #3, Paterson [New Jersey] Brewing and Malting Inc. created a visionary, a Far East mystique for its Hinchliffe India Pale Ale, to re-kindle new interest. See my three-part series on this brave attempt.

In 1936 Dorothy Kilgallen gave tangible expression to Hinchliffe’s vision, albeit Prohibition doomed any commercial success for Paterson Brewing and Malting.

A similar example how IPA became a marginal, romanticized product is a food columnist’s description of a lunch, also in the late 1930s, at the East India Club in London.

I referred to it earlier in passing but will give a fuller account. The American writer had a syndicated column, Victory Chef, giving advice on cookery in war conditions.

Proposing a curried dish in 1944, Victory Chef wrote an aside in the Washington Star of Washington, D.C.:

A few years before the war, I was taken to lunch at the famous East India Club in St. James’ Square in London, by a friend of mine, a retired British general. At this club, the curry is a fearsome and wonderful thing, served with a ritual that has not varied over a period of many years. The curry powder used is—or was—especially ground and blended for the club by a recipe known only to those within its sacred portals. Mutton was the chosen meat; the rice a special breed imported from a certain section in India. With the curry was served a pale India ale—unchilled, in fact, at just about room temperature. And there were only two of the many possible side kicks—Bombay duck, which isn’t duck at all but dried fish with a more than pungent odor, and a spicy chutney.

IPA is now something completely other, with enticing travel or literary/artistic associations. Note here how it was served warm, in a superbly un-American way. We could not be further from a Yankee commercial datum.

While a handful of IPA labels persisted in 1930s and 40s America, the beers had a tiny market share. By the 1960s, when John Clellon Holmes was savouring his Ballantine IPA in arty klatch sessions, that was the only brand left. By about 1995 it departed the market.

In period #4, IPA had exited the general culture. While I would not claim it had national appeal in period #2, it was still a well-known beer type in the Northeast, and unexceptional to that extent.

Only craft brewing, starting about 40 years ago, would restore IPA to broad-based visibility in consumer America. Craft brewing rescued the old lore, enough of it.

N.B. Pictured above is a revival of Ballantine India Pale Ale, re-introduced about seven years ago by current label owner, Pabst. The beer failed to click in the market and was withdrawn after a couple of years. The recipe was completely wrong, in my opinion. It resembled too closely countless modern IPAs, and failed to capitalize on the undoubted legend and uniqueness of Ballantine IPA.

Note re image: Image above of Dorothy Kilgallen was sourced from her Wikipedia entry linked in the text. Fair use claimed for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.

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*See my second comment viz. when IPA was first imported.

**The non-gentry section, certainly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “India Pale Ale 1933-1980”

  1. In terms of early India Pale Ale imports, the earliest I could trace was on May 14, 1840 when the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer advertised “Hodson’s [i.e., Hodgson’s] East India Pale Ale, on draught”. I provided the reference in my article “Fleming’s Golden Ale”, published in #178 of the journal Brewery History in 2019. My article treats as well of many characteristics of the ales that preceded India Pale Ale in New York State.

    I’m not to be understood that no IPA was domestically brewed in the United States before 1860; my categories are stated generally, for a conceptual framework I consider valid. I discussed earlier for example that George Weatherall Smith was brewing a bitter pale ale in West Virginia in the 1850s that became the model for Labatt IPA introduced in the 1860s, after John Labatt II had studied with him.

    IPA as a style in the U.S. and Canada did not take off as a regional force, until after the Civil War, I would argue.

    Reply
  2. As it is subsidiary to my post, but nonetheless of some interest, I will link here a 1954 episode of “What’s My Line”, the TV show in which a panel had to guess the occupation of a guest. (For famous guests the panel was masked). Dorothy Kilgallen was a long-time panelist of this show. The episode concerned beer. The guest was a young tour guide at Pabst brewery in Milwaukee. It would be satisfying to know that Kilgallen, given her beer smarts shown in 1936 on her world tour, got the answer right. In fact, I think she did, or substantially so, but moderator John Daly felt information was missing, and Bennett Cerf (well-known publisher at Random House) got the palm for guessing the actual role of the guest at Pabst. At least Kilgallen should have received half the credit, imo. There are aspects here very much of their time, as with any historical inquiry. The clip was uploaded to a Facebook account, and may be viewed here.

    Reply

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