Pre-Prohibition I.P.A and its Culinary World

Dwelling Together in Unity

I examined the legend of New Jersey’s Ballantine India Pale Ale earlier, a very important beer in American and now craft brewing history. As related there an attempt was made some years ago to revive the brand, but it did not “take”.

I hope the brand owner, Pabst, will try again, as there is great potential there, surely.

In these notes I consider a striking ad for the brand from 1910, printed in the Newark Evening News (via Chronicling America). This was at or near the peak of pre-First World War American brewing, at least for states that had no intention to adopt prohibition (locally) until federal law mandated it from 1919.

New Jersey was a stalwart, and retained its breweries and vibrant beer market up to the start of national prohibition (1919-1933).



The size and position of the ad shows that top-fermented beer still commanded strong affection in New Jersey, despite the dominance of lager in American brewing by then. Ballantine did brew lager by this time – “beer” strictly in former American parlance (from lager bier) – but pale ale still appealed to many, especially in the Northeast.

In New Jersey, specific historical influences reinforced that appeal, which I discussed in the post Of Pie, Paterson and Pints.

The ad shown also highlights the foods typically associated with ale and porter then: steak, lobster, heated cheese, and oysters. That about sums up the food picture for such beer, although allied foods might be served, the mutton chop, meat pie, other shellfish, etc.

The main food groups were clear though, especially their manner of preparation. I showed in other writing how some restaurants specialized in “musty ale”, a variant of pale ale, and lobster.

I chronicled the American Welsh Rabbit tradition, with its strong connections to Bass ale and similar beer, and the great alliance of steak and ale via the communal “Beefsteak”, a vestige of the old public eating.*

A similar tally for lager, whose Central European connotations were still strong in 1910, would include cold cuts. a cheese plate (cold), pickled fish, sandwiches, and pretzels.**

Each great family – lager and its innumerable types, and porter and ale with their subdivisions, had a food family peculiar to it. By the post-Prohibition era the families intermarried so to speak, accentuated by the fall of ale and porter in the American affection.***

Note re image: source of image above is the Chronicling America page linked in the text. All intellectual property thereto belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*See for example here.

**Needless to say there was always some crossover. Ale could be taken with a cheese sandwich, say. Some had to like steak with lager. But broadly this division holds, by my research, apart the special subject of the saloon free lunch. By definition a choice of the proprietor not saloon patron, the free lunch could follow the binary suggested in these notes, but might depart from it, reflecting the region in which the saloon carried on business or the ethnic background of the owner. This special subject has been studied by scholars, which I’ll advert to in the next post.






5 thoughts on “Pre-Prohibition I.P.A and its Culinary World”

  1. First of all, New Jersey did not approve the 18th Amendment until two years after it had gone into effect. Connecticut and Rhode Island never approved the 18th Amendment.
    Secondly, Ballantine’s wood aging tanks were moved to Falstaff’s last operational brewery, Fort Wayne, IN., where the India Pale Ale continued to be brewed.
    When I ran the Annual Beer Tasting at the United Soccer Boosters’ Convention, I consistently asked Pabst | Falstaff | Pearl | General to take part in it. For many years when it still owned the Milwaukee, WI. brewery, it sent beers, including the Ballantine I.P.A.. For one Tasting, we got the first packaging of Pabst’s Old Tankard Ale.
    I thought the beers were quite good. But the attitude of the general beer drinking populace then was that Pabst was trying to muscle in on microbrewers’ territory, so their brews were spurned.

  2. I’m sorry Ballantine’s IPA relaunch didn’t work out. I had it a couple of times and enjoyed it.

    I’m not shocked it didn’t last though — the market is incredibly competitive, and I guess it’s a good thing all things considered that no major brewer seems to have swooped in and dominated it, not that Pabst is on the scale of some of the biggest players.

    • It’s possible any release from Pabst wouldn’t work in the context of today, but I wish they had hewed to a more historical recipe. It would have set the beer apart, for one thing. Maybe it’s not too late, we’ll see.



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