The American Roots of Labatt’s I.P.A. (Part II)

This description of George W. Smith’s career arc, from an 1890 survey of Upper Ohio Valley history, adds good detail to our understanding of Smith’s brewing history in both Wheeling, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh, PA. This sketch omits reference to his Canadian activities, which included owning a brewery towards the end of the Civil War in Prescott, ON, but this aspect is covered by the modern account linked in my Part I.

To get some sense of the gravitas of Smith’s business in the two states and the importance of his American Bitter Ale, this advertisement in an 1857 trade directory tells much. See also pg. 66 in the same volume which sheds further light on Smith’s brewing, including an annual capacity of 14,000 barrels. Lager was on the rise in Pittsburgh, as pp. 66-67 show, but ale and porter brewing still enjoyed a large market.

William Fleming in Albany, NY, in almost exactly the same period, vaunted his Fleming’s Golden Ale against top British pale and Scotch ale imports. Smith similarly feared not to put up his product against Burton’s finest. Indeed, Smith had brewed in Albany, and New York City, in the 1820s; one wonders if the jaunty ads of both men were inspired by a kind of Hudson Valley brewing hubris.

In such light, we can understand why John K. Labatt, in London, Canada West (now Ontario), sent his bright third son, Labatt II, to Wheeling in 1859 to study the art of India Pale Ale.

In classic American fashion, a classic British-style IPA emerged under uniquely American conditions. It would soon establish a new, much longer-lived home in Canada via its influence on a famous beer of the pre-craft era: Labatt’s India Pale Ale.

2 thoughts on “The American Roots of Labatt’s I.P.A. (Part II)”

  1. Labatt’s IPA was available in New Jersey until about 1976. I remember drinking it often, but I preferred Ballantine. I went to Graduate school in Binghamton NY, and made more one trip up 81 to Ontario and came back with a couple of cases of Labatt’s IPA and Molson Stock Ale.

    • Thanks for this, I think it shows even in the mid-1970s the beer was substantially reduced from its 19th century glory. I assume the same for Molson Stock Ale, which is still available in fact.

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