Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Brewing up history: Ballantine IPA à la today

Harvest Moon brewer Kyle McDonald stirs the grist during
the mashing in of the  IPA collaboration at Carton Brewing.

At best, this IPA can only approximate the past.

But it can still satisfy the present. 

And who knows, maybe it will point toward a future.

Five New Jersey craft beer brands – production breweries Carton and Kane, joined by brewpubs Harvest Moon, Uno and Trap Rock* – convened at Carton's digs in Atlantic Highlands on Sunday to jointly strike a mash on an IPA that will ultimately surmise the taste, salute the legend, or simply speak the name of Ballantine IPA, a hearty gem born of Newark's now-gone brewing identity. 

Uno brewer Chris Percello
checks Cluster hops aroma

Ballantine was chosen, says Carton founder Augie Carton, as a way to give the collaboration a Jersey-centric theme. It also allows the team marshaled from the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild to reclaim some of the state's brewing lore, given Ballantine IPA's influence on modern craft brewing. 

"It's from Newark, New Jersey. The yeast that Ken Grossman cultured to make Sierra Nevada, the Chico yeast, was stolen from Ballantine IPA. So it makes its way back," Augie says.

Using the IPA bible written by Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele as a guide (Ballantine's IPA is referenced in the book), the five breweries crafted a sturdy 8% ABV recipe with some adjunct ingredients (flaked maize) and Bullion hops to capture some signatures of the original beer. (The collaboration beer is being fermented with White Labs California yeast.)

Ballantine IPA label. Note that
it mentions Newark, something
that would disappear as the
the brewery changed hands.
The 15 or so gallons brewed on Carton's pilot system will be served at the guild's festival June 22 from a guild-bannered table, but hopefully talked about by all who trod the fantail deck of the USS New Jersey battleship, where the festival has been annually staged for nearly 10 years now.

Ballantine India Pale Ale owns a place in beer culture as an American-made IPA that won a following generations before the Pavlovian response those call letters – IPA – would come to evoke in craft beer drinkers today: a thirst for muscled-up, super-hoppy brews turned out by U.S. brewers rewriting the natively British style's guidelines. 

Ballantine's IPA was apparently brewed on either side of Prohibition. Some historians say the first printed references to the company making a beer designated India pale ale appeared as early as 1878. It could have been brewed even earlier. IPA, as style was in demand in England in the 1840s, with advertising references to India Pale Ale existing 20 years prior. Brewing the style the U.S. around that period doesn't seem that much of a stretch.

Whatever the case, Ballantine India Pale Ale, a 7.5% ABV wood-aged beer (60 IBUs) with its signature aroma owing to hop oils added to the aging vessels, went on the market post-Prohibition in 1934, about a year after the 21st Amendment had officially taken effect and the 18th Amendment was truly buried.

From left: Carton brewer Jesse Ferguson,
Kyle McDonald, and Uno brewer Chris Percello 
Overtime, as production shifted to other states via corporate changes, the brewing techniques evolved, with the alcohol content ultimately trending down a couple of points, after the IBUs were reined in. 

By the time Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was undeniably making a name for itself, Ballantine IPA was fading from the landscape, becoming a setting sun, but still revisited on homebrewer and beer enthusiast Internet discussion boards. Not to mention chat among brewers like the guild crew, pondering its quest to make something like it, or honoring it.

Stepping away from the brewing, Kyle McDonald, Harvest Moon's brewer, took some time to reflect on the moment, calling the gathering a chance to build a buzz about the guild's festival and what he hopes will be a "great IPA" plus a brewing camaraderie that continues.

"Collaborations are very trendy right now in the brewing industry. For us to do something like this, (it) offers something special at the battleship to encourage people to come out," Kyle says. "I hope to see more of this type of collaboration moving forward." 

*EDITOR'S NOTE: Trap Rock Brewery and Restaurant supplied hops for the brew, but brewer Charlie Schroeder was unable to attend the actual brewing. Also, a shout-out JessKidden, an email friend and an ongoing source of historical guidance to BSL. Thanks again. 

Clockwise from left: Michael Kane, Kyle McDonald,
Augie Carton and Jesse Ferguson

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