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Like most craft beer fans, I’ve spent the last month or so thinking quite a bit about that notorious Budweiser Super Bowl ad. Y’know, the one that made fun of people who actually care about the taste of their beer and implied that real beer drinkers are all about just pounding some macro-brewed lager? (This, of course, from the company that has been buying up craft breweries at every opportunity, including, most recently, the once-fiercely-independent Elysian Brewing of Seattle.) And pondering the suddenly murky links between corporate and craft beer got me thinking about something I had been ignoring.
That something was Ballantine IPA. Last fall, Pabst re-introduced this long-dormant brand, which was regarded as a truly world-class beer in its pre-1970s heyday. Purportedly, the quality declined over several decades as the brewery changed hands, and the beer was discontinued in the mid-‘90s. Pabst’s decision to revisit it came with much fanfare (and trepidation) in the craft beer world. The plan was to bring back the classic version, but the recipe was long gone. Through best guesses and educated substitutions, Pabst was able to create something they claim was very near to the storied original.
I wasn’t even born when this beer was in its prime (let alone old enough to drink it), so I can’t compare it to its ancestor. But I can tell you it’s wonderfully, surprisingly, ridiculously good. It’s very hop-forward, but not aggressive. The hops have a piney bite, but there’s an almost syrupy feel as well. In short, it’s absolutely everything an IPA should be – and it’s still a world-class beer. I’ve heard it argued that the original Ballantine IPA was the archetypal American craft beer. And this version, regardless of where or how it was made, is as good as many contemporary craft IPAs (and better than many others). If macro brewers want to make inroads against the rising tide of craft beer, this is the way to do it. And if you’re a craft beer aficionado who thinks nothing good could ever come out of a macro? Think again.
Have you tried the Ballantine IPA? What do you think?