Pabst Brewing Co. wants to be known for more than “PBR.” The company’s iconic flagship, Pabst Blue Ribbon, is the stuff of cornhole tournaments and ironic tailgates, an affordable beer drunk by people who can often afford more.
Last year, Pabst revived a 19th-century IPA from a company it had added to its portfolio. P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Co. first brewed Ballantine IPA in 1878. Led by master brewer Greg Deuhs, Pabst brought the beer back, showcasing an IPA brewed before most people think the style existed. Deuhs has been honing another classic Ballantine beer, a brew never sold to the public.
Ballantine Burton Ale was first brewed in Newark in the 1930s and aged for up to 20 years in American oak. Ballantine saved the beer for guests of the brewery. Really old bottles — some 40, 50, or 60 years old — surface now and then on eBay. “Ballantine Burton Ale is a personal challenge of mine,” says Deuhs. “How do you create this beer in a shorter time span with the same characteristics?”
He had never tried the really old bottles, but he was curious. “I pretty much went on YouTube to look at every review that people posted,” he says. He also spoke to a former employee who worked for Ballantine after World War II.
The Burton ale is based on a lineage of beers brewed in Burton-on-Trent, England. A Burton ale adheres to no particular style, changing with the tradition of the country’s beers and leaning heavier and browner. The beers tended to be between 10 and 12 percent alcohol by volume. Some were heavily hopped, others not.
At 11.3 percent and 75 IBUs (international bitterness units) the Ballantine Burton Ale revival can’t possibly sneak up on you. Poured into a glass, it looks medium-bodied, giving no warning of its ABV. But you smell the alcohol right away, mixed with notes of cherries and baked bread.
The new ale spends a few months in tanks lined with American oak to get some of the flavor of the old bottles.
It’s a big beer, tasting of vanilla, dark fruits, and chocolate. The mouthfeel is syrupy, appropriate for holiday drinking and great for sipping by the fire.
Ballantine Burton Ale available at Redstone Liquors, Stoneham (781-438-9265, www.redstoneliquors.com), around $12.50 for a six-pack.