I love IPA. When I visit a new brewery IPA is the style I use to judge their beers. I even remember my first IPA because it jumped out of the bottle as a totally different drink. It was over 35 years ago when my sister, Helen, was running a small town store for the summer. To make things more interesting she would order unusual beers to put in the cooler alongside the cases of Genny cream ale and PBR. In the experimentation we ended up with a case of Ballantine India Pale Ale. We had not heard the name before but the bottle, conveniently, described the history of how beer was brewed in England and shipped to India to quench the thirst of British soldiers. To help the beer store without contamination during the long sea voyage it was brewed stronger and extra hops were added. Then the oak barrels slished and sloshed in the hold of the ship for several months before arriving to the thirsty soldiers. I don’t know what the soldiers thought but we had never had a beer like this. It bit my tongue in a way no other beer had. By the time we finished the case, with the help of friends, we were big fans of the India Pale Ale.
Ballantine was one of the big regional breweries of the day, originally in Newark, NJ. It was common for these breweries to brew their staple lager and smaller amount of various types of ales. The Ballantine India Pale Ale was one of those special beers. It was no wimp by today’s IPA standards as it was aged for a year in oak barrels and had an abv of over 7%.
It would be more than a decade before I tasted another beer that was anything like the Ballantine IPA. That was Sierra Nevada pale ale which when it was marketed to the east coast. Fortunately, the growth of craft ales was pretty steady starting in about 2000 and IPA was one of the styles that would separate craft brewers from the big domestics. Now the world has exploded with double IPAs, black IPA, white IPAs, India brown ales and beer so hoppy you look into your glass to check for hop cones.
As I learned more about the craft beer industry I discovered that first Ballantine India Pale Ale was, in fact, a cousin (or grandbud or whatever they call it in the yeast world) to the Sierra Nevada Pale ale that lead the way for craft beers. The yeast used by Ballantine was the starting stock for Sierra Nevada and is now the most common yeast used by craft brewers in America. While called American ale yeast, California ale yeast or Chico yeast (after the county where Sierra Nevada started) it is the very versatile yeast which was used in Ballantine ales. And to think, for me, it all started when Helen asked the beer salesman, “What else have you got?”