Ballantine (brewery)

Ballantine was an American brewery, founded by Peter Ballantine, who was born in Scotland in 1781. It is best known for Ballantine Ale, a pale ale that is one of the oldest brands of beer in the United States. At its peak, Ballantine was the fourth largest brewer in the United States.


The company was founded in 1840 in Newark, New Jersey by Peter Ballantine (1781-1883), who emigrated from Scotland. The company was originally incorporated as the Patterson & Ballantine Brewing Company. Ballantine rented an old brewing site which had dated back to 1805. Around 1850, Ballantine bought out his partner and purchased land near the Passaic River to brew his ale. His three sons joined the business and in 1857 the company was renamed P. Ballantine and Sons.

The name would be used for the next 115 years, until the company closed its brewery. By 1879, it had become sixth largest brewery in the US, almost twice as large as Anheuser-Busch. Ballantine added a second brewery location, also in Newark, in order to brew lager beer to fill out the company product line. Peter Ballantine died in 1883, and his eldest son had died just a few months earlier. His second oldest son then controlled the company until his own death from cancer in 1895. The last son died in 1905, and the company was taken over by George Griswold Frelinghuysen, the company's vice-president, who was married to Peter Ballantine's granddaughter.

In 1933, the Ballantine company was acquired by two brothers, Carl and Otto Badenhausen. The Badenhausens grew the brand through its most successful period of the 1940s and 1950s, primarily through clever advertising. Ballantine Beer was the first television sponsor of the New York Yankees. It was during this period that the brand was elevated to the number three beer in the U.S. It was also during this period that the company grew into one of the largest privately held corporations in the United States. Ballantine Beer enjoyed a high level of success into the early 1960s. However, by the mid-60s, the brand began losing popularity. In 1965, Carl Badenhausen sold the company, but remained at the helm until his retirement in 1969.

Specialty Products

Through the years Ballantine offered a range of interesting products in addition to its flagship Ale and Lager; other specialties included a Porter; a Brown Stout; a dark lager; and a Bock beer. Also in regular production was a now legendary and very highly regarded world-class India Pale Ale (an intensely bitter and aromatic brew which was aged one year in wood prior to bottling). Also of note was a special Burton Ale (which was aged from 10-20 years in wood prior to bottling). The Burton Ale was never a commercially sold product; rather, it was a special strong brew in the barleywine style which was given as a gift at Christmas to Ballantine distributors and VIPs. Surviving unopened bottles are still bought, sold and traded to this day among collectors, more than sixty years after being brewed. Because of the long aging and generous hopping as well as an ABV content comparable to barleywines, the beer had remarkable keeping qualities. While it could be argued that the beer was probably at its prime at the time of bottling, reports of modern day tastings indicate that properly handled vintage bottles of this unique beer still yield a complex taste experience of very high calibre.


In the 1960s the company went into decline. The breweries were closed and the brands acquired by Falstaff Brewing under whose stewardship the beers remained faithful for a time to their original flavor profile. By the late 1980s, though, Ballantine Ales were produced by a number of different outsourced companies. Katherine Ballantine, granddaughter of Pete, now resides in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Brand name sold

Since 2005, the Ballantine Ale brand has been owned and marketed by the Pabst Brewing Company, which in turn outsources the brewing to the Miller Brewing Company.

The brand today

Because Ballantine is now widely sold in 40 oz bottles, it is often lumped together with Olde English 800 and other malt liquors in the public mind . By contrast, in its heyday it was a popular and well-regarded pale ale. While there are claims that the original formula has not been changed since then, it is fairly obvious that the formula and brewing process have both changed quite considerably over the years (multiple times) and that the present day Ballantine bears only a very slight resemblance to the original brew. This is most notably evident in the lack of hop character that was present in the original (which was a direct result of the generous addition of house-distilled aromatic hop oils). Despite a greatly diminished flavor profile, fortunately Ballantine Ale remains a beer of some character, even if somewhat altered from its glory days as "America's Best Selling Ale".

Company names


Ballantine in popular culture

  • The brewery had a long sponsorship arrangement with the New York Yankees on television and radio, spanning the 1940s to the 1960s. Team announcers, most notably the legendary Mel Allen, labeled Yankee home runs, "Ballantine Blasts." Ballantine was responsible for making Phil Rizzuto a Yankee broadcaster after his release. Years after he was famously let go by the Yankees, Allen told author Curt Smith that Ballantine had ordered his firing as a cost-cutting move.
  • In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Raoul Duke orders a Ballantine in Baker, California: "a very mystic long shot, unknown between Newark and San Francisco."
  • Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham was reputed to have "borrowed" the design of Ballantine's three-ring logo for his representative symbol on Led Zeppelin IV.
  • Some statisticians refer to Venn diagrams as Ballentines (note spelling) because the beer can's label looked like a Venn diagram.
  • The Beastie Boys made reference to Ballantine in their song "High Plains Drifter" on 1989's "Paul's Boutique", with the lyric: "Ballantine quarts with the puzzle on the cap". Ballantine bottle caps have a rebus puzzle printed on the underside.
  • The abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning said of gallery owner Leo Castelli, that "he could sell anything. He could even sell beer cans." The artist Jasper Johns heard of this statement, and produced a series of castings in bronze of Ballantine Ale cans, with labels painted on, under the title Painted Bronze.
  • Artwork on the label is a set of Borromean rings; these are mathematically interesting because all three are interlinked but no two of them are linked.
  • Notorious B.I.G. made reference to Ballantine in his song "Long Kiss Goodnight", with the lyric: "Distribute to kids who, take heart like Valentine, drink Ballantine, all the time".
  • The Wu-Tang Clan has made many affectionate references to the drink, i.e. "shine shine shine like gold mine / here comes the drunk monk with a quart of Ballantine" (GZA, Clan In Da Front)
  • Singer-songwriter Kevin Devine references the drink in his song "Afterparty," i.e. "you keep drinking all my Ballantine and laughing while your lips turn blue."
  • Tom Waits mentions Ballantine in his 1983 song "Swordfishtrombone".
  • On the television show Frasier, the title character's father, Martin Crane frequently drank Ballantine and it was referred to extensively. In one episode, while discussing a trip to France, Frasier notes that Martin could enjoy an imported beer in a cafe, to which Martin replies "I only like Ballantines." Frasier ripostes by pointing out that, in France, it is imported beer. In another episode, Ballantines is being discontinued, possibly a reference to the real-life decline of the brand. Martin exclaims, "Christmas just won't be the same without Ballantines!" His son asks if anything is the same to him without Ballantines, to which Martin replies, "Sure, lots of things." (Thoughtful pause, then), "No, not really."
  • Aimee Mann's album Smilers includes a song called "Ballantines".


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