“Hey! Getcha Cold Beer"
Perhaps the best beer advertising slogan of all time is
the title of this article. It refers, of course to the
Ballantine brewery of Newark, NJ, long time sponsor of
the New York Yankees on radio and television. Anyone
who grew up in the 1940s, ‘50s or ‘60s remembers
announcer Mel Allen yelling about a “Ballantine Blast”
every time another hated (by me, anyway) Yankee hit a
home run. Occasionally the camera would even catch Mel
reaching into a nearby cooler for a frosty can or bottle
to wet his whistle during the broadcast.
Peter Ballantine, a Scot who immigrated to Albany early
in the 19th century, moved to Newark in 1840 and
opened his brewery, making a brew that would
eventually become “America’s Largest Selling Ale”.
Ballantine XXX ale became the brand which first used
the three ring logo. Supposedly, Mr. Ballantine observed
three interlocking circles made on a table top by a wet
glass and was inspired to create the “three ring sign”
with the three rings representing “purity, body, and
flavor”. ( He must have polished off the glass in three
gulps, otherwise Audi and the Olympics might have had
to come up with different trademarks).
In 1943, the brewery acquired their neighboring
competitor, Christian Feiganspan Brewery (famous for
its P.O.N., or “Pride of Newark” brand) and utilized the
Feiganspan site as plant #2 until it was closed in 1948.
Ballantine continued to brew an economy brand,
“Munich”, under the Feiganspan name until Ballantine
itself was closed in 1972.
But prior to its closing, Ballantine rose to become
America’s third largest brewery in 1950, behind only
Anheuser-Busch and Schlitz, producing Ballantine Beer,
XXX Ale, Ballantine Bock, Real Draft, Ballantine IPA,
Burton Ale and the aforementioned Munich from the
single facility in Newark.
Ballantine Burton Ale, to the best of my knowledge, was
only brewed twice, on May 12, 1934 and May 12, 1946.
The beer was then stored in huge wooden vats until
drawn off for bottling to be given away as Christmas
presents to employees, friends and dignitaries. It was
never available for sale during the brewery’s heyday, but
amazingly, almost fifty years later, full bottles can still be
found on E-bay at amazing prices. (See Vince Capano’s
Adventures in Beerland article “You Spent $93.75 on a
f*****g 62 year old bottle of beer?”).
Ballantine was the first legal beer I ever drank, and why
wouldn’t it be when it was selling for ten cents a
bottle on the Quantico Marine Base where I happened to
be stationed on my twenty first birthday. And Ballantine
had another close tie to the Armed Forces: on a
brewery tour in Newark, the brochure given as part of
the tour said that Ballantine produced enough beer in a
year to float the entire US Navy 7th Fleet. Its probably a
good thing that the 7th Fleet wasn’t really floating in
beer. If it had been, it might have been left high and dry
by sailors of the 7th Fleet quenching their thirsts on a
liberty weekend after a six month deployment!
The brewery’s advertising slogans and jingles were
always my favorite. Who can forget “Make the three ring
sign….ask the man for Ballantine”, “Golden mellow from
the golden harvest”, “That’s ale, brother” , “m…m…m…,
the wonderful flavor that chill can’t kill”, or “You get a
smile every time”. (Every time you drink a Ballantine,
that is). TV commercials in the 1960s included Mel
Brooks as the 2500 year old brewmaster and the very
politically incorrect Chief Totem Home Plenty who
advised Yankee viewers between innings to “Totem
home plenty Ballantine”.
An advertising idea unique to this brewery was their
sponsorship of the Ballantine Brewers Senior Drum and
Bugle Corps in the mid sixties. Northern New Jersey was
a hotbed of Junior Drum Corps and the Brewers, seen
in many parades and competitions in the area,with the
brewery’s logo prominently displayed on the bass drum,
provided another venue for those who wanted to remain
active drum corps participants after “graduating” from
Blessed Sacrament, St. Lucy’s or any other of a score
of great junior corps in Jersey.
Unfortunately, Investor’s Funding Corporation, who
bought the business from Carl and Otto Badenhausen,
the last real owners of the company, didn’t have a clue
about the brewing industry, and closed the brewery in
1972, with the brands being sold to Falstaff who
continued to brew Ballantine in their Cranston, RI
brewery. Then in 1985 Pabst bought the Falstaff
company and its brands and Ballantine production was
moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where it remained until
1991 when the “Bally’s” labels were moved to other
Sadly, around that time Ballantine IPA disappeared.
Even though a short lived brew, Ballantine Twisted Red
Ale appeared in the early 2000’s, the IPA was no where
to be found. Those who were fans periodically
bemoaned the fact that Pabst quit making it and
wondered why. Barroom conversations developed
several theories including that Ballantine was now known
as a “cheap” brand that wouldn’t fit with the iconic India
Pale Ale, that the craft beer movement had created
hundreds of other IPAs all competing for the beer dollar
and shelf space, and that today’s nouveau youthful beer
drinkers had never even heard of Ballantine, certainly a
downer for any sales campaign.
Then one day my son called me from Virginia to say he
was watching some TV news which featured a piece
about the return of Ballantine IPA! I was astounded and
immediately called my friends at the Gaslight who
happily informed me that not only had they also heard
this great beer news, but had already ordered several
cases of 750ml bottles and a KEG of the brew. I tried
the bottled version as soon as it arrived and it brought
back many happy memories.
Pabst’s head brewer said that he had tried to
reconstruct the original formula from incomplete
paperwork, recollections and experimentation. As far as
I’m concerned, he succeeded. In spite of the thousands
of craft brews, seasonals, imports, etc. Ballantine IPA is
my go-to beer. I couldn’t wait until the draught version
came on. But oh no! The ceremonial tapping at Gaslight
was scheduled for when I was going to be in Virginia for
my grandson’s birthday! As much as I like Ballantine
IPA, I like my grandson much, much better so it was off
to Virginia I went, hoping against hope that there might
be a drop or two left by the time I returned. My hopes
were for naught as the keg had kicked shortly after its
unveiling, leaving me crestfallen and unfulfilled. But
Gaslight brewer DJ suddenly e-mailed me to tell me he
had “found” another keg deep in the brewpub’s
basement. See….? There IS a God!
On tap its even better than the bottled variety. Try
some when you have the opportunity and remember:
“To be crisp a beer must be icily light,
Full of flavor, precisely right!
Golden mellow, crystally clear!
The crisp refresher, Ballantine, Ballantine Beer!
Hey, getcha cold beer
Hey, getcha Ballantine
Hey, getcha cold, cold beer
Getcha ice cold Ballantine beer”
and make the three ring sign!
has to say
and it could
Click on pictures to enlarge
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by Dan Hodge