Yankee fans of a certain vintage will remember the jingle as if they heard it yesterday: Baseball and Ballantine/Baseball and Ballantine/What a combination/All across the nation…. The two B words seemed so inextricably linked in the mind of a Little Leaguer that when Ballantine faded in ’70s and disappeared by the ’90s, it was if the national pastime itself might be less that we thought it was.
Well, Ballantine is coming back with six packs and 750-milliliter bottles next month, reports USA Today’s Mike Snider. “Pabst Brewing, which has 30 beers including Old Style, Schlitz and Lone Star in its lineup, hopes to make a hit out of the revived beer at a time when flagship Pabst Blue Ribbon, or PBR, has been adopted by hipsters as cheap, cool and nostalgic,” he writes.
It also hopes to appeal to the growing craft beer market “as well as to hipsters and mainstream consumers,” Snider points out after talking to Pabst master brewer Greg Deuhs, who has spent a couple of years trying to recreate the original formula using “analytic reports from as far back as the ’30s that tracked the ale's attributes (alcohol, bitterness, gravity level)” since no recipe could be found.
Good as the ale might have been in its day, clearly much of its success post Prohibition was due to its marketing savvy.
“By 1950 Ballantine was the third largest brewer in America, surpassed only by Schlitz and A-B, brewing 4.3 million barrels. Shibe Park aka Connie Mack Stadium for the Philadelphia Phillies featured a 60-foot Ballantine Beer sign. NYC sports were divided into rival camps [after 1962], Yankee fans drank Ballantine, and Mets fans had Rheingold,” reads as appreciation of the brand on the Falstaff Brewing Corp. site, which is independent of the company itself and filled with nostalgic information.
And in the parlance of Yankee announcer Mel Allen, a home team home run wasn’t just a mere four-bagger or round-tripper. It was a “Ballantine Blast.”
Whether inculcating 10 year olds with the message that a game requiring highly refined motor skills and a drink that suppress same is a good idea is a question for another day. The point is that the marketing, dated as it may seem, left an indelible mark. And, reportedly, the product wasn’t too bad either.
“If you have come to this page looking for XXX pictures, you are definitely in the wrong place! This page celebrates Ballantine XXX Ale, America's best selling ale,” reads the intro to the brand on the Falstaff Brewing Corp. site. “I heard someone refer to it once as the ‘microbrewery taste at a macro brewery price.”
But Falstaff lost $22 million on the brand in the three years it owned it in the ’70s after purchasing it from a group of investment bankers with “no previous experience in the brewing industry.” They had taken control of the Newark, N.J.-based brewer in 1969. Falstaff then sold to Paul Kalmanovitz, who slashed the ad budget from $1 million to $115,000, closed all the retail distribution centers and ceased “certain illegal practices called ‘black bagging’ (i.e., carrying bribes in a little black bag to restaurants and taverns),” according to the Falstaff website history.
“As a result, finding Ballantine on tap became almost impossible.” It was restored to profitability, however. The formers owners, seeing their royalties shrink, sued Kalmanovitz “for failing to use best efforts to maintain sales volume” and won a $1.2 million settlement in 1978.
The brand eventually would up in the hands of Pabst, which was also owned by Kalmanovitz, and petered out by the early ’90s, with an attempt here and there to capture the retro market ($9 a can at Yankee Stadium).
It will be interesting to see it the new iteration plays off the old advertising in its marketing.
Yoo Hoo wasn’t the only beverage Yogi Berra quaffed, after all, and who could be hipper than he? How creepy are Klondike Pete the bartender and the other animated figures in this spot from the ’50s? But that first customer is the prototypical urban lumberjack, no? And this jaunty jingle with a drum circle opening — it reportedly played on the “Jean Shepherd Show” in 1960 — could easily be updated for the hipster demographic the brand is seeking, don’t you think? I know it’s going to be rattling about my head all weekend.