Review: Ballantine Burton Ale 2015

Burton Ale BottleNot familiar with Ballantine? I wasn’t either, so draw near and listen to a story.

Ballantine Burton Ale is a legendary and storied beer that has been decidedly limited in availability. One source says he’s heard of $500 being paid for a single bottle.

Ballantine, founded in 1878, was a popular brew at the time, but it really hit its stride in the 1930s and 1940s, as P. Ballantine & Sons was one of the few brewers to survive Prohibition. Burton Ale was a bit of a celebratory bottling introduced after the Repeal, and it was something special, aged for years — up to 20, after a time — in oak barrels, through the solera process. Largely the beer was never actually sold but was rather gifted only to dignitaries and special friends — hence its cult status.

While Ballantine was huge as late as the 1960s, eventually tastes changed and business declined and Ballantine sold itself to Falstaff in 1971. That didn’t work out, and Pabst (yes, that Pabst) bought Falstaff in 1985. Ballantine as a brand was dormant until 2014, when the first Ballantine brew, Ballantine IPA, was relaunched.

Burton Ale is the second of the Ballantine brand to hit the scene, and while it isn’t aged for 20 years, it is a tribute of sorts that is designed to “replicate the original flavor… aged for several months in barrels lined with American oak. The slight oak essence, with notes of toasted vanilla, will make it the perfect holiday treat.”

And so it goes…

If you like big, syrupy holiday brews, Ballantine Burton Ale will be right up your alley. Loaded with notes of raisins, dates, vanilla sugar, and maple syrup, it drinks like a holiday dream straight out of Bethlehem. Sweet and sticky, it’s a bruiser (and a barleywine, technically) that pours on the malt before releasing you with gentle bitterness. A bit vegetal on the back end, I like it a bit less than similar beers like Deschutes Jubelale, but it offers festive fun that any fan of the season’s brews will enjoy.

11.3% abv.

B+ / $2 (355ml) / pabstbrewingco.com

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