The joy of looking at the Ballantine's Ale logo

200802181058Today I had a conversation that brought to mind one of my favorite logos, the three rings for Ballantine's Ale.

Call me simple and easily amused, but I never fail to be amazed by the fact that no two rings are linked to each other, yet the three as a whole are inseparable.

Wikipedia has a nice article about these rings, which are called Borromean rings.


  1. This is a Trinity knot and of Celtic design. I like the way the company has taken the Irish-Catholic design and used it for selling beer.

  2. Oh, wow. I’ve seen that sort of design before, but never realized the rings were unlinked but inseparable.

  3. You might be interested in a slightly smaller version of this…

    And this has a bit more background on the rings as well as a demonstration of the potential to combine chemistry and traditional “design”.

  4. Jeff, why not, given that Christian Monks (remember Friar Tuck?) started the whole beer brewing thing (at least in the western world):

    And the best breweries in Bavaria were operated by Monks until secularisation and are still named after the corresponding monastic orders:

    Augustiner (Augustinian)
    Paulaner (mendicant orders)
    Franziskaner (Franciscan)

    Starkbier, a particularly strong beer is brewed exclusively during lent, and was brewed to nourishment during fasting times (

    Mind you, today Weihenstephan also houses a university faculty on brewing beer, so secularisation has clearly made some impact.

    One of the breweries still operated by a monastrie is Andechs:

    A favorite for school trips in the area.

  5. it (sadly) always makes me think of john bonham, too — especially since word has it that ballantine’s was his favorite.

  6. In other words, drugs of the one form or the other, in the context of religious ceremonies or coping with everyday life, have been part of our culture, and probably any culture really, as long as agriculture and domestication at least, if not longer.

    Monasteries predate cities as centers of culture and learning and appropriately this was true for food and drinking culture as well.

  7. #3, You obviously designed that table for playing Magic the Gathering on. Email me before your next tournament with a list of banned and restricted cards.

  8. Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan used the Borromean knots [technically, they /are/ rings, but he was on a knot trip at the time] as a topograpic map of the psyche.

    Interestingly, he placed /body/ in approximately the same place Ballantine beer did. /Purity/, I suppose, corresponds to the ego-ideal, and so should be just outside the body ring. And noones ever theorised where in the psyche flavour resides. Presumably, as the object of desire, it should be in the very centre.

    Wow, this has really made my day. I never thought I would use that knowledge, ever.

  9. I love this logo too — and I don’t want to denigrate the more cultural/religious possibilities for the origin of the logo, but I’ll throw in one more.
    On traditionally rigged sailing vessel, a ‘balantine’ is a means of stacking the line from a halyard so that it will run free without tangling in case you need to strike sail quickly with little notice.
    To translate a bit from boat speak — When old-school sailing ships are carrying cargo or troops or whatever, clearly there is a balance between safety and speed that any ship captain wants to maintain. To go faster, you set more sail, usually setting large sails higher up the mast. The downside here is that if the weather changes, or the wind picks up, a quick squall can capsize a vessel in a hurry if the crew doesn’t get the extra sails down quickly. The danger then is to get the lines that pull up the sail (the ‘halyards’) to run smoothly out so that you can get the sail down — if the line tangles, that sail stays up and your whole ship might just find itself in a James Cameron flick in a few centuries.
    In comes the balantine. Once the sail is up, you have all this extra halyard line on deck, and to get it ready to run, you start at the end of the line, and start ‘stacking’ it on deck, essentially drawing a one big circle and then three smaller interlocking circles that all fit inside the big one. You ‘draw’ one small circle, then the next, then the next, then back over the first. By the time you’ve stacked all the line up to where you’ll release it to drop the sail again, you’ve got a carefully organized pile of line that will resist falling over or getting tangled in many hours of rocking back and forth, but in the instant you need it will run clean and free.
    To me and many other sailorly types, the shape of the balantine is not only beautiful but is also beautifully functional. It reminds me of careful balance in the face of danger, and the simple, thoughtful tricks that can take you from creeping along paralyzed with fear, to hugging the edge of risk, confident in your ability to manage it. The beer’s okay too.

  10. Episcopal alters, stained glass and signs sometimes have a 3 interlocking rings in the same knot signifying the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Always enjoyed comparing the churches rings the Ballantine’s Ale rings; Purity, Body and Flavor. It was a bad idea in religion class.

    Lament the loss of the India Pale Ale. Anyone interested in Ballantine’s Ale should see

  11. Not to drive the sailorly thing into the ground, but check out this 1951 Ballantine Ale Ad. The tired, hardworking guy in the white shirt is relaxing having a Ballantine Ale, while sitting on a Ballantine’d line. That’s the stack of rope he’s using as a stool. Notice he’s on a dock and nowhere near a halyard, but that’s what they look like from the side, while they look just like the logo from the top.

  12. Those rings always remind me of the movie “The Lost Weekend”. There is a scene when Ray Milland is explaining the rings left on the bar from a shot glass. When Nat the bartender comes he says:

    “Don’t wipe it away, Nat. Let me have my little vicious circle. You know, the circle is the perfect geometric figure. No end, no beginning. ”

  13. I used to love Ballantine’s jingle on their commercials:
    “Make a ring,
    then make another ring,
    then another ring,
    and then you’ve got THREE RINGS!
    Ballantine- and now it’s premium.
    It’s a very special glass of beer.”

  14. Well, if we’re plumbing the Campbellian/Jungian depths for just how essential the Three Rings are to western civilization, it’s worth noting that a truly remarkable DC band called Senator Flux (a buncha Dischord alumni producing really catchy postpunk for semiotics grad students) released an epic on the subject, I believe on their 1987 “Shotgun for Cosmo” LP. “Riding shotgun for Cosmo through the foothills of time/In search of the three rings of Ballantine” it begins, and when the protagonist speaks the words “purity,” “body” or “flavor” some kind of psychedelic transfiguration takes place.

  15. This logo makes me think the the IOOF, the International Order of Odd Fellows, logo

    While its only three interlocking rings, its a symbol that is in every city in America.

    I challenge anyone to find a single city, doesn’t matter what size, that doesn’t have atleast one building that wasn’t an Odd Fellows hall at one point or another.

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