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New Albion: Historic Local Ale Comes Back to Life 

Wednesday, Jan 30 2013
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All right class, it's time for a history lesson. Can anybody tell us which brewery is acknowledged as the first modern microbrewery in the United States? If you answered New Albion Brewing Company, you get an A. Does anybody know where the brewery was located? Yes, right in our backyard in Sonoma! Go to the head of the class.

Influenced by beers that he sampled while stationed abroad with the Navy, Jack McAuliffe founded New Albion in 1976. After deciding that it was cost-prohibitive to open the operation in San Francisco (sounds about right), wine country was chosen for its reasonable start-up costs and local focus on quality food and beverages. Due to lackluster profits, the brewery had to close up shop in 1982. Today it's abundantly clear that the operation was well ahead of its time and, along with fellow local outfit Anchor Brewing, planted the seeds for today's booming craft beer industry. To put things in perspective, McAuliffe advised Ken Grossman when he was starting up Sierra Nevada Brewing way back in 1979.

In the last couple years, McAuliffe has come out of the woodwork after decades away from the beer world. Seizing the opportunity to resurrect a piece of history, Boston Beer Company (of Sam Adams fame) partnered with McAuliffe to re-create his trailblazing New Albion Ale from the original recipe. Six-packs of the brew just hit shelves, complete with original label artwork.

Thanks to the foresight of some scientific historians, the original New Albion yeast has been stored at a university since the brewery's demise. At a launch event for the beer at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, Boston Beer's Jim Koch likened the resurrection of the yeast to seeing the original columns of the Parthenon. (Speaking of which, the original signage from New Albion Brewing currently hangs above the bar at Russian River Brewing, signed by Mr. McAuliffe.)

This simple pale ale was brewed with Cascade hops and a two-row malt blend. By today's standards, the flavors in this beer aren't going to change anybody's world. But given the historical context, it's more than worthwhile to sample the brew that laid the foundation for the thousands of breweries that followed. The beer has a mild citrus floral quality, with grassy and biscuity notes and a clean finish. In the barren landscape of domestic American beer in 1976, it must have been game-changing.

When confronted with the enormity of today's craft brewing culture, McAuliffe seemed a bit overwhelmed. Asked where he would like to see craft beer go in the future, he replied, "Closer to my house." Given Boston Beer's enormous distribution network, this beer is finally available nationwide. Congratulations to Jack McAuliffe, and hats off to Boston Beer for resurrecting a Bay Area legend.

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Jason Henry

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