Thirty-five years ago there was little choice in the beer aisle of your local liquor store other than brews from the major national brands. But, if you were fortunate enough to live in Northern California in the late 1970s, you may have heard of a tiny brewery known as New Albion Brewing Company. Started by Jack McAuliffe in 1976, New Albion was doing something only home brewers were doing – making great-tasting ales instead of watered-down, mass-produced lagers.
The story begins long before the opening of New Albion Brewing Company, though. McAuliffe was born in Caracas, Venezuela to an FBI agent stationed at the American embassy during World War II. As is common in families such as his, he moved to new cities regularly. But, after a stint in the United States Navy, McAuliffe got an engineering degree and, while helping a friend build his home, settled in Sonoma, Calif.
It was during his career in the Navy that McAuliffe discovered his love for well-crafted beer. After training at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, he was transferred to the U.S.S. Simon Lake. As part of its duty cycle, the ship went to Scotland in the late 1960s to service the submarines in Squadron 14. There McAuliffe became fascinated by the diversity of beer available and the processes by which it was produced.
Upon his return to the states, McAuliffe began to learn the skills needed to brew beer by producing small batches of home brew in his garage in Sonoma. After he completed the building of his friend’s home, he turned to designing a small commercial brewer. He began rummaging through scrap yards seeking anything he might use to build brewing equipment. Old dairy equipment was particularly useful, but most of his equipment McAuliffe built by hand. During this time, he lived in a warehouse loft above the brewery he was assembling.
In October on 1976, McAuliffe incorporated the New Albion Brewing Company and began producing English-style ale, porter, and stout. The name is a nod to the English explorer Sir Francis Drake who claimed the San Francisco Bay area for England in the 1500s and named it Nova Albion. But, as McAuliffe discovered, his was not the first brewery named New Albion in the area. In the 1800s, an Englishman started a brewery in Hunter’s Point area of San Francisco at the site of a spring. That brewery faded into the annals of history, but McAuliffe wanted to honor it and pushed forward with the name.
But, ultimately New Albion proved to be too much ahead of its time to survive. In 1982 the brewery was forced to close due to a lack of financing and expansion space. After only a little more than five years, one of the pioneers of the craft brewing industry closed up shop.
An impression had been made by the small brewery and its tenacious leader. During its short-lived existence, New Albion drew visitors such as Ken Grossman who later went on to found Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. Another visitor was Michael Lewis, professor of brewing at the University of California Davis. At that time, Lewis educated students for careers at the large brewers of the day. But, as the craft movement gained momentum, UC –Davis has turned into a training ground for today’s craft beer gurus.
In fact, it was the discovery of the strain of yeast formerly used by New Albion in the UC-Davis storage facilities that inspired Boston Brewing Company founder and owner Jim Koch to resurrect one of New Albion’s landmark brews – New Albion Ale. Introduced at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. by Koch, the beer sports a representation of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hinde, just as McAuliffe’s original bottle did. But, other than GABF, the brew was not available to the public. Next month that exclusivity comes to an end when Samuel Adams New Albion Ale is released for distribution to the nation.
At the brunch where Koch introduced the new batch of New Albion Ale, he praised McAuliffe as a pioneer and inspiration. In his typical fashion, the aging McAuliffe remained soft-spoken and humble. He does not consider himself a major figure in the history of the now booming craft beer market, nor does he dwell on the fall of his brewery. During his talk at the brunch he thanked Koch and his company for the recognition and urged everyone to continue in his footsteps to continually innovate and keep the craft beer movement’s forward momentum going.
According to Boston Beer’s Jim Koch, in a press release, New Albion Ale is brewed from the original pale ale recipe, with Koch and McAuliffe both taking part in the brewing:
“New Albion Ale is a deep, golden beer brewed with American Cascade hops and a 2-row malt blend. The Cascade hops, sourced from the Pacific Northwest, create a moderate hop bitterness and lingering citrus and floral notes, balanced by the upfront cereal character and sweet finish from the malt.”
Look for New Albion Ale from Samuel Adams on your beer monger and grocery store shelves next month, January 2013.
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