Thanks to enterprising modern brewers, it seems like you can find craft beer almost anywhere in North America these days. In fact, the Brewers Association estimates that there will be more than 2,000 active breweries in the United States alone this year. But that wasn't always the case. Way back before craft beer enjoyed wide popularity there was only one "microbrewery" serving up Old-World-style brews – the New Albion Brewing Company.
Founded in 1976 in Sonoma, California by Jack McAuliffe, New Albion is considered to be the first microbrewery of the modern era in the United States, and many commercial brewers working today have McAuliffe to thank for helping to paving the way for US interest in present-day craft beer.
McAuliffe developed an appreciation for flavorful beers while stationed in Scotland with the Navy in the 1960s. He returned to the US to live in San Francisco after the Navy, and graduated college in 1971 to work as an optical engineer in the Silicon Valley. During that time, McAuliffe started homebrewing to recreate some of the beers he tasted in Scotland, as well as those he enjoyed from the local Anchor Brewing Company. It wasn't long after that when he started thinking about building a commercial brewery of his own.
Anchor Brewing — which also played a large role in modern craft brewing — had been operating in San Francisco almost continuously since 1896. However, it was in decline until Fritz Maytag bought a majority share in 1965. By 1975, Maytag began bottling Anchor Steam Beer and also introduced Anchor Porter, Anchor Liberty, Old Foghorn and their annual Christmas Ale.
Named for the original moniker given to the San Francisco Bay area by Sir Frances Drake, the New Albion Brewing Company produced around 450 barrels of beer per year at its height on a mostly-homemade, gravity-fed brewing system that McAuliffe cobbled together with repurposed and vintage parts. Unfortunately, New Albion succumbed to a lack of financing and a slow economy in the early 80s and closed its doors in 1982.
"Jack was brewing craft beer when nothing was easy. Nobody made small scale brewing equipment, nobody wanted to invest, retailers and distributors didn't want your beer, drinkers couldn't understand why the beer didn't taste ‘normal.' It was so different from today," said Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Company, the brewers of Samuel Adams.
The legacy of New Albion lives on, however, and many commercial craft brewers have created beers that pay homage to McAuliffe's early brewing contributions. For example, The Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur, California brews an amber ale called "Albion," and more recently the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which credits its early success in part to New Albion, included McAuliffe in its 30th anniversary series of collaboration ales. (Visit www.byo.com/component/resource/article/2598 for a clone recipe of Sierra Nevada's Jack and Ken's Ale, a collaboration with Jack McAuliffe and Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.) And this year, Sam Adams, a company that has its own roots in homebrewing and craft brew trailblazing, has taken the New Albion revival a step further by recreating the original recipe for Albion's flagship beer, New Albion Ale.
"New Albion is a true legacy," said Koch. "Jack's passion for craft beer has had a widespread influence, and has shaped the craft beer landscape. What Jack started 30 years ago was the original craft brew. We wanted to work with Jack to brew his recipe for the first time in almost 30 years and recognize him for his contribution to brewing."
Koch took a special interest in keeping the New Albion brand alive after McAuliffe moved on from professional brewing. In 1993, he took ownership of the New Albion trademark when it was set to expire, and also trademarked the name New Albion Brewing Company.
McAuliffe is known to be private and had shied away from discussing the brewery for many years. In fact, according to Maureen Ogle, author of "Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer" (Harcourt, 2007), McAuliffe is so reclusive that to this day he still does not have a listed phone number nor can you find him by searching the Internet. After he emerged for his collaboration beer with Sierra Nevada, however, Koch thought that the time was right to reach out to McAuliffe, who agreed to collaborate. To oversee the recreation of his original recipe, McAuliffe visited Sam Adams headquarters in Boston back in July of 2012 and the two brewers brewed side by side.
"Jim and I share a common passion for craft brewing, so I was honored when he approached me about bringing the New Albion original recipe back to life," said McAuliffe.
"I can't believe I'm brewing New Albion for a new generation of craft beer drinkers — a group that has more great beer choices than I ever had! New Albion will have a place in the growing and diverse craft beer landscape thanks to a fellow craft brewer."
New Albion Ale is an easy-drinking, delicate American pale ale. It has a deep golden color that was originally formulated with American Cascade hops and a 2-row pale malt blend. Sam Adams also kept the recipe true to tradition by using the original New Albion ale yeast strain, which had been preserved at the University of California-Davis since 1977.
The recipe for the ale itself is simple: North American two-row malt and three additions of Cascade hops throughout the boil, which makes it a very approachable recipe for homebrewers. McAuliffe explained that the simplicity of the recipe was largely due to the availability of ingredients when the brewery began.
"The answer to the question 'why did you select Cascades?' Is it's the only one anyone would sell me," said McAuliffe. Jim pointed out that the hop was so new at that time even Anheuser-Busch wasn't buying it yet. Jack said "I had to buy a 200-pound bale at a time."
The reincarnation of New Albion Ale was released by Sam Adams at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colorado and will be distributed wherever Sam Adams beers are sold as limited edition 12-ounce 6-packs this January — when it's gone, it's gone. So if you like it, try your hand at brewing your own batch of what is considered to be the first American craft brew yourself with the recipe on page 35. And don't forget to raise a glass of that homebrew to Jack!
"The craft brewing movement began as something modest," Koch said during the announcement of the beer's release at the 2012 GABF.
"All we see today is this enormous avalanche of beers and breweriesbut that avalanche started with one snowflake. That snowflake fell relatively unnoticed and was almost forgotten." To which McAuliffe replied to the crowd, "Hi there. I'm little Jackie Snowflake."
- Brew Sierra Nevada's Jack and Ken's Ale, the collaboration between Jack McAuliffe and Ken Grossman for Sierra Nevada's 30th anniversary: www.byo.com/component/resource/article/2598
- Listen to a podcast of Jack McAuliffe, Jim Koch and other brewing notables discuss the 2012 re-release of New Albion Ale and discuss the original recipe at Basic Brewing Radio (from November 1, 2012): www.basicbrewing.com/index.php?page=radio
New Albion Ale clone
(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.055 FG = 1.011
IBU = 30 SRM = 4
ABV = 5.7%
- 11.5 lbs. (5.2 kg) Great Western premium 2-row malt
- 3.6 AAU Cascade hops (60 min) (0.6 oz./17 g at 6% alpha acids)
- 3.6 AAU Cascade hops (30 min) (0.6 oz./17 g at 6% alpha acids)
- 3.6 AAU Cascade hops (15 min) (0.6 oz./17 g at 6% alpha acids)
- 1 tsp. Irish moss (15 mins)
- Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or White Labs WLP013 (London Ale) yeast (1.4 qt./1.3 L yeast starter)
- 1 cup corn sugar (for priming)
Step by Step
- Mash at 148 °F (64 °C) for 1 hour in 16 qts. (15 L) of brewing liquor.
- Sparge with 170 °F (77 °C) water over 90 minutes to collect 6 gallons (23 L) of wort (or however much pre-boil wort will yield 5 gallons (19 L) after a 1 hour boil).
- Boil wort for 60 minutes, adding hops at times indicated.
- Chill the wort rapidly to 68 °F (20 °C), aerate and pitch the yeast.
- Ferment at 68 °F (20 °C).
Extract with grains option
- Reduce the amount of 2-row malt to 2.0 lbs. (0.91 kg) and add 5.0 lbs. (2.3 kg) of light dried malt extract.
- Steep grains at 148 °F (64 °C) for 45 minutes in 3 qts. (2.8 L).
- Add roughly one third of the malt extract and add water to make at least 3.0 gallons (11 L) and boil for 60 minutes, adding hops as indicated.
- Add remaining malt extract in final 15 minutes of the boil.
- Cool wort, top up, aerate, pitch yeast and ferment.