In 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, one of the country's most iconic brands celebrated its 100-year anniversary: Budweiser, the self-appointed King of Beers. That year, a single citizen quietly began his own kind or revolution against the tyranny of the mass market. Jack McAuliffe, a Navy veteran living in northern California, started brewing his own beer.
At the time, there was virtually no alternative to Bud, Miller, and the regional brewers like Schlitz, Pabst, and Stroh's, all of which produced a typical American-style lager. Naming his tiny company New Albion, after Sir Francis Drake's name for his port on the northern coast of California, McAuliffe brewed and bottled a pale ale, a porter, and a stout, hoping to approximate the robust beers he grew to love while stationed in Scotland.
With no money for promotion and no distribution model to lean on, McAuliffe was out of business by 1982. But his independent spirit was an inspiration to subsequent generations of craft brewers, most of whom are well versed in the story of McAuliffe's short-lived creation. Three years ago, Sierra Nevada Brewing acknowledged McAuliffe's influence by asking him to co-brew its 30th anniversary black barleywine ale.
Now the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams – whose success is so well established that it's hard to call the business a microbrew anymore – is honoring the reluctant father of microbrewing by reissuing his original New Albion Ale, using McAuliffe's own recipe. Having already bought the trademark, Boston Beer founder Jim Koch coaxed McAuliffe out of self-imposed obscurity a few years ago when a Sam Adams rep bumped into the unassuming beer lover at a homebrewing club in San Antonio.
The new New Albion, produced using the same American Cascade hops McAuliffe sourced in the seventies, has a slight bitterness balanced by a hint of citrus. True to its roots – and McAuliffe's utter lack of pretense – it's a subtler alternative to the market giants than the fast-growing experimental and "extreme" beers of the 2,000 American microbrewers now in existence.
With the proceeds from Boston Beer's New Albion revival, McAuliffe hopes to help his daughter, Ohio resident Renee DeLuca, reestablish the brand for the long term. Like any good craft brewer, they keep it all in the family: she blogs about beer at The Brewer's Daughter.