Albion Don in the Temple of Beer
History Made at the First SF Beer Week
New Albion Brewery, which was America’s first modern microbrewery when it opened in Sonoma in 1978 (having been incorporated October 8, 1977 – photo above circa 2012 by Jay Brooks), returned this year in bottles, for the first time in thirty years.
When New Albion closed in 1983, its founder, Jack McAuliffe, returned to his former career as an engineer and left brewing behind. And for a time, no one was quite sure where McAuliffe was, and for all but a few old-timers in the brewing industry, few remembered his important contribution to craft beer.
One person who did was Jim Koch. With his Boston Beer Co. — makers of Samuel Adams — he was also an early craft beer pioneer, having started his company in 1984. In the early 1990s, almost by accident, he discovered that the trademark for New Albion had expired and registered it, fearing that it could be exploited by an unscrupulous business.
But you can read that story in my newspaper column that ran last month, the “Return of New Albion”. In a nutshell, Jack finally returned to the spotlight, and during the Great American Beer Festival two years ago, he and Jim Koch finally met. Over brunch, a plan was hatched, and last July, McAuliffe flew to Boston where he and Koch brewed one of the original New Albion beers, the pale ale. Draft was served at GABF last year, and last month, six-pack bottles started appearing on shelves, with all of the profits donated by Boston Beer to McAuliffe as an overdue thank you for his legacy.
And as cool a story as that has been, it’s not the first time that a New Albion beer has been recreated. For the very first SF Beer Week in 2009, our official beer was a faithful recreation of New Albion Ale. It was made by Don Barkley, who was essentially the assistant brewer for New Albion. Barkley made it at his new brewery, Napa Smith. He used the original brew logs, which he’d maintained since the brewery closed.
As we were planning the first SF Beer Week, several of the founders were brainstorming during GABF at the Falling Rock, a popular hangout for beer people during the annual festival in Denver, Colorado. I happened to notice Don Barkley was there, too, and off went a light bulb. Don had recently come out of retirement and was brewing at Napa Smith Brewery, so I suggested that it might be fun to have Don recreate a New Albion beer for SF Beer Week. Not surprisingly, everybody agreed that it was a great idea.
So I ran the idea past Don, not sure what his reaction might be. After all, it had been thirty years, and he’d gone on to help start Mendocino Brewing Co. and more recently was involved in a new start-up brewery. New Albion seemed like two lifetimes ago. Happily, he was thrilled, and told me he still had all the old brewing logs from that time, and agreed it was a worthwhile idea.
As we got closer to the kick-off of SF Beer Week in 2009, we realized we’d sort of forgotten about the New Albion beer, and Dave McLean, from Magnolia, agreed to reach out to Don to see if he was still interested in making it. He was, and set to work, pulling out the old brew logs. When he opened Mendocino Brewing, he took the New Albion yeast with him, and so was able to obtain some of that yeast from them. He reproduced the malt, which they used to get from the now defunct San Francisco malting house Bauer & Schweitzer, by blending two different malts to approximate it. Barkley at the time recalled that they first had Bullion hops, but later used Northern Brewer, before ending up using primarily Cluster and Cascade hops.
The first SF Beer Week, we didn’t have a public opening event like the amazing celebration we have now at the Concourse Exhibition Center, but instead Anchor Brewery graciously allowed us to hold a private event for the Bay Area brewing community. So while we weren’t able to include the public, most of the brewers, bar and restaurant owners and writers who helped pull SF Beer Week together had a chance to all get together before the roller coaster ride that is beer week started racing.
But the first beer events on the SF Beer Week calendar took place earlier in the day, starting at the Toronado Pub. Don Barkley began a series of five events taking kegs of what was called “Napa Smith’s Original Albion Ale” on a pub crawl where each hour, on the hour, he visited the Toronado, Magnolia, Monk’s Kettle, City Beer Store, and finally, 21st Amendment. We dubbed the pub-crawl “Albion Don in the Temple of Beer.” At each destination, Don raised the “Scepter of St. Gambrinus,” which he carried with him, and led a toast to SF Beer Week. It was the first time anyone had tasted New Albion beer for three decades and it was the perfect way to kick-off our very first beer week. And it’s also perfect that there are now bottles of New Albion Beer available for the first time as our 5th SF Beer Week is about to start. It’s another great reason to toast Bay Area beer.
About the Author
Jay Brooks has been writing about beer for 20 years, and is a co-founder of SF Beer Week. His syndicated newspaper column, Brooks on Beer, can be seen in at least half-a-dozen papers in the Bay Area and he’s also the author of the forthcoming California Breweries North, due out August 1, 2013 from Stackpole Books. You can find him ranting online at his idiosyncratic Brookston Beer Bulletin.