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Beer Birthday: Craft Beer

Today is the 34th anniversary of a momentous moment in the short history of craft beer. On October 8, 1976, the New Albion Brewery was incorporated in the State of California. Though the brewery opened in July the following year, it only lasted until 1982 or 83. It was ahead of its time, way ahead. But it was the first small brewery to be built from scratch, mostly by hand, using junkyard parts and old dairy equipment. To me, and many others, that makes it the first modern craft brewery and its legacy should be remembered, revered and celebrated. Its founder, Jack McAuliffe, essentially shied away from the brewing community after 1983, returning to his original profession as an engineer. As a result, few people — except us old-timers and historians — give McAuliffe his due. A lot of young brewers and fans don’t know his name, though that, happily, is changing.

Maureen Ogle managed to track down McAuliffe through his daughter for her book, Ambitious Brew, and in it she gives a great account of New Albion Brewery.

Sierra Nevada recently lured McAuliffe to Chico to collaborate on a beer for their 30th anniversary. Jack & Ken’s Ale, a black barley wine, came out recently, and that seems to be the beginning of a resurgence or renaissance for Jack McAuliffe. He’s back in the public eye, and people are writing once more about his lasting impact on the craft beer industry. Here are a few places he’s been mentioned:

Then there’s The birthday of craft beer, written by me for my newspaper column. It was supposed to run this Wednesday but got bumped to next week, which happens occasionally. But it did go online this week, in time to raise a toast tonight

My idea is to designate today as the “birthday of craft beer,” a holiday to celebrate New Albion Brewery, Jack McAuliffe and the thousands of small breweries that followed to create the beer landscape we all enjoy today. Working with the California Small Brewers Association, we’re going to petition the state to recognize October 8, 2011 in some fashion as the 35th anniversary and the birthday of craft beer. If you’d like to help that effort, drop me a line and when we have a better idea what needs to happen, I’ll reach out to you. For now, today is the 34th anniversary, and the birthday of craft beer, so join me in raising a glass to Jack McAuliffe, New Albion Brewery and all the great beer that’s flowed since 1976. Happy birthday craft beer.

Here’s one of the original New Albion labels. The original sign from the New Albion Brewery now hangs on the wall at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. Stop by and see it anytime you like. To see what New Albion looked like, check out breweriana collector Jess Kidden’s page on New Albion Brewing, where he’s reproduced two articles that appeared in Brewer’s Digest in 1979 and 80.

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