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Happy Birthday To The Microbrewery

Today is the 36th anniversary of the day that New Albion Brewery incorporated, which happened on October 8, 1976. New Albion Brewery was the first modern microbrewery, the first small brewery to be built from scratch, mainly from scrap and discarded industrial equipment.

To me, and many others, that makes it the first modern microbrewery and its legacy should be remembered, revered and celebrated. Its founder, Jack McAuliffe, essentially shied away from the brewing community after the brewery closed in 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.

Jack McAuliffe back in the day.

Last year, of course, Sierra Nevada persuaded McAuliffe to come to Chico to collaborate on a beer for their 30th anniversary. Jack & Ken’s Ale, a black barley wine. At that point, more people began writing about him. Here are a few articles from last year:

Since then, Jack has finally started to embrace his legacy. He came to the Craft Brewers Conference this past May, when it was in San Francisco. He stayed an extra week with a good friend from the old days in Sonoma. He had lunch at Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, and the next day gave owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo, along with myself, a tour of the spot where the brewery had been originally located.

Below are some photos taken in 1979 and ones I took earlier this year when I toured the old site.

The side and front of the brewery in 1979.

The front in 2011

The back and side in 1979.

The same side this year, with Jack McAuliffe and Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo.

Jack showing us that the brewery used to be … right … here.

The old photos are from a lengthy article about the brewery in Brewers Digest in November 1979. They also did a shorter follow-up in 1980. Breweriana collector Jess Kidden has a page online on the New Albion Brewing, where he has scans from the original articles. He was kind enough to send me the original scans, from which I clipped out more of the photos, which you can see in the slideshow below.

I had hoped to make today an official, or at least semi-official holiday, but alas, politics got in the way. So I’ll have to resort to the old-fashioned way of just celebrating it every year and hoping that eventually enough other people begin to recognize it. Really, that’s all it takes to create a holiday. So as far as I’m concerned October 8 is the “Birthday of the Microbrewery” or perhaps more simply “Microbrewery Day.” To that I’ll raise a glass each year to Jack McAuliffe and his pioneering New Albion Brewery. Thank you, Jack. This one’s for you.

Jack and Jim Koch during GABF last week in Denver.

And finally, my most recent newspaper column was my latest attempt at commemorating October 8, and a tribute to New Albion, entitled Jack McAuliffe, craft beer pioneer, although my original title was You Don’t Know Jack.

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