An iconic Sonoma County brand name is returning to store shelves thanks to a daughter who wants to carry on her father's legacy.
Cleveland-based Renee DeLuca says she is hoping to resurrect the legendary New Albion Brewing Co., founded in 1976 in Sonoma but shuttered since 1982, before the end of the year. She has a deal with Ukiah's Mendocino Brewing Co. to brew the beer, starting with the flagship pale ale, using the original recipe developed by her father, Jack McAuliffe.
"It's an easy-drinking beer," she said. "It's a great gateway beer for people who are just getting into craft beer."
And that's very much where the beer started out almost 40years ago. McAuliffe began brewing his own beer after experiencing good European ales during a stint in the military. Back in the U.S., all he could find were the pale lagers made by the likes of Budweiser, Pabst and Miller.
There was one major independent brewery — Anchor in San Francisco — but owner Fritz Maytag had bought and revitalized an existing brewery. Nobody had built an all-new microbrewery in the U.S. since Prohibition ended four decades before.
McAuliffe, an engineer, set up in an industrial park in Sonoma, making or improvising the parts he needed to make his own beer and building a business model as he went along.
Although New Albion closed after only six years, said historian Maureen Ogle, author of "Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer," the romantic image of an eccentric backyard tinkerer cranking out great beer has become the ideal to which modern brewers aspire, she said, even ones who have never heard of the man who set the mold.
"I think what really matters about Jack," Ogle said, "is that he showed people, really ordinary people ... that it was possible to build a brewery."
By today's standards, the New Albion Ale is pretty basic and mild, but in the terms of those days, the pale ale was eye-opening: richer, hoppier and stronger than any of the fizzy, weak mass-market stuff sold in cans.
The beer directly influenced brewers who are now pillars of the craft brew movement, including Sierra Nevada Brewing founder Ken Grossman, whose signature pale ale is something of a descendant of that first pale ale.
DeLuca said if the initial runs of the pale ale are successful, she may resurrect other recipes from her father's brewing notebook, including his stouts and porters.
Mendocino Brewing CEO Yashpal Singh said it's not yet clear how much of the New Albion beer will be on the market at first, but he has encouraged DeLuca to start modestly and focus on California.
"That's where New Albion started and that's where it is remembered," he said.
Singh had been quietly lobbying McAuliffe to resurrect the brand, using Mendocino's equipment, for several years, he said. Mendocino was founded in 1983 using McAuliffe's old equipment, and even some of the New Albion staff, including McAuliffe himself for a time.
"This is the way we started; it's part of our structure and heritage ... we'd love to do it because we are so connected with New Albion," he said.
Mendocino still owns McAuliffe's original equipment, and Singh hopes eventually to restore it to working condition.
McAuliffe himself is long retired and living in Arkansas. He no longer gives interviews, DeLuca said, though he is still an active hobby brewer and has lately been experimenting with distilled spirits.