New Albion Brewing Company. In 1976 Jack McAuliffe, a former sailor seeking to emulate the flavorful beers encountered on his travels beyond American shores, started the New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, California, with partners Suzy Stern and Jane Zimmerman. Beginning in a decade which would see the number of US brewers shrink to a mere 44, New Albion, named for Sir Francis Drake’s appellation for California, is considered the first American “micro” brewery.
New Albion produced ale, porter, and stout on a concatenation of 55-gallon Coca-Cola syrup drums which served as brewhouse vessels, fermenters, conditioning tanks, and bottling tanks. The malt used was procured from another pioneering craft brewer, Anchor in nearby San Francisco; the hops were Cluster and Cascade; the yeast—wherever it first came from—continues to be used at Mendocino Brewing in Hopland, and now Ukiah, just down the road. The beer was bottled by hand, the bottles labeled by a foot-operated machine, and individual 22-ounce bottles were packaged in wooden boxes, which required a $4 deposit.
It is said that the quality of New Albion’s beer was somewhat inconsistent, wonderful at its best but not always at its best. The brewery closed in 1983 due to undercapitalization, as even the beer’s high shelf price for the time provided insufficient cash flow back to the company.
In early 2009, in anticipation of San Francisco Beer Week, former New Albion brewer Don Barkley recreated the New Albion ale at his Napa-Smith brewery in Napa, California. It was served at events throughout the week in commemoration of the first steps made by New Albion in the history of California and US craft brewing.