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Home > New Albion Brewing in Sonoma, CA. America's 1st Craft Brewery

New Albion Brewing in Sonoma, CA. America's 1st Craft Brewery

New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, California. America's 1st Craft Brewery               

The New Albion Brewing Company was founded in 1976 by Jack McAuliffe in Sonoma, California, New Albion is acknowledged as the first United States microbrewery of the modern era, as well as a heavy influence on the subsequent microbrewery and craft beer movements of the late 20th century.

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Jack McAuliffe's initial plans to build the brewery in San Francisco and name it the Barbary Coast Brewing Company were thwarted by expensive real estate and a lack of investors. By 1975, McAuliffe quit his job and moved north to Sonoma, a decision influenced by cheaper expenses and a local food and wine scene which focused on quality and would eventually lead to emergence of California cuisine. In October 1976, along with business partners Suzy Denison and Jane Zimmerman, McAuliffe officially began the New Albion Brewing Company, the name given to the San Francisco Bay Area by sailor-explorer Sir Francis Drake, as well as a former San Francisco brewery of the same name. In 1977, the brewery brewed its first batch of ale. The facilities of a shaded steel warehouse with shed housed food-grade 55-gallon Coca-Cola syrup drums he converted into brewhouse vessels and fermenters, a World War Two era bottle washer made from battleship decking, and a vintage 1910 bottle labeler.

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New Albion brewed 7.5 barrels per week, quickly selling every bottle upon completion. The brewery offered a pale ale, porter and stout, all bottle-conditioned for five weeks rather than pasteurized. The reputation of the brewery quickly spread, and visits from publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and Brewers Digest served to increase the company's profile. However, production was not enough to turn a profit, and six years after its founding, New Albion brewed its final batch of beer.

Despite its failure to survive, which McAuliffe recognized as inevitable due to limitations of space and equipment and inability to find new funding for expansion,the New Albion Brewing Company provided a microbrewery blueprint which, along with Maytag's Anchor Brewing, inspired the craft beer, microbrewing and brewpub movements which began in the 1980s and continue to the present day. Other early Northern California microbreweries such as the Sierra Nevada and Hopland Brewing Companies were influenced by New Albion, and their founders credit McAuliffe's creation for their early successes. Hopland (now Mendocino Brewing Company) inherited New Albion's brewing equipment, and former New Albion employee Don Barkley is the company's retired head brewer. Brewers throughout the country continue to cite New Albion's beer as their first craft beer experience. It has been described by one historian as "the most important failed brewery in the industry's history".

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Jim Koch and Jack McAuliffe Brew Up New Albion Ale
Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company, recognized Jack McAuliffe’s significant contributions to craft beer, and purchased the New Albion trademark in 1993. Nearly a decade later, Koch approached the New Albion founder about brewing New Albion Ale. This past July, the two got together to brew the beer, and served it at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. In January 2013, New Albion Ale will be available nationwide in limited quantities.


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