New Albion Brewery



Jack & Ken’s Ale is a dark American barleywine produced for Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary. The “Jack” is New Albion founder Jack McAuliffe, and the “Ken” is Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman.

This photo of New Albion Ale stands several feet tall on the wall of Dean Biersch’s Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. It is a constant reminder of Sonoma County’s important contribution to the founding of America’s craft beer industry.

The name New Albion and the ship pictured on the label pay homage to Sir Francis Drake’s visit to California in 1579, during which he claimed the land for England as Nova Albion.

Above is Boston Brewing Company’s version of the New Albion Ale label for the beer it introduced in January 2013. It carries on the tradition of one of America’s pioneering craft beers.

“Jack was brewing craft beer when nothing was easy. Nobody made small scale brewing equipment, nobody wanted to invest, retailers and distributors didn’t want your beer, drinkers couldn’t understand why the beer didn’t taste ‘normal.’ It was so different from today,” says Samuel Adams founder and brewer Jim Koch. “New Albion is a true legacy. Jack’s passion for craft beer has had a widespread influence, and has shaped the craft beer landscape.”


New Albion Brewery was established by Jack McAuliffe in 1976. Its location in the town of Sonoma was the first new brewery in California since before Prohibition, and the first contemporary microbrewery in the nation.

McAuliffe was a Navy veteran who developed a taste for flavorful beer while stationed in Scotland.1 After leaving the Navy he studied to become an engineer, developed an interest home brewing, and eventually started the New Albion Brewery—which was a very unusual thing to do in that day and time. And even more extraordinary, his brewery produced a flavorful pale ale, a porter, and a stout.

This brewery is credited with with being the first to commercialize the quite counter-culture beer styles that were just then beginning to fuel a growing undercurrent of home brewers. These flavorful beer styles stood in dramatic contrast to the flavor-challenged fizzy light lagers then being produced by the relative handful of surviving large breweries.

A bit of beer history

In 1875 America had about 4,000 local breweries. But by the mid-to-late 1970s, America’s diverse beer heritage had dissolved down into a battle between Anheuser Busch, Miller and a few dozen similar brewers all making basically the same bland beer. Lighter-styled American lagers had attained complete dominance of America’s popular beer palate. Miller Lite appeared nationwide in 1975. Budweiser, the pale lager credited with revolutionizing American beer culture, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1976 and was truly the king of beers.

By the end of the seventies, the large macro-brewers had absorbed or annihilated nearly all the small local and regional brewers. National brands were what American beer was all about. Local beers were at an all-time low.

Now counter this with New Albion Brewery. It was a tiny, cobbled-together brewery making flavorful beer styles that no large brewery would touch. It had no advertising budget to introduce potential customers to its brand. Still it sprouted the seed that would grow into a whole new division of the US beer industry.

New Albion ceased operation in 1982—the same year AB introduced Bud Light. The macro-brewers were riding so high back then. Who could have then predicted that today there would be roughly 1,600 small and regional microbrewers in the US. More than 1,600 artisans brewing the widest array of flavor-rich beers on the planet.

McAuliffe’s legacy

Today, brewers across wine country still honor McAuliffe and New Albion. You see it from the Cilurzo’s at Russian River Brewing; and you see it from Gordon-Biersch co-founder Dean Biersch at his Hopmonk Tavern. You also hear it from Napa Smith brewmaster Don Barkley, who cut his brewing teeth at New Albion assisting McAuliffe. Everyone gives props to New Albion.

In 2010, Ken Grossman, proprietor of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, paid homage to Jack McAuliffe by inviting him to co-brew one of Sierra Nevada’s very special 30th Anniversary beers. As Sierra Nevada put it so well, “Sadly, New Albion closed in 1982; but Jack’s renegade spirit helped to jump start the craft-brewing movement in the United States.”

As you visit Wine Country brewers, ask them about New Albion and its seminal role. There’s no better place to learn American craft brewing history.

1 John Holl, “New Albion Brewing”, an article on, Brewer’s Association, Denver, Colorado

Boston Brewing honors McAuliffe with beer

Reportedly following the discovery of some original New Albion yeast samples archived at U.C. Davis, Boston Brewing Company founder Jim Koch and Jack McAuliffe developed plans to reintroduce New Albion Ale in January 2013.

The new New Albion will be brewed, bottled and distributed nationally by Boston Brewing. All profits go directly to McAuliffe. The suggested retail is $7.99.

“Jim and I share a common passion for craft brewing, so I was honored when he approached me about bringing the New Albion original recipe back to life,” says Jack McAuliffe brewer and founder of the original New Albion Brewing Company. “I can’t believe I’m brewing New Albion for a new generation of craft beer drinkers – a group that has more great beer choices than I ever had! New Albion will have a place in the growing and diverse craft beer landscape thanks to a fellow craft brewer.”

America’s original microbrewery

This New Albion Brewery sign is today found on the wall inside Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Craft brewers across wine country give props to this craft beer pioneering enterprise.

The brewery was located on 8th Street East, Sonoma, out past the edge of town.

Closed in 1982

The above Google Map view shows the old metal building in which New Albion was located over 33 years ago. The small brewery rented only about half of the building. It is truly an American craft beer shrine.

Mendocino Brewing Company’s Red Tail Ale is said to have a lot of New Albion heritage, including its yeast strain. Following the closing of New Albion, its brewery equipment went to Mendocino Brewing Co. during its start up phase. Also, New Albion’s Don Barkley later became Mendocino’s full time brewer. You’ll want to taste Red Tail Ale fresh from the brewery tap at the Mendocino Ale House in Ukiah.

Don Barkley, currently the brewmaster at Napa Smith Brewing Company in Napa, had his first brewery job at the New Albion Brewery back in the 1970s. In 2009, he recreated a version of the long-gone New Albion Ale for San Francisco Beer Week.