Friday, February 15, 2013

New Albion Ale

Having been intrigued by beer history and culture for quite some time, even helping my mom homebrew back in the 80's and 90's, I had come across several cryptic comments from varied sources about New Albion Brewing Company.  This almost mythical brewery with its equally fanciful and fairy-tale name grew in my perhaps overactive imagination, where the craft beer movement sprang into life from nothing, then fading into obscurity and once again being lost to the mists of time and memory.  Notations from famous craft brewers about the forefather of craft brewing in America, Jack McAuliffe, and his fabled brewery sparked my interest and it stayed there lolling about in my subconscious mind, until one day when I would spot a small baby blue bottle sitting upon a shelf in the Four Firkins.  I was drawn to this bottle like a moth to a flame.  The art is retro, nay historic, looking hand drawn with an ancient ship in full sail coming into the California bay.  Fine light blue horizontal lines, again looking hand drawn, fill the rest of the space on the bottle, with a matching blue cap and rolling ship.  This was history in a bottle.

Jack McAuliffe started his small 1.5 barrel "micro" brewery in Sonoma in 1976, naming it New Albion after the name that Sir Francis Drake gave to the land that became Northern California.  Drake had come to this area aboard his ship Golden Hind in 1579, naming it "New Britain" in Latin.  McAuliffe's goal was to make ales, porters, and stouts and to educate people about different styles of beer.  Keep in mind that this was when 90 plus percent of beer in America was brewed by just 4 or 5 companies, and all were light adjunct lagers.  He obviously had a big impact on many of the next wave of craft brewers and his influence continues to this day.

Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company has obviously been a fan of this story as well, though he is quite famous himself for building on the New Albion's cornerstone and making a respectable place for himself in the annals of American Craft Beer history.  Jim somehow talked Jack into collaborating on this reboot of his original pale ale recipe.  There is a QR code on the bottle that takes you to a short webisode about the beer, and some of my info here comes from that video.  Seeing Jim Koch's eyes light up light up with wonder when he first holds the original bottle for New Albion Ale is priceless and clearly shows his deep seated devotion to craft beer.  Say what you will about the Sam Adams beer line up, but they were the first truly successful craft beer in our current era.  There is not much information to be found about the recipe used, but Koch describes it as "Beautifully simple."  I'm assuming American 6 row malt and perhaps some corn, with early American grown hops such as Nugget or Cascade.

My truncated BJCP style review of the beer itself follows.  I specifically held off on giving this a number value as I think this beer hard for me to rate outside of its historical significance.

Aroma:  Sweet grainy notes with a distinct corny aroma.  Very light orange/citrus aroma, becoming more noticeable as it warms. 

Appearance:  Very light gold in color.  Excellent clarity and quite sparkling.  Fine white head that fades fairly quickly.

Flavor:  Much like the aroma--sweet and corny with grainy bite.  Some bitterness at the end to balance the initial sweetness.  Some mild orange and earthy hop flavor present, but subtle, increasing as it warms.  Not very complex in overall flavor.

Mouthfeel:  Light in body.  A hint of creaminess at first, but between high carbonation and bitterness, this ends dry and crisp.  Very spritzy.

Overall Impression:  A mild and simple beer, lacking in punch and complexity.  As if a cream ale, a malt liquor and an American pale ale took part in a sordid 70's menage a trois and this was the mongrel offspring of that union. 

Is this beer worth drinking?  Of course it is!  I wouldn't want to drink a lot of it, but as a taste of history it is worth a sampling.  This beer was one of the very first "extreme" beers, and is a time capsule of the state of the art in 1976.  While you are at it, try a Sam Adams Boston Lager if you haven't had one in a few years--that beer had an insane hopping rate compared to just about anything commercially available at the time it first came out.  Look at Dogfish Head, Russian River, and Surly.  Would any of these breweries be able to market their beers without the ground being first broken by these brewing pioneers?  I think not.  Look to the past and you will appreciate the current state of American craft beer all the more.  And look to the future as well.  With all the brewing innovation and the education of current beer drinkers, perhaps in 30 years today's extreme beers will seem like mild and under classed dinosaurs. 

1 comment:

Ben D. said...

I agree with your review. Its a nice, simple beer. I plan on brewing this with my Dad come springtime. I know he'll love the light, simplicity of it.