Maytag’s slow but steady success with full-flavored beers was not lost on other fans of brewing. A young merchant seaman by the name of Jack McAuliffe, who had tasted good beer on his many travels, opened a microbrewery in the wine country town of Sonoma just north of San Francisco in 1976. He called his brewery New Albion, a name Sir Francis Drake gave to California. McAuliffe produced ale, porter and stout and had definite ideas about what constituted good beer. He hired an early UC-Davis fermentation sciences grad by the name of Don Barkley to do the brewing, but quality issues plagued the brewery from the start. His beers were like the girl with the curl on her forehead: “When they were good they were very, very good,” etc.
I purchased some of the first releases of New Albion for my wine shop despite the high cost (the most expensive beer at the time) and the irritating $4 deposit I had to pay for the wooden box it came in. Little did I know that had I just bought the New Albion logo boxes, I could have been an eBay millionaire by now.
Other early efforts that set the stage for assertive brewing included DeBakker Brewery in Novato, CA; River City Brewery in Sacramento, makers of a great bock beer before there were such things; and Palo Alto Brewing Co., which brewed London Real Ale (definitely way ahead of its time) and produced the first Pete’s Wicked Ale.
And talk about homebrewers letting their hobby get out of control! Paul Camusi and Ken Grossman lived in opposite ends of California but met through their mutual love of bike racing and home brewing. A business plan and some money from friends and family got the fledgling Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico off the ground in 1980. A salvaged 10-bbl brewing system and the old bottling line from Anchor Brewery were the foundation of the brewery.
The company’s first beer, an uncompromising bottle-conditioned pale ale redolent of Cascade hops, put the young brewery on the map and the beer’s fame spread quickly. Sierra introduced Celebration Ale in 1981, a very hoppy and richly flavored seasonal, and a few years later challenged the beer world with Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale with heaps of hops and monster malt to match! These are the breweries that set the standard—and suggested the possibilities—for those that followed.