On Monday afternoon my wife and I toured our favorite brewery, Allagash, in Portland, Maine. It was a great tour because it scored highly in the most important category—liberal pours of excellent beer—but it was also very educational. We learned about yeast and things, you know, beer stuff, wort and fermentation and grain and the like.
I used to be wary of acquiring too much actual beer knowledge for fear that education would undercut enjoyment. I never wanted to be outright ignorant concerning my favorite food, but I also didn't want to become one of those joyless types who spends too much time reading and arguing about beer and not enough time drinking and loving it. I think I've let the pendulum swing way too far over to the recreational side of things, though, so it's time to focus more on education. My hour at Allagash got me up to speed on production matters—mash tun!—so the next step was to learn a bit of history.
I like history in general, because it seems important to know what went down before I started paying attention, but I'm not a nostalgist. As pertains to beer, I have no interest in reliving the days before reliable carbonation and decent bar dishwashers. I don't want to go to a Prohibition reenactment fantasy camp any more than I want to bleed to death on an old-fashioned pull-tab. But I do wish I was on the scene at the beginning of the modern American craft brewing movement, which is why I was excited to learn that Samuel Adams has teamed up with Jack McAuliffe to recreate New Albion Ale.
McAuliffe founded New Albion in Sonoma in 1976 and kept it afloat until 1982, when it succumbed to the usual combination of market forces. Though the company was never a financial success, most authorities now consider New Albion's pale ale to be the first modern craft beer, and more than 30 years later, brewers still commonly cite it as the most influential beer in the industry's history.
The Boston Beer Company (makers of Samuel Adams) has quietly owned the New Albion name for years, and last summer BBC head Jim Koch finally decided to do something about it, and in the most honorable way possible: He brought McAuliffe to Boston to help with the recreation of New Albion Ale, which will be sold nationally for a limited time, with all profits going to McAuliffe.
Working from the original recipe, including the New Albion yeast strain that's been preserved at the University of California at Davis since 1977, Sam Adams and McAuliffe have produced a very good pale ale that is easily recognizable as the blueprint for the excellent California pales that came to define American craft brewing in the decade after New Albion's demise. It feels lazy and simplistic to say New Albion tastes like a proto-Sierra Nevada, but that's about the best description I can come up with.
New Albion pours a handsome light-honey color, with a thin white head and a small dose of tiny, persistent bubbles. The Cascade hops are front-loaded, starting the beer off with a bitter kick before mellowing into a nice floral complement to the two-row malt blend. New Albion Ale is 6.0% ABV, which was heavy in its day but is relatively approachable for a flavorful West Coast ale in 2013. This would be well worth the suggested retail price of $7.99 per 6-pack for research purposes alone; compound the history lesson with the fact that it's a really good, easy-drinking beer, and New Albion becomes borderline required drinking for any serious beer student.