A few weeks ago I hit one of the larger craft beer retailers in the area in search of nothing in particular. Just looking to pick up a few options for the coming weekend. No agenda. All Quests for a Holy Ale temporarily suspended. Just as well, I’d left my armor and coconuts at home and had I encountered Tim or a ferocious rabbit in the tequila aisle I’d have had to have run away for I’d also left my Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in the booster seat of my car – the pink one (the seat – not the car).
Anyway, unprepared to dispatch with a mortal foe I suspended the Quest and perused the aisles for less dangerous options. Then a powder blue six pack in the Sam Adams section caught my eye. New Albion Ale. What? I’m pretty sure I would have noticed a tricked out DeLorean in the lot so I didn’t think this beer was delivered in a time machine. Probably a good thing because I doubt the hops would have tolerated close proximity to a flux capacitor. Something tells me florescent lamps are far more friendly. OK, so if it wasn’t transported in time from circa 1980 then it had to have been brewed recently. Turns out it was. Samuel Adams brewed it using the original recipe with New Albion founder, Jack McAuliffe. News to me. So much for keeping up with he latest craft beer news.
New Albion Brewing didn’t have a long run. Even though they were only around for 6 years (1976 – 1982), their flagship hoppy pale, New Albion Ale, was critically regarded as a game changer. It was one of the original legitimate craft beers along with Anchor Steam (already an elder statesman having been first brewed in 1971) and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Considered revolutionary in 1977 when Alan O’Day ruled the charts with Undercover Angel, I wondered how it would stand up to my modern palate.
Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale are brewing stronger than ever. They’re practically living craft beer dinosaurs like Galapagos Tortoises, Gila Monsters or Abe Vigoda. As much as I still love to grab an Anchor Steam from time to time, I don’t feel as though I’m tasting history when I pour it. New Albion, on the other hand, speaks differently to me. Samuel Adams revived the wooly mammoth with this one and I really felt as though I’d be drinking back in time as I poured it, appropriately, into one of their glasses.
Nice rich amber pour. Modestly hazy. Supporting a short, dusky white head. Good looking brew. Not a whole lot going on in the aroma. A little citrus. A little toasted malt. Unfortunately, the wallflower aroma was telling. Sadly, the flavor was uninspiring. Modestly hoppy with caramel and milk chocolate notes. Nothing wrong – not unbalanced, just not worthy of having been a wingman in craft beer’s first attack squadron. Was I being too harsh? I have that tendency from time to time so I thought I’d check with the crowd over at RateBeer to see what the wider consensus was. The reviews of New Albion largely agreed with my basic impression. Nothing special here. Not a drain pour by any stretch but certainly not a world class brew.
Not by today’s standards. And that’s where the magic and legacy of Jack McAuliffe became apparent. Our standards have grown with the wider variety and bigger, bolder brews that New Albion helped pave the way for. We expect more. Hell, Sierra Nevada Pale barely gets noticed against a backdrop of today’s hoppy standard bearers like Pliny the Elder, Hopslam, Ruination or Nugget Nectar as a result of its own success.
So in the end, New Albion Ale came across as, well, ordinary, but thanks in part to the handful of years when it was regarded as a pioneering brew, it set the stage for today’s extraordinary brews. Cheers to the hoppy history lesson!