Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Napa Smith’s Don Barkley recreates New Albion Ale

By William Brand
Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 at 2:11 pm in what's on tap.

I don’t usually do this, but today I’m posting my Wednesday newspaper column, because – as SF Beer Week approaches – it’s timely. For info about photos and a video, go to the end of the post.

What’s on Tap:

A piece of craft beer history

— New Albion Ale — lives again

“It’s a place marker in our journey

from frozen  corporate lager to good beer”

By William Brand
Oakland Tribune/MediaNews Group

Posted: 02/04/2009 12:00:00 AM PST

HERE’S A KINKY TWIST.  I haven’t tasted New Albion Ale for nearly 30 years, but it’s our Beer of the Week. New Albion, the pioneering craft brewery, founded in 1976 by Jack McAuliffe, folded in 1983.

But thanks to brewer Don Barkley, a New Albion brewer, it lives again for SF Beer Week and making it our Beer of the Week’s a no-brainer. This beer is part of our historic journey from frozen corporate lager to good beer.

I honestly don’t remember much about New Albion Ale. I only know when I tasted it, because I was living in Mexico and came back to Berkeley on a visit. I found it in a 22-ounce bottle at a shop in Oakland and I recall being shocked to find something local and interesting.  In those days, either we made friends with a home-brewer, bought imports or gave up and drank swill.

But thanks to SF Beer Week, New Albion Ale lives again.  Barkley said he was hanging out this past October at the Great American Beer Festival with Tom Dalldorf, publisher of the Celebrator Beer News  and Dave McLean, proprietor of Magnolia Pub in San Francisco.  “We were talking about SF Beer Week and they said, ‘You should make some more New Albion Ale.”  I said, ‘That’s a good idea and then I forgot about it.”

“Three weeks ago, Dave called me and said, ‘Hey, are you going to make New Albion Ale?’”

So Barkley reached under his desk and pulled out the handwritten ledger started by Jack McAuliffe and looked up the recipe. He brewed it at his new Napa-Smith brewery in Napa. The first keg will be tapped Saturday at the Double India Pale Ale Festival at the Bistro, 1001 B St. in downtown Hayward.

Another keg will be tapped at the Celebrator Beer Festival Feb. 15 at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland.

Saying Don Barkley was a New Albion brewer is not precise. He started working for a case of beer a week and camping out at the brewery. When New Albion folded in 1983, Don took McAuliffe’s handmade brewplant to Hopland and helped found Mendocino Brewing, the second brewpub in America since Prohibition. Both Red Tail Ale*** and Eye of the Hawk*****  are his beers.

He retired last year and became master brewer at Napa-Smith, a new brewery and winery owned by Kathleen Smith-Cutuli and Greg Cutuli.

Don has three new beers, Pale Ale***½, 5.5 percent alcohol by volume, with a whack from cascade hops; Napa Smith Wheat, 4.6 percent, and my favorite, Napa Smith Amber***½, a very different amber, 5.75 percent, but not sweet, with a complex malt palate quite different from the average, sweetish amber.

Barkley says the original New Albion barley malt came from Bauer & Schweitzer, a long-gone San Francisco malting house. (It’s now a condo complex.)  “Jack didn’t have any pale malt, so Fritz Maytag at Anchor opened his malt silo for us. The malt came from Bauer & Schweitzer; it was a fantastic malt, Barkley said. “It had an earthy quality and to duplicate it I used two malts that I have here,” he said.

Mendocino still uses the original yeast from New Albion, so Don got it for this beer. Hops then and now were floral, spicy Cluster and new-in 1977, citrusy Cascades. Don recalled they originally used Bullion hops, then switched to Northern Brewer then finally wound up with Cluster and Cascades. “As far as I know Cascades were only used in homebrewing back then, this was in 1977-1979.

The original was fermented in a converted 55-gallon Coca-Cola syrup barrel. The new batch comes from a 30-barrel, modern brew plant. The whole plant was built around cast-off, 55 gallon Coca Cola syrup drums, he said. “Jack built a three-level brewhouse, so it was all gravity fed: hot liquor on top, down to the mash  tun…It was all homemade, a copper tube cooler that Jack made all  by himself. Primary fermentation was in four open drums; we kept them in an air conditioned room, then after five to seven days, we racked the beer into 55 gallon drums on their sides with little fermentation locks.

“From there, once the  beer settled, another week or two, we would pump it through – believe it or not, a beer meter. We had to have a beer meter and this one came out of a Hamms brewery or somewhere like that. The beer would go into a ‘bottling tank’ – another 55 gallon drum with a three spout siphon filler.

“We had a hand crowner and then the bottles went on to a labeler. Jack had rebuilt a 1910 semi-automatic labeler. You’d press a food pedal  and these arms would come flying out with the label on them. You sort of got ouit of the way stuck the labeled bottle somewhere or other…”
I could hear Don chuckling over the foam as the memories came racing back. ‘New Albion Ale  was as individual in that day as Anchor  Steam,” Barkley says. “But today, it’s just a nice pale ale with good body and a decent amount of alcohol.”

Taste it during the Double IPA fest at the Bistro. The fun begins at  11 a.m. More than 50 double IPAs, live music, $25. See you there – and thanks for the memories Don!

Want a bit more history? Check out the “Time Machine” post on my blog.

CALENDAR: OK, SF Beer Week is upon us. It all begins with a private tapping of a ceremonial keg of beer at Anchor in San Francisco Friday night (Feb. 6). There are more than 100 events around the Bay Area. Check the listings at http://www.

Reach William Brand at or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at

Why there are no photos. The Napa Register, a newspaper in Napa, CA. , has a great photo of Don Barkley, but they refused me permission to run it.  Google Don Barkley and Napa Register and you can see it.

However, author Stan Hieronymus, who writes the Appellation Beer blog, posted a link to a series of photos of historic craft brewers on You Tube. It’s in a video and you can see it here.  He also posted a facebook link to Beer Guppy Jay Shevek’s advance teaser on a documentary  on the craft beer revolution. Thanks Stan.

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