Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

You Should Know Jack

By Jay Brooks
Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 at 5:10 pm in On Beer.

Jack McAuliffe may just be the most elusive figure in the short history of craft beer. He was craft before craft beer was cool. The former Navy man and engineer founded the very first modern microbrewery in Sonoma County, California in 1976 (New Albion incorporated October 8, 1976) and began production the following year using a brewery he built from spare parts. His New Albion Brewery was all alone for at least three years until Sierra Nevada Brewing joined him in 1980, essentially doubling the number of new breweries.

But New Albion was a bit ahead of its time and by 1982 was out of business. As I understand it, a disheartened McAuliffe tired of reliving his brewery’s failure, and eventually disappeared from the burgeoning beer community that his efforts inspired. For a number of years, few people knew where he was, but Maureen Ogle managed to track him down living in Las Vegas when she was working on Ambitious Brew and provides one of the fullest accounts of the New Albion Brewery beginning at Page 291. More recently, after a bad car accident landed McAuliffe in intensive care, he moved to San Antonio, Texas to live with his daughter. Happily, San Antonio has taken to their adopted son, and the San Antonio Express-News had a nice story about Jack and his new collaboration with Sierra Nevada Brewing, San Antonio’s Jack McAuliffe is namesake of commemorative Sierra Nevada beer.

Ken Grossman pours a beer for Jack McAuliffe as (I think) Charlie Bamforth looks on.

The latest collaboration beer celebrating Sierra Nevada’s 30th anniversary this year is based on a beer that Jack used to make at New Albion for another annual celebration.

In the late ’70s, New Albion brewed a special beer for annual Summer Solstice parties that didn’t particularly hew to any style, but occupied a space somewhere between a porter and a barley wine.

Using that concept and the ingredients that were available at the time, Ken and Jack’s Ale recipe was born. It contains Canadian two-row and European caramel barley and a combination of Cascade and cluster hops.

Grossman describes the beer as a “dark barleywine that is bottle fermented.” It clocks in at 10 percent ABV, which McAuliffe points out is the upper limit of what conventional yeast can survive. Like any beer, you can drink this one right away, but it will likely improve with age.

It’s certainly great to see Jack McAuliffe in the public eye again. Few people deserve to be more well-known in the beer world than him. It’s a real shame that so few people know Jack and his contribution to the modern craft beer community. We all really should know Jack.

Jack & Ken’s Ale, a black barley wine.

The beer is available at a number of locations throughout the Bay Area, from BevMo to Whole Foods. The Serra30 website had a beer locater that can direct you to your nearest store by inserting your zip code in the online form.

So far, I think this one is my favorite of the anniversary series. It’s a very unique beer. Barley wines are already one of my favorite beer styles, and the roasted qualities of a black version is quite nice. There’s a great complexity of flavors with tasty chocolate and vanilla notes. I recommend picking up at least two bottles; one to drink now and one to lay down. You won’t be sorry.

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