Renee DeLuca inherits the keys to America's oldest craft beer

The Brewer's Daughter 

Renee DeLuca inherits the keys to America's oldest craft beer

In 1978, a copy of the Washington Post landed on the front steps of Renee DeLuca's childhood home in D.C. as it did every weekend. In it was an article about Jack McAuliffe, the father of modern craft brewing. But it wouldn't be until 2000—22 years later—that DeLuca would discover that the man featured in that article was her birth father.

"It's just crazy to think that I might have read that article about him all those years ago," DeLuca says.

It was some years after tracking down her birth mother that DeLuca finally met McAuliffe, who didn't even know he had a daughter. "One of the first things I said when I found out what my dad did was, 'Beer is in my blood; I knew it!'"

In that Washington Post article, McAuliffe called the beer of his day a "national disgrace." The post-Prohibition landscape was comprised only of macro-breweries like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Pabst and Coors. As a Navy man, who drank many a beer while stationed in Europe, that just wouldn't do. So he set about building his own little brewery, about as screwy an idea at the time as building one's own car company.

Asked if he was planning to compete with the likes of Anheuser-Busch, he said, "No, I'm going to have a product that's completely different from anything available in the United States." True to his word, McAuliffe brewed chewy ales, porters and stouts, which had little in common with the insipid lagers of his day.

That was in 1976, one year before Boulder Beer, two years before Sierra Nevada and six before Boston Beer. McAuliffe named his nascent Sonoma County brewery New Albion, the name Sir Francis Drake gave to Northern California. Drake's ship, the Golden Hinde, adorned the label.

McAuliffe's brews were a revelation, but that didn't prevent the company from going south after just six years. Since then, there's been no shortage of craft breweries to take its place, and all of them owe a debt of gratitude to the man who birthed an industry.

"Jack never made a lot of money brewing, but he inspired a lot of people who did go on to make a lot of money," DeLuca explains.

One of those men was Jim Koch of Boston Beer, who calls McAuliffe "the original craft brewer." Had it not been for Koch, McAuliffe and New Albion's story would have ended unceremoniously back in 1982—but he wouldn't let that happen.

Despite her father's indifference to the modern craft beer scene, DeLuca managed to get him to attend the Great American Beer Fest two years ago in Denver. It was there that Jim Koch sought out McAuliffe to introduce himself.

"I've always revered you and there's something I want to tell you," Koch told the man. "Years ago, when New Albion came into the public domain, I bought the rights because I didn't want the big guys to get it. I hoped that one day I'd be able to give it back to you."

But Koch didn't stop there. He offered up his company's equipment and staff to brew one last batch of the mythical New Albion Ale - the original craft beer. In January of this year, 6,000 barrels of the beer hit the market, and if you hurry, you still might be able to rustle up a bottle or three. Koch donated all proceeds of the special one-off release to McAuliffe as a thank you.

That, too, might have been the end of the road for New Albion Brewing Co. - except that it wasn't. After Koch conferred all rights, trademarks and proceeds to McAuliffe, he passed them along to his daughter, Renee, who finds herself the new steward of a very old brand. Plans already are in the works to resume production of the American pale ale thanks to Mendocino Brewing, who will begin contract brewing it as early as this fall. That's fitting because that's the brewery McAuliffe went to work at after New Albion went bust.

DeLuca, whose Twitter handle is @BrewersDaughter, says that she's thrilled to be entrusted with such a storied brand. After all, her father, who lives off the grid in Arkansas, is more than happy to take a back seat on this ride.

"He doesn't want to be the face of the beer," DeLuca shares. "He was never the guy who likes to be in the front. He's the guy in the back with a wrench."

In addition to the new line of old beers, DeLuca hopes to open a New Albion brewpub. DeLuca says she's got her eye on Sonoma, home to the roots of an industry. But "could there be something in Cleveland too?" she asks. "Probably, because this is where our hearts are."

As for the crazy turn of events that landed both a birth father and a brewery, DeLuca says, "I never could have imagined that this would be my life. But I absolutely love it and I'm excited about it."

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