(New, New) New Albion

Those of you who know a little about the American Craft scene may have heard of New Albion Brewing Company and its enigmatic founder, Jack McAuliffe. Founded in 1976 and considered by most to be the first (legal) microbrewery in the US after Prohibition, New Albion truly cut a path for the entire craft movement to follow. Indeed, its flagship product, a golden ale hopped with the then unheard of Cascade variety, set the mold for the now ubiquitous American Pale Ale. Unfortunately, because New Albion was so new and went so against the grain in its time, it was only around for a few years. 

Flash forward to 2013, and New Albion was being given a second life. The Boston Beer Company, better known as Samuel Adam’s had actually acquired the rights to the New Albion brand in the 1990s but it wasn’t until much later that a plan to resurrect the brand, with Jack McAuliffe’s blessing, was hatched.

Now, the rights have been re-acquired by Mr. McAuliffe’s daughter, Renée DeLuca and she is set to re-launch the beer in October. For those of you who missed it last year (it never officially came to Canada), this may be a great chance to experience the genesis of craft beer in North America.

If there is one potential wrinkle in this Cinderella story it is this: the 2013 release, purported to be absolutely authentic (even going to far as to trace the correct yeast strain) did not seem to win over as many new drinkers as hoped. Think what you will of sites such as RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, they do represent a view of the drinking public. The overall message was that New Albion Ale, while neat from a historical perspective, was simply too mild by modern standards to cut it.

This got me thinking: perhaps Canada presents a good market for New Albion. While many brewers have experienced success aping the American hop-till-you-drop approach, there are a number of successful Canadian pale ales which fall somewhere between the classic British and boisterous West Coast styles. These include:

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Black Oak Pale Ale

5%ABV. This beer combines an assertive but balanced hop dosage with Black Oak’s signature use of toasted wheat and specialty malts. What you get is what the brewery describes as “a cross between a traditional British Pale Ale and the modern American Pale Ale.” Available for $4.95 / 650mL at the LCBO and in six packs at the beer store.

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St-Ambroise Pale Ale

5%ABV / 35 IBUs – Combining varieties such as Cascade and Goldings tells you this beer is also aiming straight up the middle of two styles. Look for more malt notes with the classic citrus coming in as support rather than the main feature.

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Side Launch Pale Ale

5.3% / 35 IBUs – Newly launched Pale Ale from Side Launch (which rose out of the ashes of Denison’s). Review to come soon.

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Devil’s Pale Ale

6% ABV – Brewed well before the Tank Ten era, this beer survives as a sort of anachronism in the Great Lakes line-up. While big shifts at the brewery of late may render its future uncertain, for the mean time, Devil’s is a unique brew. While hopped like an American Pale Ale and at a more North American strength, the malt character reminds one of an English strong ale. In fact, if you want to see the beer change, lay it down for a few months and let notes of sherry come in to the palette.

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