A Beer with the Godfather
On a recent, snowy Sunday, "the godfather of craft brewing" sat down for a beer, or two, at Tanglewood Branch Beer Company in Fayetteville to talk about his legendary status in the world of craft brewing and homebrewing – and how he happened to land in Ozarkansas.
Jack McAuliffe opened the first post-prohibition craft brewery in the United States. When he started the New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, California, in 1976, craft beer made up zero percent of the gross national product. As of 2012, it contributed $33.9 billion to the economy.
McAuliffe may have started a revolution, but don't ask him how it happened.
"I just wanted to make beer and sell it," he said. "It's want I wanted to do, and I had the skills to do it."
Skills are one thing, but equipment is another. Today, people can purchase all of the supplies they need for brewing on a small scale. Homebrewers can buy hardware and ingredients online, as well as in local shops. But, before McAuliffe and New Albion changed the beer world, supply companies couldn't wrap their heads around the concept of a small, independent brewery.
McAuliffe's solution? He hand-built everything – tanks, fermenters, kettles, kegs. He personally constructed every piece of his equipment.
After six years of growth and success, New Albion closed its doors, and McAuliffe moved on to other pursuits. A man of many interests, one of his more recent achievements is becoming a licensed private pilot.
He neither shies away from nor revels in the "godfather" mantle. He disregards the many articles and books that applaud his contributions, but he will occasionally humor those who want to put him in the spotlight. Earlier this year, he served as marshal of Fayetteville's St. Patrick's Day parade.
"I'll play the part locally," he said. "But when I get requests now, I just pass them along to my daughter, Renée."
Renée DeLuca is the current president of the New Albion Brewing Company. She has plans to revive her father's beer and gives regular updates on her blog, "The Brewer's Daughter."
McAuliffe has called many places home. His sister Cathy lives in Lincoln, Arkansas, and, when it was time for him to relocate, Northwest Arkansas seemed as good a place as any. He built himself a metalworking studio where he also does control and automation work.
The local beer scene contributes to his quality of life. He has no interest in brewing, but he enjoys touring – especially to check out the newest machinery and gadgets. He also enjoys tasting and is impressed with the product.
"I haven't had any beer that has a biological fault in it," he said.
His only criticism is the current fad of producing what he considers "nonsense beers." A trend among brewers throughout the industry is to concoct unusual or extreme recipes – mega-hop, imperial-bold, oak-aged – and McAuliffe has no interest in it.
"Why would anyone make a black-and-white-rye-cherry-blossom-blueberry-white-pale-ale? It's insane."
As for his own palate, he likes ales, particularly sophisticated IPAs (India Pale Ales). But his favorite beer?
"It's the one sitting in front of me."