Kudos to Celebrating and Recording

For BeerNexus.com

Craft beer, as we know it today, is really little more than four decades old; still a
veritable youngster, although many of those who love and partake weren’t even born
when it started.  A couple of months ago we had Flagship February, which was a
shout out to many of the beers that got us here and are still around. They were the
pioneers that grew in popularity as more and more beer drinkers stepped away from
the traditional American lagers and slightly more tasteful imports and enjoyed a beer
that was more robust and had more taste. It is a shame that many of the pioneers are
struggling, but that is due to the evolution of our craft beer industry. It’s not just the
sheer number of breweries but the increased number of styles that we can regularly
see when we head into our local craft beer bar and see what’s new on tap. But it’s
good to know we haven’t forgotten those who got us to where we are today. It’s
always important to understand your history and the events and people that
shaped it.

And last month another important event in recognizing and preserving our history
took place. On March 9th Theresa McCulla and her colleague Steve arrived in
Arkansas. They were there to meet with Jack McAuliffe; yes that Jack McAuliffe! And
if you’re scratching your head not remembering who Jack McAuliffe is well I’ll give you
a quick refresher. In 1976 Jack created the first post prohibition US microbrewery,
New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, CA. Although he wasn’t able to keep it
going his great tasting beer and his work influenced others and helped create a
blueprint for microbreweries that followed. He is therefore considered the father of
American craft beer.

So who are Theresa and Steve and why did they travel from Washington DC to
Arkansas to meet with Jack? Well they work for the Smithsonian Institute! And to be
more specific Theresa is the historian for American Brewing History Initiative at the
Museum of American History. And they were there not only to meet with Jack but to
take an oral history.

So how did this day go? Well first they sat down with and took an oral history with
Renee DeLuca, who is Jack’s daughter and current owner of New Albion Brewing.

Since your first thought must be that she’s related to me and therefore I got an inside
scoop and I’m also promoting a close family business that would be no, no and no. I
have no clue if there’s any relation as I haven’t really worked on, nor have much info
on my paternal tree, but let’s also understand that DeLuca is not an uncommon
name. We ain’t Smith or Jones, but there’s a lot of DeLucas around. As to how I
found out about this, Renee has a blog called The Brewer’s Daughter, which you can
sign up for at brewersdaughter.com. Every so often I’ll get an email that she’s posted
something and go in to check it out, so yes she recently wrote about this day. And
why wouldn’t she, it’s about her father and his legacy in craft beer and New Albion.

Back to the story, Renee talked about finding her father, since no she didn’t live with
him growing up, nor know who her birthfather was. Then 2012-13 when Jim Koch of
Boston Beer, who had bought the rights to New Albion, decided to revive it so brewed
and distributed it. Then Jim gave the rights back to Jack, who passed them to Renee,
who now has Platform Beer Co. brewing New Albion. As an aside I was completely
bummed when I was in Cleveland a couple of years ago for a day, hoping to find and
try some New Albion and couldn’t find it; hopefully someday I’ll get to try it.

Next it was over to Jack’s house, where he proudly showed them his collection of
memorabilia, books and photos. Then they sat down and took a formal oral history;
the story of the origins of craft beer and New Albion, as told by Jack. With the task
well in hand it was time to celebrate, so down to Jack’s favorite brewpub, the
Creekside Taproom for a few beers, where as one of their local regulars he was of
course given a warm welcome (similar to how I’m greeting when I enter my favorite
craft beer bar…well maybe not quite as warmly as Jack in his.) No better way to
celebrate an event than a few beers amongst friends!

But the story’s not complete yet and won’t be for a number of months. Sometime this
Fall the New Albion Brewing Company will be among the exhibits in the Museum! And
at some point you will also be able to listen to his oral history online. I’ll certainly be
interested to listen to it and we can post the link on Beernexus when available.

I haven’t been to the Smithsonian in a while but this is first I’ve heard about the
American Brewing History Initiative so had to check it out and what better way than an
internet search. The American Brewing History Initiative is a two year project to
document, collect and preserve the history of beer and brewing in America, with a
special focus on home brewing and craft beer.

The Museum already holds a rich collection related to American brewing technology
and advertising from the turn of the 20th century. The point of this initiative is to
collect newer histories of home brewing and craft beer. As American brewing culture
expands in scope our understanding of its role in American history should also
expand. Interestingly enough this initiative, made possible through the generous
support by the Brewers Association, will ensure a permanent, prominent role for the
story of American beer and brewing in the Museum’s archival collections, public
programming and exhibitions.

And here I was thinking the Brewer’s Association would be trumpeting this at some
point, but they’re way ahead of me, they funded it, now that’s smart thinking. As I look
into it further there are already twenty oral histories from such luminaries as Fritz
Maytag of Anchor, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian
River, along with a few others that worked with Jack early on.

From a timeline of some events posted it looks like this has been going on for a
couple of years already, so I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about it yet. There are tons
of beer articles these days and somebody must have written about it, but I must not
be reading the right ones. From a “know where you came from” perspective it’s a
great idea to collect this data and put it all in one place while it’s still available.

I decided to check out the Brewers Association website, figuring it should be easy to
find more information there, but I had to search to find it. Found the press release
from May 4, 2016, which was announcing the launch of a three year initiative; not
sure why there’s a difference on Smithsonian website, but we are coming up on three
years. I must say I applaud the Brewers Association for their forward (or in a historical
sense, backward) way of thinking by funding something not sexy or splashy that’s
quickly gone but something more permanent which will provide us with some great
data and information on our formative years. I am surprised they don’t promo it more
on their website, would seem to make sense.

Again I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before but hey many would rather write
about new beers or breweries or why there are too many IPAs or craft vs macro
breweries, etc.; didn’t we all learn in school that history is boring! Well maybe the way
it’s taught might be part of the answer, but it’s always good to understand what came
before and how that impacts today’s world. So yes I’ll be definitely checking out what I
can online.

All this history has made me thirsty; time for one of the older established crafts to
contemplate just how far craft has come in forty plus years.

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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