Mendocino Brewing Company celebrates its 30th anniversary this week with a new single hop ale paying tribute to the early days of California brewing. The beer will feature exclusively Cascade hops, the hop that flavored the iconic New Albion Ale, first brewed in Sonoma in 1976, and later the backbone of early giants such as the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The anniversary beer comes in a little stronger than those older brews – about 7 percent alcohol by volume – but will have that milder, less bitter finish that characterized the pre-Monster-IPA era. It will have about 55 IBUs, or International Bitterness Units, the general reference number to describe how bitter a beer is. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, in comparison, comes in at about 5.6 percent with 38 IBUs. Modern hop bombs like Russian River’s Pliny the Elder can come in at 100 IBUs or more, an intensity that the early craft brew drinkers of the ’70s and early ’80s would likely have found difficult to take.
Mendocino was founded in August of 1983 in Hopland – the original building is still a prominent feature of the town along Highway 101 – and was the first brew pub in California. It can claim some additional pioneer cred since it was founded largely on the ruins of New Albion, which closed in 1982. Founders Michael Laybourn and Norman Franks bought the original equipment and recipes from New Albion and even brought on board New Albion founder Jack McAuliffe, now retired, and some of his staff, including Don Barkley, now the brewer at Napa Smith.
Mendocino CEO Yashpal Singh told me Wednesday that the brewery has kept the old New Albion equipment and plans eventually to restore it to working order, possibly for a beer-related museum. The brewery also has a deal with McAuliffe’s daughter to revive the New Albion brand, but we’ll have more on that plan later this week (UPDATE, Aug. 24 – Here’s the rest of the story: New Albion Returns).
The brewery still functions very much as a craft brewery, though its publicly-traded stock has gradually accumulated in the hands of India-based United Breweries Group, which owns a variety of brands, including the Kingfisher line. That has caused some grumbling among beer purists, who argue that the majority corporate ownership should expel the brewery from the ranks of “craft brewing.” But the Mendocino brews, including flagship Red Tail Ale, remain common sights on the shelves and tap lists throughout the area, and the brew pub, now relocated to Ukiah, remains a stop along the increasingly popular trail of breweries up the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.
The new anniversary ale will be available in 22 oz bottles. It is intended to be one of three anniversary beers the brewery will put out this year, though details remain sketchy.
“Two more special brews will follow the Anniversary Pale Ale, and their themes will likely also be based on hops,” the brewery posted on its blog in July. ” The recipes are still being finalized, but will feature hops of the 90s and a new, experimental hop. However, the brewers are keeping the details close to the chest—no one wants to ruin the surprise!”
– Sean Scully
Image courtesy of Mendocino Brewing Company.