Another great brewing name from the past is making a comeback. Nectar Ales is changing its name back to Humboldt Brewing Company to honor the outfit that developed the brews back in 1987. But it will be “Humboldt” in name only for the moment, since it will continue to be brewed in Paso Robles at Firestone Walker Brewering, as it has been since 2000.
The company started out back in 1987 in Arcata, one of the new generation of breweries and brewpubs that revolutionized the beer market in that era. They became best known for Red Nectar Ale and Hemp Ale, a brown ale. But eventually, the beer bust caught up with the brewery and it closed the Arcata facility and contracted with Firestone Walker, which eventually bought the company outright. The Humboldt Brewing name has been sidelined since 2005, when Firestone Walker changed the line to “Nectar Ales.” The original brews continue to be produced, but in 2009, they added Black Xanthus, an imperial stout, to the lineup.
Fast forward to 2012 and international beverage importer Total Beverage Solution bought the brand. They have a contract to stay with Firestone Walker through mid 2015, spokeswoman Courtney Gibson said, but after that the venue might change. There are no plans at this point to build a dedicated brewery for the company, nor to return to Humboldt County, but whatever happens after 2015, production will remain in California.
This is Total Beverage Solution’s first venture into owning a beer brand outright. For a long list international brands, such as Coopers and Moretti, they act solely as importers and U.S. distributors but don’t have an ownership stake. Domestically, they have a partial interest in New York’s Southampton Publick House, and they act as master distributor for Maine’s related Shipyard and Sea Dog brands.
To celebrate the return to the classic name, the Humboldt Brewing Company is rolling out a new limited-release beer, 500 B.C. Double IPA, which should be on store shelves by the end of the month.
“The name 500 B.C. is a tribute to the coastal redwoods that populate the original brewery’s home county, trees that are some of the longest-living species in North America,” the brewery said in a release, promising to donate $1 per case sold to redwood preservation projects.
The company will also redesign the labels and cases, though it promised to keep the distinctive hummingbird motif that has been on the labels for years.
Meanwhile back up at the old Arcata brewery, feelings seem to be mixed. After the brewery closed down, former employees and customers banded together to create Humboldt Brews, a beer bar, restaurant, and concert venue. They haven’t brewed in a decade, but they still pour the Nectar Ales on their 25-tap setup.
“As far as the name [changing], not sure what to think about it yet and time will tell how it may affect us,” said owner Andy Ardell, a faithful customer of the old brewery. “When you Google Humboldt Brewing Company, Humboldt Brews still comes up, so that is good.”
This is the second time in a year that a great North Coast beer name has returned from the dead. Earlier this year, the producers of Sam Adams revived Sonoma County’s iconic New Albion Ale, the beer that launched the craft brew movement in 1976 when brewer Jack McAuliffe became the first person to found a brewery from scratch in the U.S. since Prohibition ended. That brewery, in the city of Sonoma, closed in 1982, but Sam Adams owner Jim Koch bought the name and recipe and reissued the beer as a one-time-only tribute. The beer was so well received that McAuliffe’s daughter plans to revive the brand permanently, probably contracting with Mendocino Brewing, which bought the old New Albion equipment after the brewery closed. Last I talked with his daughter, Renee DeLuca, the plan was to have the beer back on shelves by as early as the end of the year. I’ll try to get an update on progress toward that as soon as possible.
- Sean Scully