What marks the microbreweries of the West Coast in the '80s is that they were self-consciously inventive and experimental - especially with their heavy-handedness with hops the further North one went. The generation of microbrewers that came in after the tough old survivor Anchor Steam and the young upstart New Albion of Sonoma showed it was legal and possible to run a microbrewery again started with traditional recipes and took them in bold, sometimes awful, directions for the joy of making something new - rarely a historical recreation like the focus of the British Camra movement.
Here's an article you may find of interest that describes how those darned liberals in Berkeley made brewpubs legal in the US:
Here's another article that tells the story of West Coast brewers as I remember it unfolding. It's not the best article, and many of us probably know more to this story than the article recounts, but it was handy:
What I can't find documentation of is that I distinctly remember Michael Lovett of New Albion/Mendocino Brewing telling me that New Albion needed to get some legislation enacted in order to make microbreweries feasible. Maybe it's the Bates/Sebastiani legislation in the first citation, but my foggy memory of 20 years ago wants to say it was more than that.
I'd be interested to read Jeff's thoughts on this.