Rhode Island Beer Report: Newport Storm and Narragansett Creating Buzz

July 1, 2009

Beer is an economic bulwark even with Rhode Island’s increasing unemployment and a legislature’s hostile approach to out-of-state business (ask Amazon). Damn fine beer is associated with the Ocean State,  for value conscious and beer bourgeois alike.

As a moderate locavore, I try to support locally owned and operated companies when possible. As a frequent beer drinker, I like the options of having an affordable, easy drinking brew for light binging and a more complex, robust beer selection to compliment meals. Fortunately, Rhode Island offers both.

Narragansett Beer – “Hey Neighbor, Have a ‘Gansett”

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With a rich history dating back to 1890, Narragansett became the largest selling beer in New England with one of the most modern brewing facilities in the country supporting over 850 employees. An unfortunate series of financial and logistical miscues led to the closing of the Cranston, RI factory in 1983. Fortunately, lifelong RI resident Mark Hellendrung bought back the brand in October of 2005 and ‘Gansett is poured from taps in over 750 New England bars.

Despite re-invigorating of the brand, Hellendrung has bigger goals for Narragansett beer, most notably returning the brewery to New England (ideally Rhode Island). With a savvy social media campaign including a blog, twitter feed, Facebook Fan Page and petition, as well as a nostalgic ad campaign, Narragansett is challenging folks in the northeast to drink 1.7 million cases of beer (roughly 1 case per beer drinking New Englander) by the end of the year in order to justify the need for a new brewery.

While beer snobs may turn a sober shoulder to the affordably priced lager, there’s no doubt that bringing the Narragansett brewery back to Rhode Island is the right thing to do. Simultaneously a homecoming and a boon to the state’s economy, (if you’re a beer consumer) please sign the petition, buy a case or ask your local beer vendor to start selling the beer. I bought an 18-pack last weekend and got a sweet free ‘Gansett necktie complimentary, for no cost.

Coastal Extreme Brewing Co. (Newport Storm) – Dedicated to the Craft

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A company history of Coastal Extreme Breweing can be found on the website. On a personal note, as a 21 year-old I used to live across the street from the brewery. There was no beer sold, but every Friday evening, a select few dozen were admitted for tours which included, four, and subsequently two bottle caps exchangeable for free beer. The self-made owners have continued their hospitality with daily samplings and weekly/private tours. Newport Storm seasonal drafts drive hardcore loyalty but the flagship Hurricane Amber and a grassroots, events-laden effort led by the founders jockeyed “Storm” into the drinking scene across New England. 

Not surprisingly, the brewery is wrangling with the RI legislature over its right to sell six-packs, cases and spirits to patrons visiting the brewery. The website claims, “Rhode Island is the only such state in New England that prohibits this practice at its breweries and distilleries.” A travesty? Consider protesting or mildy objecting to House bill  6169 and the identical Senate bill 943, you can learn more and send vociferous emails here.

Furthermore, I’ve heard the Coastal Extreme beer factory may be expanding to a new facility, positive news but the Oliphant Ln. home will be missed. 

Drinking beer is not a solution for most, but manufacturing beverages for inevitable consumption is sound economics, especially in the Ocean State.  Just ask Autocrat and Del’s.

Posted by: Nick Brown

@PRnick