With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
In case you missed the last 38 states, we’re doing this thing alphabetically and actually tapping the 39th state on our list, The Ocean State, Rhode Island. The nickname is purely tourism driven, added to license plates in 1972 to help promote it’s 400 miles of coastline. Also known as “Little Rhody” and “The Plantation State,” the latter is derived from the state’s official name, State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It is the smallest of the 50 states in total area, but still larger than Washington D.C. which will also be part of this compendium. Of note, Rhode Island – along with Connecticut, were the only two states to vote against passage of the 18th Amendment, initiating Prohibition.
Rhode Island ranks 43rd in total population (just over 1 million), is ranked 2nd in population density and houses 15 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 9 since 2011) who are represented by the Rhode Island Brewer’s Guild. The state ranks 45th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 28th in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.
The state of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams in 1636 and within 3 years, the first known “brew house” was established by Sergeant William Baulston of Portsmouth. The first brewer of record in Newport was Daniel Sabree who starting his craft in the early 1700’s, but he continued on until his death in 1745. In all, there were at least 5 or 6 brewers of prominence in 18th century Rhode Island.
In the 1800’s there were a number of breweries that kept the masses lubricated throughout the area including Providence Brewery (1817-?) which is considered the state’s first production brewery. The name was recently revived by owner/brewer Efren Hidalgo, who pushed North Providence to repeal a local ordinance that banned the manufacture of beer or spirits in November of 2016. Other brewers of note include The Holmes Brewery (1826-1867) which became the first to be named “Narragansett,” operated by John Bligh until 1874; James Hanley Brewing/Silver Spring Brewery/Rhode Island Brewing (1876-1957 – bought by Narragansett); Eagle Brewery (1877-1920).
As you may have already guessed, the largest and most successful brewery in the state’s history (once the best selling beer in New England) is Narragansett Brewing, which opened in Cranston in 1890. While Falstaff Brewing purchased them in 1965, the original brewery lasted in Cranston until 1981. The brand was bought and revitalized in 2005, at first contract brewing through New York’s Genesee Brewing, then announcing last year that they’re relocating to Pawtucket. Known by the nickname ‘Gansett and replete with catchy marketing like “Hi Neighbor, have a ‘Gansett!” and “Made on Honor, Sold on Merit,” Narragansett is a New England institution that’s finally come home again.
While there was a craft brewery by the name of Hope Brewing which opened in 1988, it soon closed in the mid-nineties, not before nabbing the state’s first two GABF medals. The oldest existing craft brewer in the state is Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, founded in 1995 and earning their own GABF medal in 2010 for their Decadence Imperial IPA. The last of the four GABF medals earned by Rhode Island brewers was awarded to Narragansett in 2015, a silver for their Innsmouth Olde Ale.
4 Rhode Island Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Foolproof Brewing (Pawtucket) – founded by homebrewer Nick Garrison nearly 5 years ago, Foolproof (originally High Jinx Brewing) is known for distributing only in cans and for their Backyahd series of IPAs. While still relatively young, with just over 30 brands created, what they are making, like their delicious Peanut Butter Raincloud Porter and Shuckolate – a Chocolate-Oyster Stout, are worth your time.
Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island (Westerly) – a dream 15 years in the making for founders Alan and Jennifer Brinton, they brewed their first batch of Flagship Ale on 11/11/11. Taking up residence in a building that previously served as a macaroni factory, post office and auto parts store, they’ve settled in nicely, creating 5 year-round offerings, including RI’s top-rated option on Beer Advocate, their Captain’s Daughter DIPA.
Proclamation Ale (West Kingston) – opening their doors in 2014, Proclamation was a 6 year homebrewing hobby for Dave Witham that blossomed into what has become the best rated brewery in Rhode Island today. They’re best known for their Derivative series, a rotating set of single-hopped Pale Ales and their Process/Progress IPA series. With over 70 brands created in just over 3 years, they’re a brewery to keep an eye on.
Revival Brewing (Cranston) – Setting up shop in the original home of Narragansett, Revival was co-founded by brewmaster Sean Larkin in 2011, formerly of Trinity Brewhouse. Along with co-founder and CEO Owen Johnson, an avid homebrewer and prolific entrepreneur, they’ve dialed in a wide assortment of tasty offerings like their popular Double Black IPA and Burnsider Pale Ale. You can’t miss their distinctive artwork, with their offerings easily found throughout the tri-state area.
For more options on Rhode Island brews, check out the Brewers Guild’s Brewery Trail.