Narragansett Beer was “made on honor” in Rhode Island in 1890, but its flagship lager and craft beer brands haven’t been brewed there since the 1980s. That’s about to change: The company announced yesterday it’s moving its craft beer production to a campus in Pawtucket, and bringing brewery tours, tastings, and retail sales to Rhode Island late this summer.
The move is a long time coming for president Mark Hellendrung, an East Providence native who revived the company along with investors just over a decade ago. Narragansett Beer is currently made in Rochester, N.Y.
In 2009, Narragansett launched a Drink Your Part marketing campaign—”you buy a case, we buy a brewery.” The investors have eyed a few potential R.I. locations, including a mill building in downtown Providence that burned to the ground a few days before Narragansett was to close on the property.
“Every ’Gansett you drank over the past 7 years was another brick in the brewery,” Hellendrung wrote in an open letter to fans over the weekend. “You have long since earned a brewery. I hated making you wait, and the feeling of letting you down after each door closed despite our best efforts was hard to take.”
Narragansett’s new home is a 130,000-square foot campus just outside of downtown Pawtucket. The Guild, a corporate entity in which ’Gansett is invested, bought the property in December, Hellendrung says. His office and the company’s business operations moved there last week, and construction begins on the brewhouse next Monday. The brewery and retail shop will be one aspect of a mixed use facility.
“There are a lot of things that are going to happen here that we’re not ready to announce yet,” Hellendrung says. “Just picture local artisans, maybe a food shop, and all sorts of things going on in this big, open space,” he says.
Fresh Narragansett beer made at the new facility will start rolling out in August, Hellendrung optimistically anticipates. Production of the flagship will remain in New York, at least for the foreseeable future, Hellendrung says. In Pawtucket, Narragansett will produce its smaller batch, craft styles, including the Lovecraft series, the beers that harken back on Rhode Island ephemera, like the Del’s Shandy; and other seasonal brews. Brewmaster Sean Larkin, owner of Cranston’s Revival Brewing and Brutopia brewpub, is behind the smaller-scale recipe development.
“It will be awesome to be able to bring back styles we’ve had to put on the shelf,” he says. “Where Narragansett brews in New York, there is a high production minimum. This brewery will allow us to to do a lot more innovation.”
Equipment for a 100-barrel brewhouse is slated for delivery in early May. Hellendrung expects the brewery will produce about 300 barrels a day in Pawtucket. At its current facility, it can pump out 2,000 barrels a day.
The first phase of ’Gansett’s homecoming will include a tasting room, retail shop, and a history museum of sorts, called the 1890 Room. Those services will debut this summer, along with brewery tours. Current Rhode Island laws authorizes breweries to sell up to 72 ounces of beer—the equivalent of one six-pack—to guests, in conjunction with a tasting. Next year, Hellendrung will work on opening a taproom with full pours available, as well as “light food” options, he says.
He has a finance and marketing background, and no interest in the restaurant industry, Hellendrung says. He was working for Magic Hat Brewing Company when he decided to revive Narragansett Beer.
“In my travels, I saw what’s so obvious now: The local craft movement,” he says. “I looked around Rhode Island; Rhode Islanders are some of the most provincial, locally proud people in the world. Why don’t we have our beer anymore?”
Hellendrung brought it back to prominence: Narragansett is the country’s 37th largest brewery, and one of New England’s best. Its beers are served at two-thirds of R.I. establishments, and it’s in markets across New England and a few other pockets in the U.S.
Now, he’s bringing it back to the neighborhood.