In the introduction to Rhode Island Beer: Ocean State History on Tap, Ashleigh Bennett and Kristie Martin invite you to “join us in cracking your favorite Rhody beer and learn more about what is and always has been brewing in the Ocean State.” You’ll need to line up a few brews to absorb all of the bygone lore and recent stories that they share from our little corner of the beer world.
Ashleigh and Kristie, who you know from the Two Girls, One Beer blog, spent many hours of 2014 digging through archives and breweriana collections and talking with the folks who are spearheading our current beer renaissance. The tale spans 375 years — from the Baulston Brewery, which opened in Providence in 1639, to the Tilted Barn Brewery, the state’s first farm brewery [formerly Ocean State Hops], which poured its first beers in Exeter a few days before Thanksgiving 2014. The opening chapter covers “The Ocean State Originals,” with rich and fascinating vignettes and bits of trivia about fleeting and legendary operations, from John Bligh’s short-lived Narragansett Brewery [“no relation to the Narragansett Brewery we’ve all come to know“] to the mighty James Hanley Brewing Co.; from What Cheer Brewery to Pawtucket’s first beer-maker, the Hand Brewing Company; from the Narragansett Brewery we’ve all come to know to Eagle Brewing Company.
“Party Foul,” the chapter on Prohibition, has some juicy bits about Rhode Island’s resistance to the movement [RI and Connecticut were the only two states that didn’t ratify the 18th Amendment] and its embrace of alcohol’s alternate routes: rumrunning, speakeasies, home brewing [“soon every grocery was selling malt extracts for ‘baking purposes’ ”], and other underground pursuits [“Woonsocket was known as the city of ‘mills and stills’ ”]. The post-Prohibition entry centers on the rise and fall of ’Gansett, from its glory years when “it accounted for 65 percent of all beer sold in New England” to its long, sad decline after it was sold to the Falstaff Brewing Co. in 1965.
Entries on two craft short-lived small beer makers — Hope Brewing  and Emerald Isle Brew Works [early ’90s], which specialized in cask-conditioned ales — set the table for the chapters on the 11 craft brewers and five brewpubs [from Union Station, which opened in 1993, to Brutopia, which debuted in 2014] which have fueled Rhode Island’s contribution the craft beer revolution. It’s a handy snapshot of Beer 401, with backstories [lotsa homebrewing, natch] and anecdotes and notes on the breweries’ pride and joy — the beer. Some notable quotes:
“It’s not just about fun and games and making beer. It’s about how we’re going to start a business and support ourselves.” — Brent Ryan of Coastal Extreme/Newport Storm
“Bringing people right into the process is fun.” — Nate Broomfield of Bucket Brewery
“Brewing itself is so romanticized. You’re just mopping the whole time. And getting sweaty. It was so much more relaxing when I was a homebrewer.” –Dave Witham of Proclamation Ale Company
Rhode Island Beer: Ocean State History on Tap wraps up with lists of the state’s “best beer bars” and bottle shops, a look at the local brewing community, “Cooking with Rhody Beer,” and beer terms; the 160 pages are stuffed with photos and kicks off with a foreword by Lord of the Brews, Sean Larkin.
The book is available at the Two Girls, One Beer shop, and the Official Release Party is at What Cheer Tavern in Providence tonight [3.31] from 7-10 pm [you can get signed books for $20, plus 18×12” prints of the Rhode Island Brewery Map by Sara Lyons, $12]. Ocean State brews will be well represented, of course, with offerings from Ravenous, Revival, Proclamation, Grey Sail, and Foolproof — and for the first time evah, Crooked Current Brewery will be available on tap. What Cheer will have the honor of pouring the very first glass of CC’s Oatmeal Raisin Stout [outside of its Pawtucket HQ]. Which means more Ocean State beer history is being made today! We’ll drink to that!
If you can’t make it tonight, the girls will be at Bucket Brewery on April 11, Barrington Books on April 26, and Grapes & Grains and Norey’s on May 9 [click here for details].
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And this just in from the Brewers Association: