Let’s call it: Rhode Island’s local craft beer is having a renaissance moment. First there were a few new scrappy upstarts, like Bucket Brewery and Foolproof in Pawtucket, the husband-and-wife-helmed Grey Sail of Westerly, a Woonsocket “nano-brewery” that goes by the name Ravenous and Revival, based in our very own Providence. Awards accrued, sales upticked and the press took notice. Narragansett Beer and Newport Storm, both well-established local breweries known for larger, non-craft output, put their hats in the craft ring, too.
And now, thanks to this month’s inaugural RI Brew Fest, the state’s craft beer renaissance is poised for a more institutionally polished boost. Come February 2, hosted in the Pawtucket Armory and presented by Narragansett Beer, over 30 breweries will congregate to offer tastings of 100-plus beers. There will be food. There will be live music. There will be a boost in cab traffic and morning after Advil intake. Oh, yes.
There will also be steerage from a PR firm that seeks out events with potential bearing on the local economy. The Newport-based firm, which also lists roles in Newport’s Tall Ships and the Cape Cod Brew Fest among its credentials, was instrumental in conceptualizing and developing the beer fest. From the get-go, the fest wasn’t just designed to celebrate craft beer, but also to foster the industry’s positive impact on the state economy and to highlight Pawtucket’s business-friendly creative spaces.
Take Bucket Brewery for instance, which first put its beers on the market at the tail end of 2012. Run by five friends out of Lorraine Mills in Pawtucket, the enterprise is a passion project fueled by community support for good beer with local ties. Its first four beers are almost granular in their localness, and unapologetically so: Take the Thirteenth Original Maple Stout, which shouts out our fair state’s 13th colony status. An unconventional kolsch-style beer called Rhodes Scholar appears tailor-made for those smaht kids on College Hill, and anyone fond of a pun with their pint. The Park Loop Porter was designed and first poured for runners competing in last October’s “Ultramarathon,” set in Warwick’s City Park loop. (It’s now a rogue athlete’s or beer-bellied porter enthusiast’s dream.) And, underscoring the brewery’s location in the Bucket twice over, its Pawtucket Pail Ale – not Pale Ale, mind you – surely requires either local residence or at least one viewing of Outside Providence to appreciate its special spelling.
Pawtucket’s other new brewery, anchored by a businessman and brewmaster-chemist, along with a part-dog, part-pig mascot Lucy, is similarly quirky and locally accented. Literally accented on at least one count since its first pale ale, “Backyahd,” captures our infamous linguistic tic – and caters to every Rhode Islander’s ideal summer pastime. Stamped with a Weber-grill silhouette, Backyahd guarantees “to deliver an unspoken zen with a spatula in your other hand,” and one’s inclined to believe it. Foolproof’s other two offerings, Barstool (a pub-friendly golden ale) and Rain cloud (a robust porter), likewise evoke mainstays of Ocean State life, showing cheeky attention to what makes us special by brewing distinctly for it.
On Saturdays, Foolproof offers tours and tastings every hour, on the hour, from noon to 3pm. Clever readers will note that RI Brew Fest is also set for a Saturday, and not much more than a stone’s throw from Foolproof’s facilities. After all, the only thing better than day drinking for local benefit is a chance to do it twice over. Bottoms up.