Providence is the Creative Capital for several reasons: chiefly among them is a wide variety of innovative beer (it also tends to make any bad news a little more manageable). It started off quietly enough Downcity with Union Station Brewery (36 Exchange Terrace. 274-2739, JohnHarvards.com), a John Harvard’s franchise, opening in 1993 (just over a year after the Cambridge original) and Trinity Brewhouse (186 Fountain Street. 453-2337, TrinityBrewhouse.com) notably kicking off a year later. Since then, our little state has become home to over a dozen operating breweries and brew pubs, not to mention an ever growing number of craft-beer-only bars. And here stands Providence, our polestar for beer possibilities.
Beer Culture as a Way of Life
Opinions vary on why Rhode Island continues to thrive in beer culture. Maybe it’s because, much like our state’s founder, Roger Williams, we just want to create and foster something that truly feels like our own. Of course, the availability of really big, solid buildings – like mills and garages – could be another reason.
Breweries like Bucket Brewery (100 Carver Street, Pawtucket. 305-0597, BucketBrewery.com) and Long Live Beerworks (425 West Fountain Street. LongLiveBeerworks.com) both benefit from the high ceilings and concrete floors of industrial space allowing them to brew, package and sell all from one floor. Each space begins raw, which lets the personality of the craftspeople and the beers themselves really take over. Union Station, don’t forget, was the city’s train terminal until the ‘80s.
Michaela Brinkley, the Customer Service and Marketing Coordinator of Revival Brewing Company has a different theory. She thinks that maybe Little Rhody’s foodie culture has bred a “strong appreciation of flavors” in us. Beers with tastes well beyond the mass-marked offerings seem like a natural extension. That makes sense as to why Revival is located within Brutopia (505 Atwood Avenue, Cranston. 646-8877, RevivalBrewing.com), the barbecue place known for its dry rub and smoky flavors. You can drink at their bar then head downstairs to Revival’s tap room, which Michaela refers to as a “beer clubhouse.”
It’s that theme of “clubhouse” that is prevalent in almost every conversation with brewers and bartenders. They are transforming their spaces from places to sit and grab a beer into places of active participation. For example, Foolproof Brewery (241 Grotto Avenue, Pawtucket. 721-5970, FoolproofBrewing.com) holds yoga nights followed by a tasting, while Bucket Brewery partners with running store Rhode Runner for runs that invariably end in beer drinking.
Fortunately, membership in this club is not exclusive. It’s a community that wants to grow its ranks one beer drinker at a time. Although there’s a definite competition at play, it’s viewed as making the entire scene better. Mutually beneficial one-upmanship. Just head to social media for proof; a quick search for #401craftfamily will show you what you’re getting into – brewers, bars, liquor stores and craft beer drinkers all supporting the notion that local beer creates a lifestyle, not just a business. Trying different techniques, flavors and combinations is a delicate alchemy resulting in no one beer that will please everyone. It’s getting the chance to experiment and talk with other brewers about their successes and failures. It’s a willing belief that making beer with your friends is just as much fun as drinking beer with your friends. Well… maybe a close second.
Local Bars Stay Crafty
Since drinking really good local craft beer with others who like to do the same is kind of the point, bars have been taking notice in a huge way. Brutopia (505 Atwood Avenue, Cranston. 646-8877, BrutopiaBrewery.com) pours Revival beer exclusively, while other bars stretch beyond our borders for additional quality beers. The point is to showcase what’s out there and let you, the drinker, decide what you like.
With 32 craft beers (only two of which are imports) on tap, Ron Koller, owner of newly opened, The Malted Barley (334 Westminster Street. 490-0300, TheMaltedBarleyRI.com), wants to “promote the culture” just as much as the brewers. He’s had local brewers in already to educate his staff and is building partnership events with them as well. Ron would eventually like to operate VIP outings to breweries to show his customers the care people put into making a beer for them.
Over at Ogie’s Trailer Park (1155 Westminster Street. 383-8200, OgiesTrailerPark.com), they’re always offering their “66 AmeriCans of Beer and Guinness.” This list is not exclusively microbrews, with the understanding that sometimes a person just wants to relax on colorful lawn furniture on a cement patio and drink a ‘Gansett tallboy.
The folks over at Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub (342 East Avenue, Pawtucket. 725-9520, TappedRestaurantGroup.com) offer ongoing craft beer night events, but also want you to try a flight. If you haven’t had one already, a flight is a small sampler of different beers served on a paddle (like an undersized boat oar with glass-sized holes in it). It’s a great way to try out something new without committing to a full pint. They also pour the best Newport Storm off island.
What Cheer Tavern (228 New York Avenue. 680-7639, WhatCheerTavern.com) is pulling distinctive drafts, not just from West Kingston’s Proclamation Ale Company, but from around the country and across the globe. Apparently, the Germans are brewing beer these days too.
The taps over at Julian’s (318 Broadway. 861-1770, JuliansProvidence.com) are constantly rotating. What you can consistently expect are micro brews from around the country. They still highlight our local brewers though: look for Proclamation Ale Company, Grey Sail and Foolproof by the bottle.
The Beers Speak for Themselves
The best way to find out about a few of the locally made beers is to talk with them directly. We’re sitting down with three of the Ocean State’s popular brews to taste what you can expect.
Fanny Session IPA • Revival Brewing Company
So, where do get your name?
I’m actually named after Fanny the Elephant who lived for 35 years at the Slater Park Zoo in Pawtucket. They had her chained up the whole time, poor dear. My original name is Break Free Fanny, but you know, it got to be a mouthful.
Speaking of which, you’ve got a pretty distinct flavor. You’re not overbearing, but you’re definitely not shy either.
It’s my hops! I’ve got seven of them. They’re the flowers that give me that citrus flavor as well as my unique floral smell.
I was going to ask about that.
With all those hops working together you’d think my IBU would be through the roof, but it’s a nice, level 55 IBUs for me. I’m a session beer for a reason. That means I taste smooth enough to drink again and again. Plus my ABV is 4.7%, so I’m easy on you, too. Michaela in the brewery says I’m very “approachable.” I think that sums me up perfectly.
I agree, by the way. But wait a second, I thought IPAs generally had more alcohol in them?
Right. That’s the old model, darling. Brewers today are able to actually utilize techniques and quality ingredients to make very flavorful India Pale Ales with lower alcohol content and, hopefully, without the headache afterwards. Now my friend, Conga – who is also named after an elephant, might be what you’re looking for; an Imperial IPA with 9.5% ABV and a big, bold flavor.
Good to know. Now where can people find you?
I haven’t made it out to the shops yet, but I’m here at Brutopia every night. You should come by. I’m even available to take home in 22 ounce bottles. The boys call them “bombers,” but I hate the name. “A ‘bomber’ of Fanny,” sounds so crude.
Redrum Imperial Red Ale • Trinity Brewhouse
You’re a big fella. What’s the ABV on a beer like you?
Thanks for noticing. I’m at 9% alcohol by volume, so be careful. I’m malty with some caramel mixed in with my hops. I’m so flavorful that you may not taste my 9% sneaking up on ya’.
I think I read something about hop bomb? Is that dangerous?
Not unless you’re use to drinkin’ light beer. Ha! No, seriously, it’s just an additional process that gives me my awesome aroma. I smell like the manliest flowers ever. I’m not as bitter as you’d think I’d be either. I’m 90 IBUs, but still a well balanced kinda’ beer.
What’s it mean to be an Imperial Red Ale?
Look at me: I’m glowing copper. I am one good lookin’ beverage. In this case “Imperial” means the brewers took a great idea and amped up the elements making me bigger, bolder and more awesome. I am Redrum.
You are not quiet about it either. Where can people find you?
Right here at Trinity Brewhouse. I’m kind of a big deal. Everyone knows me. I get out every night in growlers, too. That’s 64 ounces of Redrum comin’ to your house. You up for it?
Black Cat Pale Ale • Long Live Beerworks
I’m glad I caught up with you. Where have you been hiding?
Since we opened in January, the taps around here are constantly changing up. Armando the brewer makes small runs of beer just to innovate and test the response here in the tasting room. I’m actually fortunate to be coming back so soon, people really responded well to me. Get down here as soon as you can though, because I’ve got one foot out the door already. Who knows when I’ll show up again?
What do you think it is about you that resonates with people?
Probably my strong fruity flavor. I’m dry hop made, meaning that aromatic hops are added after the boiling process so that tends to really make my flavor pop. I’ve got 65 IBUs and I’m 6.5% ABV too; I’m balanced and I pack just a little more punch than you’d expect.
Wow, that’s pretty comprehensive.
Yeah. I’m the complete package. That being said, there are some smoked beers coming that are going to blow people’s minds. There’s talk about cherry wood and maple wood being used that sounds pretty exciting.
That sounds great. Where can people find you, Black Cat?
At Beerworks, but just for a little bit. Come down and see the place. The weekends have been pretty busy; Wednesdays are fun and a little calmer too. I can travel in these great 32 ounce “Boston Round” bottles. I’m not out to the bars yet, but I’m hoping that’ll happen soon. Unlike most black cats, I’m actually feeling pretty lucky.