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  • Writer's pictureIsabel Refford

Narragansett Brewing Company: A Story of Perseverance (and really good beer)

Updated: Jun 24

The history of the Narragansett Brewing Company is a tale of resilience, innovation, and community spirit. Founded in 1890 in Cranston, RI, by six German immigrants, the company quickly grew its hometown roots to become New England's largest brewery.

Gansett Products

From its early days with modern facilities and extensive distribution networks to surviving the challenges of Prohibition and corporate acquisition, Narragansett has always found a way to persevere. Today, it stands as a testament to the enduring love of New Englanders for their local brew, showcasing a journey of revival and success that continues to inspire. In 1914, when the most modern bottling plant in the region was built, it was official: Narragansett Brewing Company was the largest lager beer brewery in New England.

Rising to the Top

Less than a decade after its founding, Narragansett reigned supreme over New England. With the creation of its Famous Bock in 1912, the brewery began hosting a beloved Bock Beer Fest that lasted over fifty years. However, in 1920, the United States ordered all alcoholic beverages to be destroyed and production to cease due to Prohibition. During this challenging period, Narragansett adapted by launching a line of soda pops and promoting their porter, Narragansett Dark, as a tonic beer for medicinal purposes. Today, this brew is known as Narragansett Porter and is available as a limited release. Additionally, the company's artificial ice plant played a crucial role in keeping the brand alive through these tough times.

When Prohibition was amended in 1933, Narragansett was back up and running within just two weeks. During this time company hired a young Dr. Seuss as their graphic designer. In 1935, the invention of the beer can marked another milestone for the brewery. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Narragansett solidified its place in New England culture by becoming an alcohol sponsor for American sports teams, including the Boston Red Sox. The brewery's peak sales came in 1965, and it even made an appearance in the iconic film "Jaws."

Narragansett Promotion - Baseball

But was this just the beginning for the brand? Or did they just jump the shark?

Hopped up on Hard Times

The brand realized it needed to expand its distribution beyond the New England market. In 1965, Falstaff Brewing Corporation bought the company, and a decade later, this acquisition brought a slew of changes that negatively impacted the business. Financial issues mounted, driven by outdated equipment and soaring production costs. Falstaff laid off 350 Rhode Islanders working for the company, effectively ceasing all production at the Cranston, RI brewery.

By 1982, production for the entire Narragansett brand had moved to the Falstaff plant in Indiana, far from its Rhody roots. In 1995, Falstaff made a feeble attempt to reopen Narragansett in Rhode Island, but it caused little commotion, as most of the equipment had already been shipped to China. By 1998, the demolition of the once-acclaimed brewery began, marking the end of an era.

Rhode Island's Own Reclaims Narragansett 

It was at this point that a group of local New England investors, led by Mark Hellendrung, embarked on a mission to breathe new life into the brand, now independently owned and operated. They lured a former brewmaster out of retirement to reclaim his legacy of making truly authentic beer. While the story of 'Gansett's rebirth resonated with New Englanders at large, one glaring piece was missing from the puzzle — a brewing facility in Rhode Island.

This began with the 2011 "Drink Your Part" campaign, where fans of the brand were asked to support so that enough capital could be raised to build a new, state-of-the-art facility in the state where it all began—and the fans of 'Gansett responded in droves.

Local Love Lands 'Gansett Back in RI

In 2017, Narragansett beer was finally brewed in Rhode Island again. Its first beer was appropriately named "It's About Time IPA." In 2021, a new brewery opened on the Providence waterfront. The brand went from a startup to a top-5 brewery in New England in just 15 years. The new brewery drew in over 150,000 visitors within the first year of operation. Over 60% of all Rhode Island establishments serve Narragansett Beer, and the availability of the brand has grown to 18 states plus the District of Columbia.

Narragansett Beer cans

Narragansett Brewing Company, proud of its Rhode Island roots, often highlights its local heritage through various initiatives and products. One standout collaboration is with Del's Lemonade, a beloved Rhode Island institution, resulting in the popular Narragansett Del's Shandy. This refreshing blend of Narragansett Lager and Del's Lemonade has become a summertime favorite, embodying the spirit of the Ocean State.

The journey of Narragansett Brewing Company is one of remarkable resurgence. After facing numerous challenges, from Prohibition to corporate mismanagement, the brand found its way back to its roots in Rhode Island, thanks to the passion and dedication of local investors and loyal fans. The new brewery on the Providence waterfront symbolizes not just a revival, but a celebration of Narragansett’s rich heritage and promising future.

With its strong community support and expanding reach, Narragansett Brewing Company has firmly reestablished itself as a beloved icon in the craft beer industry, proving that with determination and local love, a storied brand can always find its way home.

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