Scotland’s Most Controversial Brewery Comes Stateside

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Two years ago this March, Mark Hellendrung watched his dream go up in smoke.

“I was driving into Providence and saw this billowing black smoke. ‘Fuck, that looks ugly,’” he remembers thinking.

It didn’t take long for a friend to inform him that the fire was ripping through what was supposed to be the 93,000-square-foot future home of Narragansett Beer, the beloved Rhode Island brand that Hellendrung resurrected in 2005 and, just this past April, promised by way of an open letter that he’d bring “back home” to the Ocean State for the first time since 1983.

If current buildout goes according to plan, Isle Brewers Guild — or The Guild, for short — will be open to the public on March 20. The space, at 461 Main Street in Pawtucket, will house a gleaming 60,000-barrel production brewery and, eventually, a dedicated Narragansett taproom, among other features. Spanning 130,000 square feet, The Guild will eventually be shared with a host of other brewing partners. So far, Massachusetts’ Newburyport Brewing Company is the only one to officially announce, but, says brewery president Hellendrung, “three to five other guys are coming in sometime before Memorial Day.” (Update: Massachusetts alcoholic ginger beer company Farmer Willie’s has officially signed on, too.)

Instead of every brewer building a $2 million brewery, why not share a bigger, better $12 million brewery together?

For Narragansett, founded in 1890, signing on with The Guild was a no-brainer. Instead of every brewer building a $2 million brewery, why not share a bigger, better $12 million brewery together?

“The size we’re at we need a big brewhouse. It’s brewery-factory 101, brew as often and as fast as possible,” says Hellendrung.

Narragansett has been brewing its beers with North American Breweries in Rochester, NY, and will continue to brew its flagship lager and light lager there, at least while operations ramp up to scale. (“We brew a lot of lager. We would break this place overnight if we tried to bring that here now,” Hellendrung says.)

‘Gansett produced 91,000 barrels in 2016, up 6 percent from last year. They discontinued some items in the process, but the best part, says Hellendrung, is that their core lager segment saw a 15 percent boost from the year prior.

‘Gansett aims to produce 20,000 barrels at The Guild in the first 12 months of operation while Newburyport — which will also have its own taproom space — hopes to come in at around 5,000 barrels, compared to the 14,000 they’ll pump out from their Massachusetts brewery during 2017.

“This sister brewery will allow us to grow in our Greater Boston market, expand into new territories, and innovate Newburyport Brewing with new styles,” brewery founder Bill Fisher tells me. “It also gives our brewmaster, Mike, and his team access to cutting edge brewing technology. We’re excited to brew alongside ‘Gansett, too!”

The Guild will allow Narragansett to “bring back a lot of beers that people love,” Hellendrung says, including their fest beer, Bohemian pilsner and porter.

Last Friday, Narragansett did a 100-barrel test batch of their It’s About Time IPA, cementing in stone Hellendrung’s promise of bringing ‘Gansett production back to Rhode Island.

“It was just awesome,” he says. “So far the beer is doing real well.”