beer, History

Rhode Island: Unwind the Ocean State

Rhode Island

In 1790, Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution, and the next state up on our beer adventure.

For this week, there are three different beers on the tasting table. Two from Providence, and one from, well, we will get to that.

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States, yet in 1914, it was home to the largest lager brewery in New England, The Narragansett Brewery. However as was more than common around that time, Narragansett fell victim to the

Rhode Island Craft Beer

Narragansett Bock

devastating effects of prohibition and barely made it out the other side. When prohibition did finally end, Narragansett was in financial distress, however with some help, the company came back and by 1955 it was once again the largest selling beer in New England. However after a series of mergers and acquisitions, typical of the industry during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Narragansett closed its doors in 1981. The early 1980s was a rough time for breweries in America, with about 100 breweries existing nationwide at that time, the lowest number in the history of the country, including the prohibition era.

It is a hard concept to grasp that the post World War II era was more devastating to the brewing industry than the Prohibition era. The blame for this devastation could easily be placed on the big national brewers that were growing fast at the time, and while partly responsible, the story is more complicated. Another factor that contributed to the decline was the change in the way consumers purchased their beer. Prior to the war most beer was purchased and consumed at local taverns and pubs, however post WWII, home refrigeration became more prevalent and the ability to bottle and can beer became more economical resulting in a decline of draft sales.

Thankfully, we have gotten beyond the low point of the 80s, and the beer industry is once again booming with each state providing a variety of choices from multiple breweries. Included in the list of thriving breweries is the reincarnated Narragansett brewery.

Rhode Island Craft BeerIn 2005, The Narragansett name was revived by a group of Rhode Island investors, and seven unique products are now available for consumers. Of those, two were part of our tasting this week, and that gets us back to the origin of this weeks selections. From ‘Gansett, The Lager and Bock were selected.  Narragansett is currently a contract brewery, and that means they are not brewing their beer in Rhode Island. According to their website, the Lager is currently brewed in Rochester, New York, and the Bock is brewed in Providence, Rhode Island. So, we can count one of the two as being from Rhode Island, same situation as we encountered in New Hampshire.

Each of these beers are what I would consider a summer, backyard, fire pit beer. They are not packed with the complex flavors and character as seen in other craft beers. To me, they are just typical beer. They are good but if I am looking for a single beer to enjoy with a meal, or to unwind with, this is not where I am going. However if I have to hang out after a long day of working in the yard, I wouldn’t mind a nice can of Lager or Bock.

The other beer from Rhode Island was an IPA from Trinity Brewhouse. I couldn’t find any history about the Trinity Brewhouse online. This is a beer that I picked up at the Craft Beer Cellar because it was from Rhode Island and it was all they had (other than

Rhode Island Craft Beer

Trinity IPA

Narragansett) from the state. This beer was also ok, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as other IPAs encountered during this project. It was just a typical, highly hopped bitterness, without the lovely citrus or piney smells and tastes characteristic of a better IPA.

Being a border state to Massachusetts  I was once again surprised at the limited availability of beer from Rhode Island. However with only 6 breweries in the state, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Next week, we are still in New England, with Vermont.

beer, History

North Carolina: A Better Place to Be

North Carolina

North Carolina Craft Beer

Highland Brewing Gaelic Ale

After New York, the young nation would have a 16 month wait until North Carolina joined as the 12th state. But for us, we only had to wait a week before a new beer joined the ranks.

Online beer history for North Carolina is sparse, as seen in this timeline which shows a large hole between the 1774 when North Carolina opened its first brewery and 1908, when North Carolina became the first southern state to enact a statewide prohibition. That was a full 12 years before the 18th amendment went into effect and in the end, it would be a total of 27 years before alcohol was allowed (legally) in the state again. Even with the 1935 repealing of prohibition, it would take many years for North Carolina to recover from the effects. And in fact, with dry counties such as Graham, it really hasn’t fully recovered. So it was surprising to learn about the prolific craft brewing scene in Asheville, on the western side of the state.

The Asheville brewing scene while relativity young, with the first brewery starting up in 1994, has grown up quick. Considered Beer City, USA, Asheville North Carolina is home to more than 12 breweries. When you compare that to the 7 breweries currently operating in Boston, a city with a population size 540 thousand larger than Asheville, you realize that there must be something special in the Asheville North Carolina water (pun intended).

Asheville is not the only place that craft brewing is surging in North Carolina. According to the brewers association, North Carolina had 58 breweries in 2011 (and probably has even more now). And despite that impressive number, I have yet to find North Carolina beer in Massachusetts. But I was prepared for this, and planned appropriately.

As I was collecting beer from states that I knew would be hard to obtain, I encountered an interesting problem. Space. There was only so much space in the car to transport back all these interesting brews, and as a result I had to start trimming back on the variety. Since this was mostly ad hoc, there was no systematic selection process in progress. And as a result, I ended up with only one style of beer from North Carolina. Oh well, there are worse problems to have, and after last weeks epic tasting adventure, the slower pace was a welcome break.

So, that brings us to this weeks selection. A six pack of Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina. The Gaelic Ale is an American Amber Ale not based on any particular style.

North Carolina Craft Beer

Gaelic Ale

In the glass this beer was not cloudy and had a nice amber color, it reminded me of honey. While the picture is deceiving, this beer was not heavily carbonated. In fact, it had a mild carbonation, making it really enjoyable to drink. The smell sweet with hints of honey, and that sweetness carried through in the taste, but was well complimented with a slight bitterness from the hops that help to balance out the sweet. Finishing with a clean, refreshing mouthfeel, this beer was a wonderful combination of flavors and smells.

Next week, we enter state 13, Rhode Island. See you then.


50 States of Beer

In the pre-prohibition era, U.S. beer producers sold their product mostly in kegs and all sales were to saloons within 60 miles of their production facility.  This system allowed the brewer to handle their own distribution and the ability to hand choose where their product was served. Unlike todays model where a brewers beer can be found at multiple places in a single community, brewers back then would try to get the most popular saloon for their product. Once they successfully landed the popular local watering hole, the brewer worked to retain their exclusivity on the location, through methods such as purchasing the liquor license for the saloon, or helping the saloon through various monetary incentives. This model of business is referred to as the tied-house system, where the breweries were strongly linked to the retail outlets, or saloons that sold beer for consumption. However, the tied-house system had its flaws, and the temperance movement leveraged these flaws to help form the basis for prohibition.

Fast forward to the 1930s and the end of prohibition. In an attempt to control beer prices, the brewers worked together to draft the Code of Fair Competition signed by the U.S. President in 1933 that prevented tied-houses. This legislation eventually (not without its own bumps and bruises) became the three-tier system of distribution that still exists today.

The three-tier system is composed of:

  • Tier 1 : The Brewer
  • Tier 2 : The Independent Distributor
  • Tier 3 : The Retailer

While the creation of the three-tier system solved many of the early problems, it is not without its own problems. In an attempt to learn more about the distribution system and the associated problems first hand, I am setting out to obtain and sample some beer from all of the states in a single year (And try some great beer along the way!). This blog will cronicle this adventure. It will be about the beer, how it was made, where it was made and how it got from the brewery to my house in Massachusetts.

As if that isn’t enough of a challenge, I will also try to sample the beers in the order the state joined the union. There are 52 weeks in a year and there are 50 states. Starting with Delaware, I will attempt to progress, each week from Delaware in the first week of January, to Pennsylvania in week two, and continue on as far into the year as possible.

I hope you join me in this adventure.

* Much of the historical information in this post came from the excellent paper by FogartyFrom saloon to supermarket: packaged beer and the reshaping of the U.S. brewing industry.