2017: The Year in Rhody Beer

‘Tis the season for looking back at this crazy, stressful, psyche-denting year. We’re brain-deep in top 10 lists and high/lowlights, but since this is part of the Got Beer? franchise, we’ve been reflecting on hoppy happenings. So here are some of the notable developments in the Year In Beer ’Round Here:

New (and bigger) breweries: Three beermakers joined the 401 craft family: Ragged Island set up shop in Portsmouth on St. Patrick’s Day (and heads up: they’ll be doing their first canning run a coupla days after Christmas and hope to have Hydrofoil DIPA and Beach Night IPA ready for sale on December 28 and/or December 29); Shaidzon Beer Company had RGB_Buttonwoods Breweryits grand opening in West Kingston in the space-where-Proclamation-usedtabe on Thanksgiving Eve; and Buttonwoods Brewery joined the fun on December 8 when it started pouring at its Cranston home. The new year will bring Providence Brewing Company into the mix; brewmaster Efren Hidalgo says the electrical and plumbing work is done, and they’re psyched to be taking part at the sold-out Rhode Island Brew Fest on January 27. And some of our “old” breweries enjoyed significant expansion: Grey Sail doubled the size of its operation as well as its annual brewing capacity; Tilted Barn crammed even more shiny tanks into its rustic structure and started canning (standing in line in Exeter has become a way of life for its legion of devotees); Revival installed a canning line at its Cranston HQ; and the aforementioned Proclamation Ale Company “put on the big boy pants” and moved to a 15,000-square-foot spot in Warwick, where you can sip and sample and get plenty o’ beer to go Wednesday through Sunday.

Goings and comings: The long-running craft beer hub Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub closed on July 31, following the closing of the ill-fated and short-lived Doherty’s Lakeside in Coventry in January, and preceding the early December shuttering of Doherty’s Ale House in Warwick; and Jacky Boy Publik House gave up the ghost in Pawtuxet Village. But the West Side of Providence got even cooler with the arrival of Bayberry Beer Hall, a German biergarten-inspired space with a great craft list and mega-good food, and What Cheer Tavern was revived under new ownership. And there was an influx of highly regarded breweries that started distributing in the Ocean State, including Wormtown (bring on the Be Hoppy!) and Lawson’s Finest Liquids (all hail Sip of Sunshine!) and an embarrassment of riches from the Craft Collective crew, including Finback, SingleCut, Oxbow, Banded Horn and more. To paraphrase Sheriff Brody in Jaws, “You’re gonna need a bigger beer budget!”

The big picture: When we were working on a feature about Narragansett Beer and the Isle Brewers Guild for another publication, we asked a few local beer experts for their views on the evolution of the Rhode Island beer scene. Said quotes got cut along the way, but we’ve been saving one and are happy to share this insightful and inspiring overview from Brian Oakley, the beer expert-and-so-much-more at Julians and Pizza J and co-founder (with Nikki’s co-owner Michael Iannazzi) of Beervana:

“Watching a match being struck and develop into a bonfire is thrilling. For years, Newport Storm, alongside our local brewpubs, pushed the proverbial rock up the hill, fighting for craft beer in an era that scoffed at the very notion. These people went to work every day trying to get people excited and behind their dream, armed only with perseverance, when most customers couldn’t care less about buying a local product. To be fair, it’s not easy in New England – by nature we are suspicious and guarded. At the time, local did not suggest cool or fresh, it suggested second-rate or amateur to those who only drank products [from giant brewers]. Now it is a complete 180 – a renaissance of beer in Rhode Island, fueled by an explosion of breweries contributing to the cultural mosaic of our state in awesome ways. It has been amazing to bear witness to this development as well as partake in it, and I’m looking forward to this bonfire becoming a volcano and then a meteor or comet!”

We’ll drink to that! Well said, Brian! Cheers and happy holidays!

For more beer news, check Lou’s blog, bottlescansclaphands.wordpress.com, or follow @BottlesCansRI.

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