Providence Mini Maker Faire at PVDFest

For nine years an event has happened in downtown Providence that has brought delight, lit imaginations and sparked curiosity in many attendees: the Providence Mini Maker Faire. It will be happening again this year on June 9 as part of PVDFest. I had the pleasure of catching up with one of the creators of this event, Brian Jepson, and asked him a few questions.

Chris Meringolo: What is the Providence Mini Maker Faire?

Brian Jepson: The first Maker Faire was started by MAKE: magazine in 2006 in the Bay Area, and has spread all over. It’s a little bit science fair, art festival and show-and-tell. The Providence Mini Maker Faire is one of hundreds of Maker Faires that take place all over the world.

CM: Why did you start doing the Mini Maker Faire in RI?

BJ: I started the RI Maker Faire with my friend Kipp Bradford back in 2009 (Kipp is no longer directly involved with the RI event, but he’s still an advisor). We had both been part of the bigger Maker Faires that MAKE: magazine puts on, and we really wanted something like that for our home state. Over time, the name evolved: first to the RI Mini Maker Faire so we could align with the naming of other independent events, and this year we are changing our name to the Providence Mini Maker Faire so as to not swallow up the whole state with a single event. We’d like other folks around RI to feel that there’s no barrier to them putting on one of these in their own town.

CM: There have been a number of locations for Mini Maker Faire RI over the years; which was your favorite and why?

BJ: My favorite was our first year in 2009, when we were in Financial Plaza. It was a great location; very central to the WaterFire that was going on that night, and a really interesting space to work in as well. Large sidewalks, lots of open space to work with.

CM: From all the previous years, what was your favorite exhibit?

BJ: I never pick a favorite exhibit. I’ve seen too many, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out!

CM: What exhibit is definitely a must-see this year?

BJ: I’d say they are all must-sees, and I really encourage attendees to take everything in. That said, Ocean State Maker Mill always manages to outdo themselves with each passing year. They haven’t told me what they are doing, but you won’t want to miss it!

CM: Why should the reader drop by Mini Maker Faire?

BJ: To get inspired, and to inspire anyone who you are exploring PVDFest with on Saturday, June 9!

The Isle Brewers Guild: One Year Later

Banners hung high above the heads of a crowd of people on a Saturday afternoon as they sip their libations announce the craft breweries that now call Pawtucket their second home. Or in cases such as Narragansett and Farmer Willie’s, their only rightful home. These banners can be found at the Isle Brewers Guild (461 Main St, Pawtucket) on a beam that was once part of a gantry crane that helped produce naval hardware for the Second World War. Isle Brewer’s Guild opened their doors officially about a year ago, and a lot has changed as the IBG folks have continued to grow their business and rehabilitate their former factory.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to visit the brewery and get a behind-the-scenes perspective as the build continues. In March, the basic brewery had been built out,, and they were just starting test batches. One of the test batches was a new Narragansett project that would come to be called It’s About Time IPA. From my recollection, it tasted pretty close to what it is today. I also had the pleasure of trying a very early iteration of the Farmer Willie’s Ginger Beer, which still had some work left to be done since the ink had just dried on the contract. The main brewery floor, while functional, was still a construction site with various lengths of shiplap boards littered around and most mounted to the stairwell. These boards would become the backdrop of what most know as the tasting room, which just opened to the public a few months ago.

Now the tasting room has beers from each of the partners’ portfolios, and they’re brewed on site. A bar also has been built to belly up to while you enjoy their brewed offerings. Outside of the large bay door is a new patio that holds some tables, benches and most importantly, three sets of corn hole boards.

Inside, the brewery has already expanded with another six 300 bbl fermenters that are new additions since March. In true museum fashion, there’s a little gift shop to buy your friends and family some excellent beer gear before you head home. While there is no food on site, some nights they will have a little pop-up food cart with sausages, hamburgers and other beer-friendly fare.

Isle Brewers Guild (IBG) has been very active in the homebrewing community, providing a space for monthly RI Brewing Society (RIBS) meetings and hosting the annual Ocean State Homebrewing Competition (OSHC) for the third year in a row. Keep on the lookout for news from the OSHC as they work closer with the folks at IBG to deliver some really cool prizes and events.

While quite a few things have changed since March, more changes are on the way, most of which I cannot speak of yet. Suffice it to say, the future of IBG looks bright. So drop in and have a pint, maybe even join their Cornhole League while you’re at it, and you’ll see — and likely appreciate — the changes.

Go Brew Yourself!

Go on any brewery tour these days and they’ll try to stump you by asking to name the four ingredients of beer. If you  slept through Beer 101, it’s barley, hops, yeast and water. But that’s just the basics and the law according to the German Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Law of 1516). Today American breweries are pushing the boundaries with ingredients in beer and so can you. Brewing is easy — if an ancient Mesopotamian can make it, so can you!

The first step in your brewing adventure is getting the equipment and supplies. Fortunately, there are a few stores in the area and online that can help you. My two local go-to shops are Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies (403 Park Ave, Woonsocket) and Craft Brew Supplies (1133 Main St, Wyoming). The owners and patrons of these stores are more than willing to teach you and there are no stupid questions or crazy ideas. Homebrewing is very approachable and inclusive with a great community around it. You shouldn’t feel intimidated just because you are new.

Since you are starting out you will need some equipment. A basic list is: 1. Large 3 gallon stockpot, 2. Food-grade 6-gallon bucket with air-tight lid, 3. Large stirring instrument to use while boiling, 4. Hydrometer for measuring ABV, 5. Airlock that allows C02 to escape but allows nothing in, 6. Tubing and stoppers (while fermenting it is critical to keep the beer air-tight), 7. Oven mitts, 8. Sanitizer (Star-san is one of my favorites, but there are many types at the homebrew shops), 9. Racking crane, used to move beer from one vessel to another, 10. Thermometer.

There are kits with most of this equipment already included that range from $60 to $100. All you need to bring is oven mitts and a large pot.

Pop Quiz! What are the four … oh never mind. At the store, you will need to buy yeast, malt extract and hops. Most shops will sell you kits for a style of beer and will make custom kits for you. The yeast comes in dry or liquid forms but must be kept cold, so make sure you toss it in the fridge. Yeast converts the sugars from the malt into ethanol and C02. The malt extract is the product of barley grain that has started the malting process to produce starches, which is then concentrated and turned into a syrup or dried powder. Those starches are converted to edible sugars while boiling, so this is where we get things like color, body and ABV. Finally, we have hops, which are the flowers of a plant in the same family as cannabis. There are no psychedelic properties to hops, but they add different aromas as well as tastes to the beer. If you’ve ever had an IPA that was super bitter, it was because the ratio of hops to malt was very high. Last but not least, we have water. Water is the most abundant ingredient and the rule of thumb is if you taste it in your water you will taste it in your beer. If your water is slightly chlorinated or dirty, get spring water; You’ll need at least 5 or 6 gallons for most batches.

On to brew day! Good brewing is about cleanliness. If something is not cleaned and sanitized, it could make the whole batch go bad. Make sure everything that touches the beer post-boil is sanitized. The actual brewing process is simple. Start by adding 2 gallons of water to your pot and bring it to a boil. Stir in the malt, and make sure you keep stirring to avoid burnination. Never cover the pot after this stage; it will boil over and you will be cleaning your stove FOR HOURS. Adding the malt will stop the boil; wait till it re-establishes and start a 1 hour timer. The recipe for your kit has a hop schedule, which tells you what hop, how much and when to add it. Don’t worry if you’re not exact, there’s some wiggle room.

Once your hour is complete, turn off the burner. Fill your sink with cold water and put the pot in it. Once the wort (non-fermented beer) is in the 60-80F range, you can add it to your sanitized bucket. Add enough water to the bucket to reach 5 gallons and pitch the yeast. Now, wait 7 to 10 days. Check with your hydrometer every day. When the number stops changing, the fermentation is done! Add priming sugar and bottle, then wait another 2 weeks and you’ll have a finished beer! Cheers!

Maker Faire: Still Making Rhode Island Awesome

As we head further into the dog days of summer, everything is becoming saturated — political coverage, scandals, humidity and of course my clothes with sweat. Many times over the last few weeks I’ve seriously considered moving up above the Arctic circle, but one thing has kept me around: The Rhode Island Mini Maker Faire, the yearly exposition of what’s possible in our own backyards, and it’s coming as part of AS220’s Foo Fest again this year!

The best way to get you interested in Maker Faire is to show you all the cool things, but unfortunately, I have limited space so you’ll have to read about them instead. Yes, I am full of false hope today.

The RI Mini Maker Faire is a celebration of all skills and interests that people are passionate about. Everything from comic book art to strange bicycles to robotics and even beer making.

Why is it a ‘mini’ faire? There are two larger Maker Faires worth noting, the Worldwide and the regular Maker Faire, both of which happen annually and fairly far away from us. Worldwide Maker Faire is in NYC while the regular Maker Faire is out in San Mateo, California. Mini Maker Faires are a way of keeping things local and letting you meet your fellow community members and other enthusiasts.

Who exhibits at this event? Everyone! It doesn’t matter what skill you have or what you do as long as you’re passionate about it and want to share with the community at large and find others who are also interested. One of the original goals of Maker Faire was to take the STEM disciplines out of the labs and workshops, hidden away from public view, and make them the star of the show. The Maker Faires have since progressed beyond that to include many more skills as people start to learn new ways of doing things and mashup those skills to create some really cool things.

Who is exhibiting at this year’s event?
Alone in Town — Art inspired by comic books and pop culture
BCA Keystone — Devices that can interact with the physical world from your PC
Fab Newport — A makerspace in Newport, showing off some of their recent work
HouseBat Studio — Witchy pins, patches, apparel
Learn To Solder — By far one of the most fun booths. Staff will be on hand to teach you the basics of soldering electric circuits and you’ll even make your own blinky labs badge!
RI Museum of Science and Art — Spin Art, a 3’x3′ interactive kinetic paint sculpture constructed from a bike
Robogames Firebot — A fire fighting robot that will be used in the 2017 National Robogames
RI Brewing Society — A live demonstration of how beer is made in our kitchens and backyards.

That is just a list of some of the highlights you’ll see at the faire. The actual list is much longer and can be viewed on makerfaireri.com. You can also buy tickets or donate to the faire to keep events like this happening. If you are a maker and want to exhibit you can apply for free through the website. To all tinkerers and the people who love them, don’t miss it!

Now to go back into the air conditioner I made…

Got Beer? The Boys Are Back

April 3, 2016, should be marked as a banner day in Ocean State history and if you don’t know why you must be as dry as the Sahara. Well ok, I’ll tell you anyway. April 3 marks the day Narragansett Brewing announced they would be returning brewing operations to Rhode Island! When I first saw this announcement posted I thought it may have been a belated April Fool’s joke since there have been hints for years that they were trying to return to RI. Fortunately this announcement was no joke. It was really happening. I personally confirmed it by walking by their new offices at the Isle Brewer’s Guild (they prefer to be known as The Guild) in Pawtucket. Looks like we drank our part, and some of us maybe a little extra.
The Isle Brewer’s Guild has purchased the Kelleway center in Pawtucket, which used to produce large screws for the Navy during WWII. It is an absolutely cavernous complex with plenty of space for brewing and lots of potential as a craft beer destination. In recent years, the space had been rented out to a few dance studios and other small businesses. Demolition of the old spaces and new construction was just beginning a few weeks ago and the plan is to have an operation going by mid-summer. Though with such an old building (1890s) there’s bound to be a few setbacks and maybe some interesting discoveries. IBG will be a craft cooperative brewer, meaning that they will be guns for hire, brewing other people’s beer and helping smaller breweries expand faster with less financial risk. They’ll be working with a 100-barrel brewhouse when they get fully operational. One barrel is about 31 gallons, which is two of the standard-sized kegs you used to drink from at your college. With a single run on their brew kettle they will be able to make 200 kegs of beer. Top that all off with their 300 bbl fermenters and we’re talking some serious capacity. IBG also will provide a full quality assurance department, as well as just about any service or tool a brewery would need to make a perfect batch of beer. Talking with one of the partners at IBG, Jeremy Duffy, the “marketing guy,” it was pretty clear they have some large plans and a deep commitment to the craft beer community. Most recently, they allowed the Ocean State Homebrew Competition to use one of their spaces free for a weekend to host the competition and even held off demolition to accommodate these home brewers. (Thanks again, guys!)
But I digress. The new space is super cool, but what about Narragansett? Based on Mark Hellendrung’s announcement, this move is the realization of a 15-year-old dream. And after a few false starts and at least one future home building burning down days before the closing, the victory must taste that much sweeter. The administrative offices have been moved in, even though it will be months before brewing capabilities will be completed. Says VP of Sales & Marketing Jim Crooks, “Some days I have to pinch myself when I realize it’s actually happening and I see guys in hard hats outside my office really building our brewery.”
Current plans for the move are still developing, but I can leave you with this: The craft portion of their portfolio will be made in RI at a future date (once the equipment is there) and there are plans to have a really cool tasting room. Stay tuned as the plans develop – tours and serious brewing should be fully realized some time in 2017.

Also, not to be missed: The Newport Beer Fest is holding its annual event on April 29 date at the Great Friends Meeting House, , Newport.

Locale Profile: Doherty’s Lakeside

dohertysA long time ago in a town far far away … rumors started to circulate about a brand new addition to the Doherty’s empire. Months passed and a Facebook page appeared that proudly announced an opening in August. Months came and went and it was still not open. Finally, it’s a new year and we have a new craft beer watering hole: Doherty’s Lakeside.
Lakeside is everything you would expect from a Doherty’s establishment and more. So first, let’s start with the most important thing … the beer. There are 101 taps with a variety of craft beers from all over the US. The opening had a killer lineup of IPAs, as well as all other categories well represented. The bottles available are few and will satisfy the BMC crowd. You’ll recognize the familiar 11×14 tap lists on each table as well as the beer club from other locations. Similar to the Warwick location, the beers are held in a large room behind the bar with the taps mounted directly in the wall. The bar, however, is quite different. It looks like a large T with the long part at the taps. The rest of the bar looks like the bow of a boat. The pirate in me wants to commandeer that ship.
Next up, the food. Lakeside was my first introduction to a new, expanded menu that has been rolled out to other Doherty’s Alehouse locations. This new menu includes standard pub fare such as burgers, sandwiches and wings. The biggest new addition to this menu is the international section, which has a good selection from all over the world. The Tuscan chicken was a slightly American take on an Italian dish, but was definitely a tasty affair including breaded chicken, linguini and a lemon cheese sauce. Our next stop took us to Austria for some traditional pork schnitzel, perfectly fried and topped with an egg. The schnitzel came with pickled beets and kasha salad, and it would all be paired well with a good german Hefeweizen or Pilsner. The Seoul food tacos were a Korean take on well-known dish that included Korean BBQ short ribs, kimchi and tortilla. It was reported to be excellent by my associate. Other dishes worth noting include Mumbai lamb, soba noodle bowl and the wurst. There’s also some seafood and vegetarian options now. This new breadth of selection show that the Alehouses are stepping up their food game. Also of note was that the restaurant has only been open for a week, and while most places may have a rocky start, this one was running like a well-oiled machine. Though it probably didn’t hurt that Jack Doherty and Chef Rob were running the kitchen.
One of the most unexpected and welcomed surprises of my visit there was the addition of craft sodas to the menu. The syrups for each soda are house-made and were developed by Doherty’s staff. They had flavors such as cream soda, grape soda and ginger ale. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a root beer recipe that lived up to their standards, and so it is not on the menu. I typically don’t like cream soda, however, a tall glass of it quickly changed my mind. It had a nice vanilla flavor and slight sweetness without it being overbearing or fake. This was probably due to the use of real sugar instead of corn syrup. In addition to their craft sodas, they also carry a few of the locally made Yacht Club sodas: quinine tonic, diet cola and cola.
The building offered large windows and what I had to imagine was a good view of Lake Tiogue. It was pretty dark — stupid winter. There were a few TVs at the bar, but nowhere near as many as Warwick. Frankly I’d rather look at the lake anyway. If you’ve got a great view, why waste it? Lakeside also had a large deck on the back overlooking the lake (hence the name) that could fit about 100 people. After some sleuthing, I found out that they’re planning to build a deck extension with an integrated bar in the spring. Single deck or two decks, it will certainly be a nice place to catch a brew and cool off during those dripping humid days of summer.
This new addition to the Doherty’s family is located in Coventry, which may seem like a world away for you native Rhode Islanders, but it’s actually closer to Warwick than it is to Westerly. For those locals wondering, Lakeside is located where Nino’s used to be. For everyone else, you can find it at 446 Tiogue Avenue, Coventry.

Making Christmas

Any mechanic or craftsman will tell you that the most important thing they have is their tools. The right tools can make the difference between loving a job and hating it with every fiber of your being. New tools can also open up a world of possibilities for any maker. So what do you get your maker for the holidays?


3D Printer

The hot new technology … that’s been around for years. 3D printing has been used in manufacturing and product development for years and now home versions are getting cheaper and cheaper. These home printers will create plastic parts based off of 3D models you can download or design in software yourself. It may not sound like much, but it can be the start of home repairs or model making and may eventually transform into a whole new world of digital fabrication. I was really thankful I had one a few months ago. Mere hours before I was getting on to a plane to go hiking in Yosemite, the shoulder-strap buckle on my hiking pack broke. Within an hour, I had downloaded the file for a new buckle and printed it out. That buckle held firm through Tioga Pass and beyond. 3D printers will run from $300 and up depending on quality and options. There are many guides online that can walk you through which printers are the best and what you should look for. A few good starting points are the Simple Metal from Printrbot (printrbot.com) and Replicator from Makerbot (makerbot.com). Alternatively, RI has its own group of dedicated 3D printer enthusiasts who love to talk about the hobby and can advise you on what to buy and how to get started. A few of them have even written articles for national publications about 3D printing. You can contact them through their website at 3dppvd.org

Sewing Machine

Not just for home economics anymore. The humble sewing machine can be the gateway to unbounded creativity and adventure for your maker. Comic cons and gaming cons are quickly gaining in popularity, with the most recent RI Comic Con attracting over 50,000 people! While some of the appeal of these events may be comics or games, a majority of it is the cosplay. A sewing machine can ensure that your maker can make their own costumes as real as they can imagine. Sewing machines start at less than a $100 and go up from there. Don’t skimp on quality with this tool. A bad one can lead to many lost hours detangling thread, bobbins and pulling out hairs. Read the reviews online and look at retailers like Jo-Ann who have guides for beginners and can give you in-depth advice.

Beer Brewing Kit

As someone who primarily covers the beer scene for Motif, I’d be remiss if one of my articles didn’t make at least some mention of it. If you have a maker in your life who loves to cook and loves craft beer, you might want to think about introducing them to homebrewing. Homebrewing is super simple and you can get into it for less than $150. There are super cheap kits out there like Mr. Beer, which is available at retail stores, or the next step up is a full homebrew starter kit. The Mr. Beer kit comes with a  small 2 gallon fermenter and a powdered mix, yeast and a few small tools. They also sell ingredient kits for further batches. The homebrew starter kits can be purchased online or at local homebrewing stores such as Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies in Woonsocket or Craft-Brews Supplies down in Wyoming (yes there is a Wyoming, RI). These kits include 5-gallon buckets, sanitizers, brushes, a hydrometer, a bottling wand, a bottle capper and caps — pretty much everything you need minus a large pot and ingredients. For the large pot, make sure it’s 3 to 5 gallons, like that old canning pot you have stuffed away in a cabinet in your kitchen. As far as ingredients go, local homebrewing shops have kits premade and will do custom kits if you have a particular kind of beer you want to brew. To the novice brewer, it can be a bit intimidating when you’re getting started, but I recommend talking to the guys and gals at the local homebrewing shop. The staff at these shops are all homebrewers and can tell you how they screwed up along the way so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes. If you want to network with other homebrewers in the area, start with the shops or check out homebrewing clubs like RI Brewing Society, RI Fermentation Technicians and the East Bay Homebrew club. They all host monthly meetings and are glad to help new people get started.

Social Groups

Ok so you can’t buy friends or knowledge … or maybe you can. One of the best tools of any trade is a good network of enthusiastic peers who share your passion. There are many groups of enthusiasts around the Ocean State and some charge dues to keep the lights on. Dues are usually pretty cheap as these groups are not out to make money, but instead they’re there to further their craft and support others. There are also organizations such as AS220 (industries.as220.org), Ocean State Maker Mill (oceanstatemakermill.org) and Tinker Bristol (tinkerbristol.org), that provide community and space as well as access to tools that may not be normally affordable, like a laser cutter or 3D printer. A membership to any of these spaces could take your maker’s game to the next level by providing tools, knowledge and community.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will give you a few starting points. Happy making.

Ein Prosit! Oktoberfest Comes to Providence

There are many holidays on the American calendar that are meant for drinking — New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Whacking Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, to name a few. While the original meaning of some of these days are lost in a frothy amber puddle of celebration, it is important to remember that they were all started for a reason and some deserve reverence. Breaking that trend is the fall favorite, Oktoberfest, well known to most Americans as the best holiday for breaking out your lederhosen or dirndl, eating some wurst and singing Bavarian songs about beer. But few people know where Oktoberfest came from or why we’re celebrating it.
The origins of Oktoberfest go back to Bavaria in the early 1800s under Crown Prince Ludwig I. It was originally a celebration of his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hidlburghausen, also of Bavaria, that lasted five days and was celebrated on the fields just outside of Munich. It seemed only fitting to invite all the citizens of Munich to witness this royal union. One of the most notable events of the five-day celebration was the horse race in which 30 horses raced around a 2-mile track. The horse race drew some 40,000 spectators and was the reason the festival survived the early years.
The next year, 1811, the horse races continued, an agricultural fair was added and the celebration continued, even though there was no wedding. The Oktoberfest continued from year to year and got larger with each incarnation. After a few years, other events were included such as tree climbing, bowling, swings and carnival booths. As the festival grew, the planning passed to the town fathers and it was extended to its current length of 17 days and the start was moved to the late days of September. Toward the end of the 1800s, booths containing tree climbing and bowling gave way to more musicians and the large beer tents we are used to today. In 1877, the parade of brewers and Oktoberfest staff started, which helped showcase the musicians and beer trucks of the time (think Budweiser horse teams). In the 1900s, Oktoberfest was cancelled a number of times due to world wars and other conflicts over the years, but it has managed to remain generally the same. The only major loss was the horse races in 1960.
The American version of Oktoberfest stays remarkably close to the real deal, if not scaled down just a bit. Many US towns hold their own version with all the basics — wurst, bier and music. Most notable in Rhode Island is the International Oktoberfest, which takes place on October 17 through 18 at India Point Park in Providence. It’s by far the largest around and has plenty of beer, food, local bands and some traditional German music. The German American Cultural Society in Pawtucket also throws their own version. I’d write about it now, but I’ll be going in a few hours for the first time to do, um, market research. If it’s anything like their open Fridays at the Rathskeller, it’s sure to be a blast since they make their own authentic food, have an excellent German beer selection and provide live folk music.
German polka will be found in any abundance at a good Oktoberfest, but what if you want to get in on the action? The good news is that there will be multiple rounds of “Ein Prosit,” literally translated “A toast.” This song was a must for us to learn on the German beer tours around Munich. The lyrics are very simple:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit                    [A toast, A toast]
Der Gemütlichkeit                        [To cheer and good times]
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit                    [pronounced: ayn pro-sit]
Der Gemütlichkeit.                       [pronounced: dir gay-moot-lich-kite]
OANS! ZWOA! DREI! G’SUFFA!  [One, two, three, drink up]
And of course, it all ends with a Ziggy Zoggy Ziggy Zoggy, Oy, Oy, Oy!
The 23rd annual International Oktoberfest on the Waterfront takes place on Saturday, October 17 from noon to 8pm and on Sunday, October 18 from noon to 6pm at India Point Park in Providence. For tickets and festival information, go to newportwaterfrontevents.com/international-oktoberfest.  This event is for those 21+. 

Got Beer? Book Review: Rhode Island Beer, Ocean State History on Tap

Summer is finally here and with it, early morning sun flooding in through your windows interrupting your hangover sleep, mosquitoes and unbearable humidity. With it also comes idling the days away on the beach and cooking like a piece of bacon. Personally, I could do without the sand everywhere, long lines for parking lots, kids running around everywhere and that “fresh” ocean smell. I’d much rather go for hike up the side of a mountain. But for those of you who revel in the whole shore experience or any outdoor event, you should always bring a few things with you: sunscreen, good craft beer in cans and of course, a good book about beer.

A few months ago, the definitive book about RI beer history was released, titled Rhode Island Beer, Ocean State History on Tap. Written by Ashleigh Bennett and Kristie Martin of “Two Girls One Beer”(www.twogirlsonebeer.com) fame, it is part of a larger series by American Palate, which covers regional beer history all over the US. The book is part oral history, part archaeology, part cookbook and overall a great read. It was meticulously researched during 2014 by talking to those who were making or preserving beer history. It includes pictures of historic breweries and memorabilia as well as full color photographs that document the current scene. There’s even a short glossary and current beer-related store directory. It’s also conveniently sized for your beach bag or hiking pack.

The book opens with a foreword from the venerable Sean Larkin that details his rise from a lowly dish dog to a titan of the RI brewing scene. The first chapter starts with the early 1600s Roger Williams and Sgt. Baulston and takes us to the start of the dark days, better known as Prohibition, which gets its own chapter. After that, we pick up with the rest of the 20th century up to our current beer craft beer renaissance. Since it’s hard to cover modern times in the past tense, each current brewery and facet of the brewing culture gets its own detailed chapter. Top off all of that history with a few recipes that use local beers, and you’ve got yourself a great read.

The book is available on the Two Girls One Beer website as well as Amazon and at many local bookstores that need your business.

Full Disclosure: I was interviewed as part of the research for this book and the contents of that interview appears in Chapter 16. 

Mix a Six: Notes and happenings from around the Ocean State

* Bucket Brewery beers are now available in cans!
* The Tapp’d Restaurant Group (folks behind Doherty’s establishments) is opening a new Ale House in Coventry. RI directions: Where Ninos used to be.
* Craft Brew Races, Newport takes place July 18 at Fort Adams. Think a 5K with beer festival.
* Night Swim’ah, the new Belgian Wheat ale from Revival, is due to be released in bottles in the near future.
* Newport Storm has released their latest, The SheRIff of RockRidge, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale aged in Thomas Tew Rum Barrels. Strong beer, but easygoing and tasty.

* Gansett just released a Black Cherry Del’s Shandy. What’s more summery than that?
* Long Live Beer Works inches closer and closer to opening. Space has been secured, hardware is on order and recipes are being developed. More on that soon …

All the Way Too Far

weinerWell, they’ve done it. The dignity of craft beer has been spurned and the hipsters are in full control of our brewing future, though they probably were already in control of brewing before it was cool. This week, Narragansett announced its release of another hyper-local brew, All The Way IPA, a beer made with ingredients from the Olneyville NY System. I was tipped off by a friend of mine, Phil B, who had just gotten a sample pack into his store, which will go nameless for obvious reasons. He invited me to come in and take a taste of this new, possibly dubious, brew and I enthusiastically accepted and made all haste to his store.

As with any ‘Gansett brew, this one came in a tallboy can and had art that reminded me of a chili cheese dog or a Sonic the Hedgehog level. Before I get to the tasting notes I should probably tell you non-locals and basement dwellers what Olneyville NY System makes and dispel any questionable thoughts in your minds. Olneyville NY System is known for wieners, or “gaggers” in local parlance, wonderfully salty hotdog-like concoctions with celery salt, raw onions and meat sauce that make the perfect ending to any night of drinking. Saying “all the way” to a wiener man is telling him you want all the toppings on your wieners. The wieners are also prepared on the forearm of the chef so there might be a healthy dose of arm hair or possibly broken dreams mixed with sweat — it really depends on who’s working that night.

So back to the beer. The can said it was an American IPA with a hint of celery salt, onion and meat sauce. That seemed benign enough so I felt no fear in trying it. The aroma burst forth from the can as a menacingly spicy flavor that might punch you in the face if you’re not careful. With all the flavorings the can mentioned, this did not surprise me. There was also a slightly less intense musky smell that reminded me of dirty socks in a locker room on a summer day. The first sip was a rush of intense hops followed by a salty/oniony aftertaste. Fortunately, the second sip mellowed out a bit and the meat sauce started to come through and balance the salt and onions. That was mildly pleasant for a few seconds. There were also some other flavors in there that were hard to identify at first, but it soon became apparent that it was the sweat and arm hair from working a long day in a wiener shop. If you’ve ever wondered what that tastes like, just lick your arm after sitting in a hot box on a humid 90+ degree day in the middle of July. Tasty, right?

As a person intimately familiar with the brewing process, I cannot fathom how they were able to get the meat sauce to be in the beer, since brewing with meat is a big no-no for many reasons. I contacted Narragansett and they replied that it was trade secret, but proceeded to tell me how they got the authentic arm hair and broken dreams taste into it. In short, each wiener chef works a full shift and then puts both arms into a vat of wort (unfermented beer) for at least half an hour. This not only imparts a genuine flavor to the beer, but the wort works wonders for the skin, restoring essential proteins and moisture. It’s a very odd symbiosis that has emerged from this beer.

I have been generally happy with the hyper-local beers that Narragansett has produced to-date, but I’m really not so sure about this one. I think it may have crossed the line of dignity and craft when they started to use real arm hair and meat to flavor their beers. Personally I think they should keep their dirty socks to themselves. But hey, if you’re into that type of thing don’t let me stop you … you could always strain your beer through dirty socks for all I care. All the Way IPA will be released during the month of July, just in time for the first heat waves to arrive and the April Fools to have gained some small bit of dignity back.