The RI Brew Bus: All Aboard!

IMG_0263I have a shameful secret that I am about to publically admit: I don’t really like beer. The irony is, of course, I am Motif’s Pub Crawl columnist, and for the last two years, instead of drinking beer at every pub, I’ve ordered wine and cocktails (thus making me a poor, pour writer). So, you can imagine my hesitation when the RI Brew Bus pulled up to the scene — surely its essence would be lost on the likes of me? But despite being an “I’ll take a pitcher … of sangria” kind of person, I was really looking forward to the brew bus.

The basics: RI Brew Bus offers four tours, ranging from “BEEReakfast of Champions” on Saturday mornings (traversing through Pawtucket and Woonsocket), to the nighttime “Border Jumper” between RI and CT. I chose the “Get the Pell Over Here!” tour. It not only included two breweries, but also a vineyard and a rum tasting, the trifecta of alcohol goodness.

IMG_0265My two girlfriends and I boarded the bus at 11:35 am, just in time for a blizzard on a lovely April morning. Six people who’d signed up got “food poisoning” and couldn’t make it, thus dashing our hopes of being surrounded by eligible bachelors. To ease our sadness, Eric and Josh, our guides, poured us our first beer, and we waited for two more passengers to arrive: a grad student and her boyfriend, whom she was surprising for his birthday. Once we were all aboard, we received a rundown of the rules (“No drinking on the bus … starting now”) and headed to our first stop: Newport Storm Brewery.

We arrived just as sunny skies returned. We found the inside bar bedecked with shots of Thomas Tew white raw rum, an unadulterated spirit straight from the still. My friend jokingly (but not jokingly) asked for a chaser, and was met with a heavy sigh from our local expert, Zak. “There’s always one,” he said. We tried two more versions of rum, the 108 Proof Cask Strength (my favorite), and the signature Thomas Tew Single Barrel. Our throats burned and our eyes watered, and when Zak gave us our first beer (pilsner), even I, non-beer-drinking-Jenny, accepted it as water in the Sahara.

We ascended the stairs of the barrel room and learned about the distillation process. Zak gave an excellent presentation, amid Advil-espresso-rum-induced perspiration, and we learned how blackstrap molasses transforms from a tar-like mixture into a lethal alcohol that causes exorcist-style vomiting into a drinkable rum. Then his focus shifted to beer, and we went downstairs to try three ales: the Hurricane Amber, The Spring Irish Red and the India Point.

The Spring Irish Red (a post-St. Paddy’s Day special) was my favorite. We deduced that my preference had nothing to do with yeast or hops or malt or wheat, but rather the hint of roasted coffee. The pour sizes were generous, even for a “small taste,” so I petitioned the birthday boy to drink mine. “I know we just met, but do you mind finishing my drink after you’ve finished your girlfriend’s? Thanks!” (For the record, he did. He was champ.)

IMG_0278I was thoroughly tipsy as we departed — in the snow again — for Greenvale Vineyards. During the drive Eric gave us trivia questions such as, “How many varieties of wine-producing grapes are there?” (over 10,000 … I think). We arrived (along with the sun), and were greeted by a wonderfully kind white-haired woman who might have been drinking for as long as we had. Her expertise was wine, and she led us through five whites and two reds. This was my bliss. A couple of people in our group bought bottles, and by some small miracle, it didn’t snow again until we were safely inside Whaler’s Brewing Company, our final stop.

IMG_5708This warehouse-like building was already bustling with an early afternoon crowd, and we were led to a “behind the scenes” area. The brewing takes place to the left; the booths and pool tables and corn hole to the right. Our tour guide, Chris, had excellent metaphors: he compared our first drink, a Blueberry and Cinnamon beer, to what would happen if wine and cider had a baby; and when describing hops, he said, “If beer were a steak, hops would be the seasoning.” He used a paddle as a pointer, and referred to my friend Jen as “m’ lady.”

After that, my taste buds (and long-term memory) went on holiday, so I can’t recall details about the four pitchers of beer we ordered. I do know that all beer enthusiasts would be fully satiated by the time the final pitcher is poured. I vaguely remember telling the birthday boy to finish the last pitcher, and then it was time to head back to the big blue bus.

And that brings me to today. I went into this thinking it would be a fun experience, but it was so much more — I’m writing this as a changed person. I have finally drunk beer while on an assignment, and I owe it all to the RI Brew Bus. Jump on board!