Celebrate shark week with a Narragansett

You’re gonna need a bigger beer stein…

click to enlarge CRUSH ON QUINT: Quint sips on Narragansett lager in 1975’s Jaws, forever ingraining the beer in American pop culture. - NARRAGANSETTBEER.COM
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CRUSH ON QUINT: Quint sips on Narragansett lager in 1975’s Jaws, forever ingraining the beer in American pop culture.

As every fan of craft beer history knows, an iconic beer will forever be linked to the film Jaws: Narragansett Lager. With Discovery Channel's wildly popular Shark Week beginning on Sun., Aug. 12th, what better way to enjoy the episodes than with some cold cans of the Rhode Island brew?

The history of the Narragansett Brewery is a long and storied one, dating back to the late 1800s. With a rise to prominence followed by a lengthy shutdown, the road has been a winding and rocky one for the company. Started in 1888, by 1914 the Narragansett Brewing Company was the largest in New England. During Prohibition, the brewery stayed afloat by obtaining a license to continue brewing and bottling beer for “medicinal purposes.” But the “great experiment” took a heavy financial toll on the brewery, and when the 21st Amendment was passed, things looked bleak. Thanks to some rebranding (including artwork from Dr. Seuss himself, Theodore Geisel) and some savvy marketing, however, Narragansett was able to thrive for many years.

In the 1940s and ’50s, they grew to be the most popular in New England, acquiring several smaller breweries in the area. Those years also saw the emergence of the still-popular slogan, “Hi, neighbor! Have a Gansett!” The 1960s and ’70s, however, were not as rosy (appearing in Jaws notwithstanding). Acquisitions, anti-trust lawsuits, mergers, and the emergence of Anheuser-Busch as a regional player made things difficult for the once thriving company. Ultimately, in 1983, the Narragansett Brewing Company closed its doors for good.

In 1995, most of the brewery’s equipment was sent to China, and in 1998, demolition of the once proud brewery had begun. The bottling plant and eight other buildings were demolished, and the last remaining vestige of the brewery facility—the trolley barn — was torn down after a fire in 2005. Narragansett Brewing was gone … or would have been, if not for the efforts of a few people who believed.

A group of New England investors, led by lifelong Rhode Islander Mark Hellendrung, purchased the rights to the Narragansett name and brought back former head brewer Bill Anderson. Later that year, the beer was flowing again for the first time since 1983. Now the brewery is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, with widespread distribution, a firm position in the craft beer community, and sharp new marketing. In fact, just last month the brewery had a limited release of the original cans of their lager, the same can that can be seen being consumed (and crushed) by Robert Shaw’s Quint in Jaws.

Narragansett Lager — the flagship and most popular beer in the lineup — is clean, refreshing, and delicious. Winner of numerous awards — including the silver medal at last year’s World Beer Championship — this lager comes in at about 5 percent ABV, and is perfect for the beach, the boat, or hunting 25-foot man-eating monsters who come up the Gulf Stream from Southern waters. (For the record, I do not support the hunting or killing of sharks. It’s just a movie, remember?)

Summer Ale is an easy-drinking, session Blonde Ale that pays homage to ’Gansett’s original Pale Ale. Low in alcohol at 4.2 percent, it carries plenty of flavor with a smooth maltiness and a crisp hop bite from the use of Citra hops. It pours a lovely golden hue with great clarity and a good frothy, white head that lingers. While it has nice body to it, it is not filling or heavy at all. Another great one for the outdoors, hot days, or “swimmin’ with bow-legged women.”

Craft beer lovers should also keep their eyes peeled this fall for the next seasonal, simple called “Fest.” It looks to be a good one as well.

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