Pros: Crisp, clean, refreshing, ice cold nostalgia in a bottle.
Cons: Not a lot of oomph here for micro lovers.
Old beers and breweries do not die; they live on in nostalgia. And, some find rebirth.
”Nasty Gansett (NG) — we have our first victim.” So said the clerk at my local beer cooler of choice while visiting the in-laws in Connecticut recently. “Gansett” is, of course, Narragansett, the lager most well known in the New England area for generations, until closing in the early 1980s. Founded in 1890, the beer has now been revived and renewed by a group of investors led by Mark Hellendrung, the former president of Nantucket Nectars. The original Cranston, Rhode Island plant is no more; the beer is contract brewed out of Rochester, N.Y., under the supervision of Bill Anderson, who was a brewer at Narragansett from 1953-1975. The beer has returned to New England with some aplomb. [It is currently available in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, according to the Web site.]
I never had an original Narragansett; this was a first for me. (I grew up with Schaefer, Rheingold, Black Label, and other Northeast regionals.) Narragansett was only something I heard about. At $5.19 a six-pack in the Connecticut store I frequent, Narragansett 2007 was worth a taste or two. Mind you, the clerk told me to be sure to drink the NG first before starting on the microbrews I also purchased.
Narragansett went the way of other regionals due to the same problems many brewers have encountered over the years in trying to compete with bigger, better funded national competitors. Bad management choices, poor marketing, changed recipes, the changing palate of American beer drinkers, property, plant, and equipment issues, obsolescence, and mostly, lack of capital and a robust distribution network have caused many regionals to fail. Some fade away forever. Others become boutique brands at a larger concern and usually are brewed elsewhere. Narragansett had problems in many of those areas and a takeover by the Falstaff Brewing Company ultimately led to its demise. [See www.narragansettbeer.com for a concise history of the company, along with its rebirth, etc.]
Narragansett 2007 pours to a clear straw yellow with a slight head. There is little aroma, at best a slight hint of hops. [Ingredients and alcohol by volume (ABV) are not listed on the bottle but the Web site’s “In the Glass” section states the ingredients as:
”Six row malt and seedless hops. Corn from Iowa. Our lager strain (the same one the brewery has depended on since just after Prohibition). And the purest water from Lakes Ontario and Hemlock.”
The fact that corn is present in Narragansett keeps it a notch below the micros and the taste profile firmly in the macro side of things. This is, after all, a workingman’s beer of the U.S. variety, and corn has been used as an adjunct for generations of brewing.
Adjuncts are defined in The Good Beer Book as ”Anything introduced during the brewing process, aside from barley malt, to provide sugars for fermentation, including rice, corn, corn sugar, and other unmalted grains.” [page 214]
Adjuncts are generally used as a cost-effective measure for brewers. Thankfully, nothing in Narragansett 2007 is imported from China.
Served ice cold, Narragansett 2007 is not half bad. It is, indeed, crisp and clean and refreshing, all the things the beer aims to be. There’s just not a lot of oomph present here. And, as it warms up, the flavor profile begins to sag a bit. Overall, it's a light bodied, drinkable macro-style lager of the session variety and best served ice cold. There's no complexity of flavors at work here; this is a beer built for refreshment.
[I would equate its taste to that of the Schaefer I am most familiar with, especially that of the early 70s, when Schaefer was the beer of the NY Mets and I was sneaking sips from my late father’s long necks.]
This is a lager for drinking, probably lots of it on a hot New England summer day with little necks steaming nearby. It is firmly in the league of barbeque beer, softball beer, lawnmower beer, and other attributes of the lager. This is a beer of memory and nostalgia, which can be fine thing. Nothing wrong with that (three stars).
I do like the idea of reviving long lost beers, regional tastes, and the like. I think most beer geeks appreciate that as well. Local beers should be supported, especially ones that have merit. For purely nostalgic impulses, I welcome Narragansett back to the fold.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough oomph here to make Narragansett 2007 my regular beer. I’m not about to give up the taste and variety available with micros and imports. But this is a brew that will hang around in my dedicated beer fridge and trips to New England will include a stop for a fresh one now and again. Nothing wrong with that either.
Miscellaneous Musings (2007-2010)
What I also like about the revival is that it has been done right. Hellendrung and those associated with the beer have sought out the advice of Narragansett employees, beer historians, and have developed an open communication with New Englanders in reviving the beer. The beer label has been designed with a retro feel, the bottle caps sayings tradition has been continued and the labels include little stories from Narragansett drinkers, and the Web site is very well done with history, advertising, photos, and merchandise all in place. There is, seemingly, genuine warmth at work here between the revivalists and the beer drinkers of New England. It’s very much a renewed love affair.
More importantly, the price is right. Past beer revivals haven’t been as successful, in my view, because the price points have been out of whack. A lager priced over $7.50 had better be good to get beer dollars flowing, and the taste profile of many old brews just doesn’t equate with wanting to spend a lot of money to enjoy it. Therefore, economics are an issue and the new Narragansett folks seem to understand that pretty well. Priced below the $7.50 margin and within the $5.50-$7.50 range, this beer revival has a better than good chance to stick.
At less than $7.00 a six, it competes favorably with other macros (Bud, Miller, etc.) and may induce some beer drinkers to take another look. (The price has risen a bit since I first tried it. lst I checked, it was selling above $6.00.)
Harper, Timothy, and Garret Oliver. The Good Beer Book New York: Berkley Books, 1997