Narragansett Brewing is an American beer success story. The first ‘Gansett lager debuted in 1890, after which the Rhode Island-born brewery survived Prohibition, became the biggest lager maker in New England, and then, after complications following the 1965 sale of the brewery to Falstaff Brewing Corporation, shut down in the 1980s.
Resurrected as a brand in 2005, then as a Rhode Island brewery in 2017, Narragansett is now one of the top 50 breweries in the U.S. It ranks at No. 44 of more than 6,000.
Beyond the Narragansett name is a rich history. Here are 10 things you should know about the New England beer that was laid to rest and rose again.
‘Hi, Neighbor!’ is a slogan more than a century old
Narragansett Brewing Company’s “Hi, Neighbor! Have a ‘Gansett” ad campaign started after World War II, when the beer maker’s cheery slogan graced newspapers, billboards, and trolley cars. The brewery itself started more than half a century earlier, in 1890.
Narragansett was once the biggest lager producer in New England
Way before New England was famous for its hazy IPAs, in 1914, Narragansett was the region’s largest lager brewery, equipped with the most modern bottling plant New England had ever seen. According to Narragansett, in 1955 its beer was the No. 1 choice of consumers in New England, and by 1957, its brewery was the last in Rhode Island.
Narragansett’s graphic designer was Dr. Seuss
In an effort to revive the brewery after suffering significant financial losses during Prohibition, Narragansett approached a young artist to design a new mascot as part of a marketing campaign. That artist was none other than Theodore Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, who is credited with creating Narragansett’s well-known, albeit completely inappropriate “Chief Gansett” character. Narragansett still celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday today. He would have turned 110 on March 2, 2018.
Narragansett once gave every employee a gold-plated beer
In 1959, Narragansett brewed its one-millionth barrel of beer. To commemorate this accomplishment, each employee was presented with a gold-plated bottle of Narragansett Beer.
Narragansett ‘sold out’ in 1965, and it was terrible
In 1965, Falstaff Brewing Corporation purchased Narragansett for $17 million in cash and $2 million in Falstaff common stock. The plan was for the brewery to continue operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of Falstaff, but the transaction ran into problems. Two days before the sale, the U.S. Government began an antitrust action against Falstaff — a suit that lasted nine years, until 1974.
Narragansett closed in 1983 and was demolished in 1998
After a series of legal issues regarding ownership and distribution, Narragansett officially closed its doors in 1983. Its equipment was shipped off to China in 1995, and its facilities, including the beloved bottling plant, were demolished in 1998. All that was left of its 10 buildings in Cranston, R.I. was a small barn, which burned down in 2005.
Narragansett is back on top
The Narragansett brand was brought back to life by Rhode Island resident Mark Hellendrung in 2005. At the time, the beer was brewed at North American Breweries in Rochester, N.Y. By 2016, Narragansett had raised enough money through its “Drink Your Part” campaign launched in 2011 to bring ‘Gansett back to its home state. In 2017, Narragansett beer was finally brewed in Rhode Island once again, at Isle Brewers Guild (IBG), a craft cooperative in Pawtucket. Its first beer was aptly named “It’s About Time IPA.”
‘Gansett lager: good for what ‘ales’ you?
During Prohibition, Narragansett brewed and sold porter for medicinal purposes. The brewery was one of six in the U.S. granted a patent from the government to do so. At the time, it was called Narragansett Dark. Today, it’s called Narragansett Porter, and it’s available as a limited release in the classic tall boy can.
Narragansett + horror novelist = whiskey
Following (indirectly) in Dr. Seuss’s footsteps, another literary icon, H.P. Lovecraft, had a hand in Narragansett’s success. The horror fiction writer inspired a line of ‘Gansett beers and even a whiskey, Lovecraft Whiskey. We hear it makes a mean Daiquiri.