By Daniel Ford
We may have had a ton of storms in New England so far this year, but I guarantee that none of them were this tasty.
Rhode Island’s Newport Storm Brewery offers beer drinkers everything from its Hurricane Amber Ale to its Rye of the Storm IPA.
The brewery’s PR guru Clare Simpson-Daniel recently answered some of my questions about the brewery’s history, its selection of beers, and which of their brews would be a viable Presidential candidate in 2016.
DF: Can you give us a little background on the brewery’s history?
Clare Simpson-Daniel: It isn’t surprising to hear that four guys from college came up with an idea to start a brewery. What may be surprising is that these guys are all still great friends and the brewery is still growing after more than a decade. Coastal Extreme Brewing (or The Newport Storm Brewery as we are known by many) was the dream of Brent, Derek, Mark, and Will. These four spent their years at Colby studying the science that would help them understand how to make beer while also doing the “sampling” that would make them love beer. In 1997, staring at graduation and a life just working in “a job,” the idea was hatched to start a brewery.
Over the next 18 months information was gathered, plans were written, investors were begged, and skeptics were grown as the founders pressed forward with their dream. In April of 1999 they moved into their two, 2,500-square foot garage bays in the Middletown, R.I. tradesman center. Concrete was cut, used equipment was found, and on July 2, 1999 the brewery’s first beer, Hurricane Amber Ale, was released. Since then, the brewery has continued to slowly build itself and its reputation. In 2002, the brewery expanded into an additional 1,000 square feet. In 2006, they started Newport Distilling Company to make Thomas Tew Rum, utilizing much of the same equipment and bringing back this historic practice to the area. Perhaps the biggest event of all came in 2010 when the brewery and distillery built a brand new facility in the North End of Newport, which increased the company’s square footage to 10,000, allowing the guys to build a beautiful visitor’s center and tour deck. It was also their first opportunity to upgrade their equipment from when they first started in 1999.
Much has happened since 1999. In the past 15 years the brewery has made up to 60 different varieties of unique craft brews. They helped pioneer the idea of making limited release beers in 1999 and did the same with canned beer in 2004. Thousands of people have visited the facility and many more have had the opportunity to try our unique beer throughout Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Massachusetts. Through it all, the focus continues to be making quality, unique, local beers for our fans. As in the beginning, Brent, Derek, Mark, and Will hope you enjoy their beers as much as they enjoy making them.
DF: How involved are you in the community and how has the city/state embraced your beer?
CSD: Newport, R.I. is an exciting place all on its own. It is home to an outstanding St. Patrick’s Day Parade and is a major Northeast destination for amusement-seeking summer tourists. Add in a great local beer, and the good times roll! On day one, the Storm crew started bringing fun and entertainment to the streets and venues of Newport. It wasn’t long before they learned how to direct that fun to the support of good causes. By donating beer, ingenuity and time, the crew helped raise more than $100,000 for area non-profits and had a blast doing so!
Here are our Brewmaster Derek Luke’s thoughts on the Rhode Island craft beer scene from a recent interview with The Newport Daily News on Rhode Island beer culture:
“I think that Rhode Island itself hasn’t really come around as a general-populace state that respects beer…and that’s where all these new breweries, big or small, I think will help out. It was Newport Storm that carried the torch for 12 years, and if the beers that we produced weren’t necessarily in somebody’s flavor wheelhouse, then they shied away from us. Where now, say, Ravenous Brewing Co. (in Woonsocket) has a really great coffee milk stout, so someone may be like, ‘Oh, I want to try that.’ So it helps Rhode Island craft beer, I think, or at least there’s the hope. When you look around at a lot of the restaurants, I think they could do a little bit of a better job getting behind the local brewery scene, but being in sales for a while I also know there’s some politics behind. If the customer demands it, and the brewer makes great beer, then it’s a win-win.”
DF: Give us a quick tour of the different beers you offer. What brew would you recommend for a newbie?
CSD: In our 15 (nearly 16 years) of operation we have handcrafted close to 60 varieties of beer. Our year round staples consist of our Hurricane Amber Ale (flagship, great session, not too bitter, not too malty), India Point Ale (an IPA style of beer made with local Rhode Island hops), and Rhode Island Blueberry beer (refreshing kolsh ale with fresh Rhode Island blueberry juice!). Our seasonal line up consists of a Spring Irish Red Ale, Summer Hefeweizen, Pilsner, R.hode I.sland P.umpkin, Oktoberfest Marzen Lager, Winter Porter, and Smoked Porter. Our Cyclone Series, now a retired line up, consisted of 26 beers named alphabetically like a Hurricane Season whose names alternated boy/girl/boy/girl and each style of beer was completely different from the last. Names for these beers came from family members, friends, investors, and previous employees. Now that this series is retired we are venturing into barrel aged beers as well as limited release four packs. To this day, our barrel aged beers have all be 22 ounce bombers and styles have been infRIngement (a Russian Imperial Stout) and Mass HysteRIa, (a double IPA). Our four packs have been Wham! Bam! Van Damme (a Belgian Pale Ale) and Rye of the Storm, (a double rye IPA).
We also have an annual release series that comes out every November. These beers are packaged in 9.4 fluid ounce bottles and we only make 3,000 of them to distribute. The beers range anywhere from 10% to 15% and there is no set style. We usually try to come up with a theme, unique idea, or particular flavor we like to build the ingredient list for this beer. For example, our crew loves coffee and chocolate so for the Annual Release ’13 we created a kind of espresso stout which contained fresh ground coffee beans, chocolate malt, roasted.
DF: Your 2014 annual release “snow beer” would have been right at home in New England at the beginning of 2015. Any insights yet into what 2015’s release will be?
CSD: Unfortunately I cannot divulge any specific details about this brew. What I can say is get ready for a sweet and savory surprise!
DF: What’s your brewery’s biggest brewing mishap? What lessons did your brewers learn from a bad recipe or mistake?
CSD: We’ve been pretty lucky as far as mishaps go (knock on wood) there have been the occasional over-fermentations. For example, CO2 run offs from our fermenting tanks where we’ve lost some really great yeast strains for fermentation. Also there was the time our brewmaster went to add Cascade hops into a tank fermenting our summer Hefeweizen not knowing the pressure valve hadn’t been shut off so we had a yeast waterfall run down the tank. But other than that we’ve been able to keep everything in check!
DF: If we were in Prohibition times, do you think your brewers would be bootleggers?
CSD: I would think no, but our brewmaster Derek did brew beer out of his dorm room at Colby College…
DF: Since we’re gearing up for another presidential election, if you were going to run one of your beers for President, which one would it be and what would your campaign slogan be?
CSD: Rye of the Storm: A spicy SOB all its own.
DF: What are your plans for growth and what does the future look like for Newport Storm?
CSD: While many of our competitors have focused upon growth at all costs, we remain dedicated to our staying small approach focusing on freshness and quality. That’s not to say that expansion is the enemy, since moving to a larger facility in 2008 to keep up with demand, we have gone from a starting production of 400 barrels in 1999 to a yearly maximum of 4,000-plus in 2013. It’s all about remaining personal while coping with demand. When we first began we were bottling by hand, now we’re producing roughly 800 cases of beer in every run with a fully automated bottling line. We’ve had to find that balance between growth while remaining true to the spirit of the craft beer movement. The most important thing for us to recognize is that a great deal of planning goes into expansion; shipping needs, beer allocation, promotions, and licensing to name a few. To do it right takes a great deal of commitment, not only by our crew, but by the wholesaler we partner with.
DF: Can you name one random fact about your company?
CSD: The first beer we ever brewed is the Hurricane Amber Ale. To this day it still remains one of our best-selling beers whose recipe, created in 1999, still remains the same. Also the name for this beer comes from the 1938 Hurricane that swept through and took Aquidneck Island (Newport, R.I., Middletown, R.I. and Portsmouth, R.I.) by storm!