Back-to-Back Floods Couldn’t Keep Apponaug Brewing Company in Warwick Down for Long

Owner Tamara McKenney forged ahead even as the weather had other plans


You just don’t want to see a current in your brewery,” says owner Tamara McKenney about what it was like to step into Apponaug Brewing Company on the morning of December 19, after the waterfront business was flooded with 20 inches of water.

While the expansive riverfront patio overlooking the Pawtuxet River is one of the brewery’s best selling points, it led many to question McKenney about whether or not she would consider relocating, particularly after the second flood hit a few weeks later. “No, that’s not going to happen,” she says. “I love our building – I looked for a year for that building. It’s one of those things that you have to make peace with. If you go up against a river, the river is going to win.”

McKenney had just returned from a trip to Florida on the night of December 18, and she and her husband went straight to the brewery. The river was high and the parking lot had already flooded. By 2am, their outdoor cameras showed that the waters had reached the firepits. “It was clear we were going to be flooded.”

The scene the next morning was apocalyptic. “It sounds funny, but we kept tortilla chips in big buckets, and when we walked in, there were tortilla chips floating around,” McKenney recalls. Anything that was stored low was ruined. They lost food and 80 percent of their kitchen. The interior walls had to be removed for mold mitigation. Everyone’s philosophy was, “This is rare” – a once-a-decade kind of experience – “so everyone put their heads down to clean, clean, clean.”

Two days before their grand reopening, on January 9, the second flood came. “That hit differently,” McKenney said. “We realized this was not a one-off thing.” McKenney learned that before the first flood, the Scituate Reservoir had released 10 billion gallons of water, and before the second flood, another three billion gallons. “I have reached out to our congressmen. I want more assurance this isn’t going to happen again.”

In any event, they knew they had to make changes. They took the bar apart and put it back together with stainless steel instead of wood. They established flood protocols. “You have to be prudent in how you rebuild – we needed a quicker turnaround,” says McKenney. “We were able to figure that out the second time. Now we have floor drains; we learned that sandbags should go inside instead of outside. Although it’s not the kind of thing you want to get good at, we were able to open a week after the second flood.”

Since then, they’ve been back and brewing, with a double IPA in January. “We usually stay away from high ABV (alcohol by volume),” McKenney explains, “but we thought after all this, we deserved it. It’s 9 percent, a nod to the nine-foot mark where the river crested.” The beer is aptly named Crested. On deck for March is a special red ale for St. Patrick’s Day.

They’re also selling flood T-shirts, adorned with beavers and beers. For Craft Beer Week in March, they’ll host fun events and raffle off a specialty cornhole, flood-themed of course. “I can turn anything into a party – if it’s a flood party, it’s a flood party!”

Despite the hardships they’ve faced, McKenney maintains a sense of humor and optimism. “I think it has to do with my age. Had this happened when I was younger, I would have just been angry. We have no choice but to accept this and move forward. Putting energy into saying, ‘This shouldn’t happen’ is a lot of energy we just don’t have. You walk the path you have to – and you do it with as much grace and joy as possible.”

If there’s one thing that the flood taught the team at Apponaug Brewery, it’s that Rhode Island is a good community. “Everybody was there for us. We got support from other breweries. The state of Rhode Island was there for us. While I’m not glad about the flood, it did great things for my belief in humanity.”


Apponaug Brewing Company

334 Knight Street, Warwick




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