“Four guys were drinking in their college dorm room...” is the start of a story that usually does not end well. But for four Colby College grads – Brent, Derek, Mark and Will – it’s the start of their story of entrepreneurialism, adventure and beer-loving fun. As one of their marketing tags says: “Lots of college guys want to start a brewery... these four guys did it.”
The founders of Newport Storm met at Colby and bonded over their bio-chemistry studies and a love of craft beer. These two interests naturally led to home-brewing, a hobby that one unnamed founder actually started in high school – until his mother found a five-gallon batch of fermenting brew hidden under dirty laundry in the closet. While none of the founders are from Rhode Island, three of the four were familiar with the area from growing up in neighboring New England states. After witnessing the revelry in downtown Newport one summer evening, it was decided that the area would be the perfect place for their brewery.
Newport Storm opened its doors in 1999, in a Middletown industrial park storage space. In about ten years, the company had already outgrown its space and moved to its current location on JT Connell Road in Newport, a new facility more than double in size. Last year, they completed their visitor center, which houses a tasting station, retail shop and observation deck for the brewery operations. Tours and tastings are available from noon to 5pm every day except Tuesday (the bottling and packaging day where there’s a whirlwind of activity from operating machinery and distributor pickups). Self-guided tours are available during opening hours, and guided tours leave once daily at 3pm. For a small fee, your beer tasting includes four beers, a souvenir glass and the tour.
Two brews are offered year-round. Hurricane Amber Ale was the first beer made at the brewery and is the company’s flagship – a versatile beer with “mild spice hop character and a touch of caramel sweetness.” Rhode Island Blueberry Beer is a Kolsch-style beer brewed with blueberries from Schartner Farms in Exeter that are pressed right at the brewery. No artificial flavors are added, and the result is a smooth, sweet, refreshing drink.
Four “Storms of the Season” rotate throughout the year. The current Storm is the Summer Hefeweizen – an unfiltered ale highlighted by banana esters and a natural, citrusy lemon taste that “alleviates the ‘obligatory’ orange wedge garnish.” Personally, I recommend you get to the brewery before they run out of their Spring Ale, an Irish Red Ale with a smooth, slightly chocolaty flavor. An Oktoberfest Lager and a Winter Porter round out the seasonal offerings.
The “Cyclone Series” are limited release brews that allow the brew masters to “play around” and experiment. The Series began with the brewery’s opening in 1999, and new brews are released every three to four months. The Cyclone Series is so named because the brews are named like tropical storms, in alphabetical order with alternating boy/girl names. Mid-July marked the end of Cyclone Tim and the birth of Cyclone Ursula – a unique lager brewed with champagne yeast. In keeping with the tropical storm theme, these brews can pack a punch: alcohol by volume (ABV) averages 7%, a bit higher than the regular brews.
With all this beer lying around, it’s hard not to have fun and the folks at Newport Storm are in the thick of the action. The party doesn’t stop at the brewery walls. Once a month, Newport Storm partners with Newport’s Smoke House Café to hold a beer dinner at the restaurant; for $42, patrons can enjoy a multi-course dinner of succulent BBQ and, of course, beer. Every August, Newport Storm hosts a luau to benefit the Fort Adams Trust. This year’s luau on Saturday, August 18 is the 14th annual edition and promises live bands, Polynesian dancers and even a fire gypsy.
Ironically, one place you can’t buy Newport Storm is at the brewery itself. Per Newport Storm founder Brent Ryan, Rhode Island happens to be the only New England state that prohibits breweries from selling products to visitors of their facility. However, the brewery staff will happily help you track down the distribution outlet closest to you.
Oh, one final thing... the rum. The founders of Newport Storm also produce their own rum under the brand name Thomas Tew. Stay tuned for a future column that dives into part two of this story. For now we’ll leave you with the trailer: ”Lots of college guys want to start a distillery...”
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