North Kingstown Brewery Taps Into Malty Flavors

An avid craft brewer distills his passions for classic beers and the sea

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As a lifelong sailor and avid craft brewer since his days as an undergrad at Binghamton University in New York, Scott Monroe formed West Passage Brewing Company with two intents in mind: first, to develop good beer accessible on a college student’s dime and second, to infuse the coastal themes Ocean State dwellers seem to love into a brewery that doubles as an eatery. Along with two partners, wife Cheryl and Al Hollenbeck, Monroe chose a 1920s building that was once a gas station, turned the service bays into a space to house fermentation tanks, and furnished the interior with driftwood and nautical accents.

The first thing I notice is a jar of grains on the table labeled Red X Malt. Not just for show, Monroe encourages us to sample them. This is the actual malt that is steeped like tea and used in several of the brews. Where hops lend bitterness, malt is responsible for imparting sweetness and nutty, caramel flavors along with a darker color.

Naturally, a flight is in order. Advised to taste from lightest to darkest, I begin with Full Body Wag, Monroe’s favorite. Hops give this beer a pleasant bitter note that’s more complex than the light color would indicate.

In the IPA family, there’s Slack Sheet, which is definitely sweeter and features a prominent citrus kick, thanks to Amarillo hops. Each batch of Slack Sheet will differ as the acids and oils released from these hops vary with the length and temp of each brew’s boil. Tipsy Mouse, which Monroe refers to as “IPA-ish”, is a milder sip by comparison. With only a light bitterness, it is the last variety before malt makes an appearance.

Enter: Sarcastic Charlie. Though light in color, there are distinct caramel notes and a hint of malt here, and despite the snarky demeanor its name would suggest, this one is an easy-drinker. If you’re looking for a fuller malt experience, a pour of Full Keel Brown will do the trick. It’s darker in color and sweeter, the trademarks of a malty profile. A light dusting of Cascade hops, known to be floral with notes of grapefruit, keep Full Keel well rounded, less bitter, and my personal favorite. 

Drunken’ Horseman is the last and darkest of the six, and surprisingly, an IPA. First on the nose is coffee, which follows on the palate. A roastiness on the finish, similar to a dark pretzel, rounds out this full-bodied brew.

The menu is designed around beer pairings, so classic pub fare reigns supreme: salads, sandwiches, burgers, and tacos, plus a few desserts. The Full Keel Burger, served on a pretzel bun, was an easy choice because the house-made cheese sauce uses my favorite brew, plus cheddar, gouda, and secret seasonings. The French fries are a dark-fry lover’s fantasy. Thin, well fried and at once crispy and soft, they complement both the char on the burger and the malty caramel notes of the cheese sauce, which also appears in the Cheddar and Ale Dip appetizer.

Intrigued by the in-house smoker, I also tried a trio of street tacos loaded with Smoked Tri-Tip. Smoke flavor permeates the perfectly medium tri-tip and traditional taco garnishes, including pico de gallo, in this fresh take on a California classic.

Despite having not been open long, West Passage is a full house by 5pm on a Friday, so reservations are advised. With daughters McKenzie (in the kitchen) and Reilly (as hostess) working with dad for the summer, this true family business is guaranteed to be a lively night out for you and yours.

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