By Jason W. Prokowiew
If beers have heydays, Narragansett’s may have been 50 or 60 years ago. Back then, the Narragansett Brewing Company’s brew stood as the top seller in New England; the company was the official sponsor of the Boston Braves and Red Sox and its slogan, "Hi Neighbor, have a ’Gansett," was as much a part of the Commonwealth’s culture as the Sox themselves.
Also much like the Sox, ’Gansett went through a period when it didn’t dominate. "In 1965 the company sold out to Falstaff Brewing Corporation which changed the formula," explained Narragansett Beer VP of Sales Bill Heslam. "They curtailed all local marketing tactics, closed down the Rhode Island plant in 1981, and stripped the brand of everything it represented. The brand’s value fell into an abyss."
Fast forward to 2005, when Rhode Islander and Narragansett CEO Mark Hellendrung purchased the rights to Narragansett. Hellendrung found former Gansett Brewmaster Bill Anderson to help reinvent the beer’s original recipe and give it a modern twist.
"People in the 50s and 60s liked the bitter aftertaste," Heslam said, "But people’s tastes have turned to something really easy to drink and smoother in the finish. We use corn to give it that nice sweet taste. It’s a beer that if you drink it, you really want to have another sip."
With its new brew ready, Narragansett began an all-out re-launch throughout New England in 2009.
Reactions seem to be similar to those of true Sox fans: a sense of nostalgia and an unwavering loyalty. The "Hi, Neighbor" tagline is reminiscent of when people sat out on porches and really did great each other that way. So with a marketing approach that brings a little "old-time realness" into today’s fast-paced, electronic world and a new taste that still has some of the original flavor to it, ’Gansett may just be headed for its second heyday.
While the re-launch has already helped the beer find a place in roughly 1500 bars and just as many package stores in New England and Florida, Heslam sees "a lot of room to grow northward" in the next year or two in New Hampshire, Vermont and beyond.
"People at samplings have fond memories of the beer," Heslam said. "Of stealing it out of their dad’s fridge and hiding it in the woods, and for those trying it for the first time, they give a surprised look of, ’Oh, that’s a good beer.’ If after a sampling they’re willing to lay down $20 for a case, we take that as a good sign, and we hope they stay with it."
You can purchase Gansett at:
Mass Discount Liquors, 844 Southbridge St., Auburn
KJ Baarons, 220 Summer St., Worcester
Austin Liquor Co Inc, 117 Gold Star Blvd., Worcester...and many other locations listed on the website.
You can order Gansett at Vincent’s, Brew City, The Lucky Dog, The Banner, Squire’s, and many more clubs in Worcester County ~ just check www.narragansettbeer.com/home