Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just a couple of days. It’s the news we’ve been waiting for all winter. Who doesn’t love that annual harbinger of rejuvenation and rebirth?
We’ve got another rebirth to celebrate. After more than two decades, Narragansett Beer — “New England’s Beer,” the pride of Cranston, Rhode Island — is back. That ’Gansett was the first American beer to sponsor a sports telecast, punctuating Red Sox games with commercials since 1945, makes the coincidence especially apt. It’s a new chapter in a long, sometimes tragic history.
The Narragansett Brewing Company was established in Cranston in 1888 and was hugely popular up until Prohibition put an end to the party. Unlike many American beer makers, however, the brewery survived those dark years and bounced back with the passing of the 21st Amendment. By the mid 1950s, it was the number-one-selling beer in New England.
But by the mid ’60s competition from the Midwestern giants necessitated some changes. In 1965, Narragansett became a subsidiary of Falstaff Brewing. In 1981, production of Narragansett was moved to a Falstaff brewery in Indiana, resulting in a marked drop-off in quality, and the stripping away of one of the beer’s biggest selling points: a fierce territoriality. Beer drinkers were not pleased. The Cranston plant reopened — for a moment — in 1983, but after brewing two batches that never made it onto shelves, the place shuttered again, this time for good. The brewery was demolished in 1998.
Enter Providence’s own Mark Hellendrung, who’s resurrected the Narragansett name, tweaked the recipe a bit, and breathed new life into a New England classic. Yes, it’s brewed in High Falls, New York. But it’s owned by New Englanders. Close enough.
The beer? It’s a fine, flavorful lager, pouring a refulgent yellow-golden (or, if you like, drunk straight from the bottle or the classic ’Gansett 16-ounce can) and offering a taste of sweetness up front, followed by a refreshing dry tang of the faintest hops presence.
It’s a perfect ball-game beer. Red Sox fans of a certain age remember Curt Gowdy’s famous sing-song jingle: “Hi, neighbor ... Have a ’Gansett!” Just in time for spring training, you can do just that.
Available for $5.99 for six 12-ounce bottles at Bauer Wine & Spirits, 330 Newbury Street, in Boston. Call 617.262.0363.