Narragansett Crafts Unique Approach

The beer brand is proving it's more than a throwback.

Narragansett Brewing Co. has carved out an unusual positioning as a lighter, more affordable craft beer. “A lot of people want to pigeonhole us as the next hipster beer, but we’re doing more in craft beer bars and foodie joints,” says president Mark Hellendrung. “We’re up around 15 percent this year in a tough space, with many craft brewers flattening out or declining.” Founded in 1890, Narragansett shuttered its brewery in the 1980s. Pabst Brewing Co. produced the brand until Hellendrung revived it as a craft label in 2005. Available in 14 East Coast markets, led by Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, Narragansett does 40 percent of its business in the on-premise. The core Narragansett lager ($4.99 to $5.99 a six-pack of 16-ounce cans) represents about 80 percent of sales, followed by the summer-only Del’s Shandy. The new America’s Cup Bermuda-style Pilsner is gaining early acceptance. Upscale offerings like the Lovecraft Series—based on the works of legendary horror writer and Providence native H.P. Lovecraft—help build distribution in higher-end bars and stores. The summer packaging for the 12-ounce can of Narragansett lager—a recreation of the 1970s-era can that appeared in the movie “Jaws”—has become very popular. Narragansett is now building a $15 million, 100-barrel brewery in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in partnership with craft cooperative Isle Brewers Guild. “I’m most excited about making more specialty, small-batch beers,” Hellendrung says. “We’ll be bringing all that back to Rhode Island.”