Brand News: Tradition & Innovation at Narragansett
In 2005, proud Rhode Islander, Mark Hellendrung purchased Narragansett Brewing Company with a group of New England investors to give the brand a better fate. He tells us about the highs and lows of his time with Narragansett and to what he accredits the recent revival of the brand.
What was your vision for Narragansett when you first purchased it in 2005? How has that been maintained and how has it changed since then?
My original thought for ‘Gansett in ‘03, and this was really before the whole local craft movement got rolling, was that Narragansett was this great brand and RI / New England was this awesome place, and it just felt that the brand deserved a better fate that it had. When we started, I was just focused on New England, but we kept getting calls for Narragansett in other cities. So it’s really evolved over the last 5-6 years as we’ve learned that beer drinkers love our quality beers and unique story and history.
Narragansett’s history has been filled with ups and downs. As the current owner, what has been your highest high and your lowest low?
That’s an interesting question because it’s the little things that get me fired up, both high and low. I spend a lot of time on the road selling beer and travelling. A simple thing like some complete stranger seeing the Narragansett logo on my shirt, stopping me and saying, “Hey man, I love that beer” is such a thrill. On the flip side, it’s a bummer meeting a bar owner or drinker whose awareness of ‘Gansett is stuck in 1994 and I just ask myself, “what do I need to do to change this?”
Narragansett is a brand very connected with Rhode Island memories and ways of life, but it has seen success in markets away from home (New York, of course, being one of them). Why do you think that is?
Aside from the quality of the beers we make, the popularity of the beer is driven by Rhode Island and our history and the way we try to present both of those. So many people from CT, NY, NJ and beyond come to RI every summer to get away and escape and many bring those great memories and a love of Narragansett beer back home with them. And then our history is something that people really embrace. Jaws was really the first summer blockbuster in 1975, but still watched today, and everyone remembers the epic scene when Quint crushes the ‘Gansett. Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, did the advertising for Narragansett in the 40’s and is just another example of the story we’ve been building for over a century.
Even away from Rhode Island, Del’s Shandy has become a symbol of summer. How did Del’s Shandy come about?
It all started 5-6 years ago, back when brewery collaborations were all the rage. We’ve always been a little different from other craft brewers because of our history, so we started thinking about how to do collaborations in a unique way. Aside from ‘Gansetts and clams, Del’s Frozen Lemonade is one of the most iconic RI brands, something anyone who has been to RI in the summertime knows and loves. So we got together with Bruce and Mike over at Del’s and worked on the recipe and branding and Voila!
Narragansett also has collaborations with other local businesses. Could you explain your thought process behind picking businesses that you want to work with?
As we think about collaborations, we discuss things like local, craftsmanship and history - and as we grow and evolve, we’re redefining what those things mean to us. For example, we worked with Throne Watches to make a custom watch for our It’s About Time IPA release. Throne’s sense of timelessness in their design and localness to such a great place makes them a great partner.
Watch the video of Narragansett’s partnership with Del’s Frozen Lemonade as Del’s Cart Tour Comes to NYC: