Beer Advocate Destinations: Rhode Island.

Beer Advocate, February 2012

At 1,033 square miles and a population that hovers around one million, the State of Rhode Island has long juggled both the opportunities and challenges of its tiny size. The capital city of Providence comprises a downtown that is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, each with its own distinct look and feel. Home to six colleges and universities, the continual influx of students brings energy to Providence every fall. The D.I.Y. and “buy local” movements have captured the imagination of lawmakers, activists, artists and businesses, each finding creative ways to capitalize on Rhode Island’s interconnected, almost small-town intimacy. 

This connective spirit has fired up the Rhode Island craft beer scene; bars and bottle shops have revamped their offerings, happily joining the craft beer revolution. Annual events, such as the International Beer Festival in Providence and Beervana Fest (in nearby Cranston) consistently sell out, even in Rhode Island’s tough economy.  Craft beer fans just celebrated its second annual Providence Craft Beer Week in 2011 and Trinity Brewhouse brewmaster Sean Larkin is working hard on his tasty side project, Revival Brewing Company.

Space limitations made it impossible to include every bar and brewery statewide, but the following list will keep a visitor busy for a long visit or multiple weekends (all listings are located in Providence, unless otherwise noted).

Track 84. 84 Kilvert Street Warwick, RI

Located fifteen minutes south of Providence, Track 84 carries over twenty cool taps, including one or two on cask. Weekend nights can get jammed, but a great bartending staff makes it easy to get an order in. A longtime watering hole, word-of-mouth praise is turning Track 84 into a hot property. Just obey the sign above the bar: “Be Nice or Get Out.”

E&O Tap. 289 Knight Street.

Standing for “early and often”, E&O Tap embodies a Williamsburg-style hipster bar incarnate. With twenty decent taps and ample seating, this is a good place to pre-game or wind down from a heavy night. Work out your issues on the Big Buck Hunter arcade game and then grab tacos at the Paco Taco food truck across the street.

Julian’s. 318 Broadway.

Over the past fifteen years, Julian’s has evolved from a BYOB hangout for the urban hipsterati to a must-visit restaurant for locals and tourists alike. Part owner/general manager Brian Oakley compiles twenty drafts, one cask, and over thirty bottles (including nine Belgians) that are all salivation worthy. Julian’s occasional six-course “beer dinners” focus on either a brewery or a region. The food is very good, with a masterful use of seitan as a meat substitute for vegetarians.

The Avery. 18 Luongo Memorial Square.

The Avery keeps its lights down low. With a zebra wood bar and art deco murals, this little bohemian hideout could become an East Coast Vesuvio’s.  Friendly co-owner John Richard is on a mission to promote craft beer in Providence, teeming up with nearby bars to curate events, such as the “Beermuda Triangle” during Providence Beer Week. 

Harry’s Bar & Burger. 121 North Main St.

A mix of old-school diner décor and earthier touches, Harry’s offers five drafts, thirty bottles and a selection on cask. You can bring Mom in the afternoon, but on a late weekend night you’ll find suits and students, greasy punks and professional drunks, all devouring sliders and fries.

Coastal Extreme Brewing Company. 293 JT Connell Rd. Newport, RI.

Newport Storm beers are widely available all over Rhode Island. In July of 2011 the company upgraded its facilities, including a new visitor’s center. The center is open for tours and tastings every day (except Tuesdays), from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Self-guided tours can be done any time they are open and guided tours leave once daily at 3:00pm. Tours and tastings cost $7.00, which includes four Newport Storm samples and a souvenir glass.

Loie Fuller’s. 1455 Westminster St.

Loie Fuller’s is a small, beautifully decorated restaurant and bar on the West End of the city.  Six unique taps are scratched in chalk on a piece of gray slate – rarities like Hop Ruiter Belgian and Firestone Walker Porter await your attention. Under the gaze of swirling mural goddesses, time here suspends with a mellow vibe. Their Sunday brunch is so damn good it just might cure your blinding katzenjammer.

Trinity Brewhouse. 186 Fountain St.

Located downtown, Trinity Brewhouse offers up ten taps brewed on-site, with a balanced collection of styles, including a saison, a Russian imperial and more. Trinity’s flagship, the Rhode Island I.PA., is available in six-packs at many local bottle shops. Join their “mug club” for $50.00 a year to get discounts and other bennies. Come for the beer, but sadly don’t stay for the food; it’s overpriced and consistently disappointing.

Graduate Center Bar. 40 Charlesfield St. Brown University.

Brown University’s “private, non-profit” on-campus bar is funded by a combination of student activity fees and outside memberships (non-students pay $30.00 for the year or $5.00 for the night to get in).  Fifty bottles and sixteen interesting taps are priced affordably and a chunk of revenue from the bar goes to local charities.

La Laiterie at Farmstead. 184 Wayland Ave.

La Laiterie is a cozy restaurant located in the quaint Wayland Square neighborhood and thoughtful bar manager David Mangiantine’s twenty craft selections span the globe. Pair up a cheese plate with beer, choose a satisfying dinner, or just settle in at the bar -- the place is a warm, comforting hug.

The Apartment. 373 Richmond St.

Calling itself an “American craft alehouse”, The Apartment serves up a decent variety of craft selections and food that’s a step above pub grub. Their beer menu is bottle-heavy and organized regionally by state, with a handful of beers described as “across the pond”. Beers listed as available are occasionally tapped out, so keep your options open.

Doherty’s East Ave Irish Pub. 342 East Ave. Pawtucket, RI.

Known locally as “East Ave”, Doherty’s carries a whopping eighty-three taps. Their tap list, called the “Libation Ledger” fills an entire 11X17 page and is organized by beer style. Bring a patient DD and some friends who are new to craft beer for a long Saturday night session, but start early; by 7:00pm East Ave fills up fast, with literally no seats available at times. 

Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies. 403 Park Ave Woonsocket, RI.

Located fifteen minutes north of Providence, homebrew expert Steve DuHamel has turned a hobby into a thriving business. Whether you’re an extract noob or an all-grain veteran, everyone is welcome. There are many recipe kits to choose from, but DuHamel is happy to compile a kit on the spot or make suggestions. Beginner homebrew kits, draft systems and accessories are all available, too.

Nikki’s Liquors. 33 Smithfield Road. North Providence, RI.

One of RI’s first “mix-a-six” programs and with over 800 beers to choose from, Nikki’s has been a “beer advocate” for years. In fact, owner Mike Iannazzi has regularly used BA magazine and the website to help inform customers. Even in the smartphone era, some reviews still hang like black and yellow butterflies around the store. He saves you money, too: Nikki’s takes 10% off mix-a-six packs and 20% off a “mix-a-case."