'Gansett Gets Crafty

By Anne Vickman

Prost! This year marks the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. To celebrate, the Rhode-Island based brewery Narragansett has released their first canned craft tall boy since owner Mark Hellendrung took over operations in 2005. Enter the Fest Lager: At 5.5% abv, the brew is smooth and malty, and tastes phenomenal with burritos (which we just happened to be eating at the time). A little less crisp than other Oktoberfest beers, this märzen-style beer makes for easy drinking. Hellendrung took the time to chat with us about the suds, his stash of lederhosen, and why craft is going the way of the can.

Have you ever been to Oktoberfest?
Eleven years ago. To be honest, I had more fun visiting the breweries outside of Oktoberfest. The actual festival is insane. It’s like the Disneyland of drunk people. But I’m 100% German: I absolutely love beer, brats, sauerkraut, dark mustard, and most other things German.

Is this the first season you’ve released an Oktoberfest beer?
In Narragansett’s long history they used to do these seasonal beers: Oktoberfest in the fall; porter in the winter; and bock in the springtime. So we had been doing the porter and the bock, and last fall we re-launched the Oktoberfest just in draft and only in Rhode Island to test it out. So this is the next wave of introducing it in the 16-ounce cans.

That leads me to my next question, what’s with the cans?
One reason, is that the 16-ounce cans really seem to be what our brand’s all about. We sell a ton of the lager in 16-ounce cans and we
thought it was a great way to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the pack. Also, it’s the 75th anniversary of canned beer this year, so we’re celebrating that in a wild and wacky way.

And why a tall boy?
It’s the perfect pint. Why have less when you can have more?

Good answer. And who is the gentleman on the can?
That is Gambrinus. He was a Flemish king, the patron saint of beer. Everything new we do is always tied to our history. Back at the old
brewery, there was a statue of King Gambrinus that greeted all visitors.

Flavor or recipe-wise, what’s new about this brew?
Unfortunately the [original] recipe wasn’t preserved so we worked with local brew master Sean Larkin, who’s an award-winning brew master and a really talented guy. We really wanted to start with our German roots, a märzen-style beer. It’s a great multi-blend of four German malts and two types of hops. It’s got a good hoppy flavor but isn’t overwhelming like some of the IPAs. It kind of lives in ‘Gansett’s tradition of good drinking beers but it’s approachable to anybody who really likes quality craft beers. It’s not too crazy.

What sort of Oktoberfest celebrations do you have planned this year?
We do a ton of festivals-we’re working over 20 fall festivals in New England. A lot of package stores will do fall tastings with pumpkin
beers and other Oktoberfest beers. We’ve got something like another 30 or 40 of those on the books — it’s a great opportunity to tell our story. [Ed. note: check ’em out at Witchtoberfest in Salem or Franklin Park’s Brew at the Zoo on Sat, Oct. 2, or at Somerville’s Harvest Fest on Sat., Oct 9.]

Will you be wearing green velour tyrolean hats and lederhosen at these events?
The short answer is no. But I actually do have my own set of lederhosen!

Find Narangensett Fest Lager at Highland Kitchen, The Independent, Red Bones, The Haven, and Bukowski’s through October, or while supplies last.