Isle Brewers Guild
A Cooperative for Craft Beers Rises in Pawtucket
There is a revolution brewing in Rhode Island. When fully fermented, the revolution will be a game changer for the craft beer brewing movement in New England.
Starting a brewery is a costly endeavor. All manner of equipment is required, and oftentimes just as the business is starting to take off, more hardware is required for expansion. The result is that new breweries spend an inordinate amount of time on infrastructure when they could be focusing on beer.
Introducing the Isle Brewer’s Guild.
The brainchild of cofounders Devin Kelly and Jeremy Duffy, the Isle Brewers Guild will soon offer not just brewing capability but cold storage, canning, labeling and distribution. They seek to work with established mid- to large-sized craft breweries needing expanded capacity, sales and distribution. Such lofty goals are neither cheap nor easy. The story of how it has to come to fruition is one of hard work, risk, relationships and determination.
Perhaps the most notable relationship at present is the one with Narragansett Beer.
“We had made a promise that if everyone drank enough beer, it would make financial sense to build a [local] brewery,” said Narragansett CEO Mark Hellendrung, not long after acquiring the brand in 2005. Making good on his promise, Hellendrung is one of the founding partners. In 2014, Kelly and Duffy found a site in Providence not far from the Woonasquatucket River, but with just days to go before the closing, the building burned to the ground.
“It was a major setback—but we remained positive,” said Kelly. “Everyone wanted the same thing, so we all worked together to find another solution.”
In some ways the disaster was a blessing in disguise, as the new Pawtucket location is larger and will allow for additional amenities centered around beer, such as food and entertainment.
Architecturally, the site is engaging. Constructed in 1846, the 130,000-square-foot space was originally occupied by the Haskell Manufacturing Company, which was the oldest and largest continually operating bolt and cold-punched nut factory in the country for more than a century. High vaulted ceilings, heavy Southern yellow pine timbers, bricks and vintage window sashes are in abundance. The 2.2-acre site includes several buildings in a campus-like setting.
In the mid-1980s, Haskell Manufacturing was purchased by Kellaway Realty Corporation and the site became a warehouse and trucking center. With the initial $1.25 million purchase of the site behind them, Isle Brewers Guild has made great strides towards the final goal, which is expected to cost upwards of $10 million.
The brewhouse has high ceilings and a mezzanine level that will allow visitors to look down at the fermentation tanks and other brewing hardware. “This is bringing largescale brewing and manufacturing back to Rhode Island,” said Duffy. The 10,000- square-foot brewhouse space—built before electricity, and with plentiful natural lighting—will house a vast array of high-tech brewing equipment. Eight tanks measuring 27 feet in height will share the space with mash tuns, brew kettles, yeast rinks and a giant cleaning station.
“Our goal is to honor the history of the building and the art of brewing while maintaining a high-tech, ultra-clean facility,” said Kelly.
Grains introduced to the brewhouse by way of an auger system will be mashed and fermented. From there the fluids will travel to an area where they can be packaged or further processed. A high-capacity centrifuge is on hand for cleaning and polishing of fluids, if desired.
The filling station has a keg line and a canning machine that can manage up to 250 cans a minute. That is 15,000 cans, or 625 cases of cans, per hour. Also on hand is an inkjet printing system for custom labeling of cans that will then be boxed and placed on pallets for cold storage.
“The City of Pawtucket has been wonderful,” said Kelly. “Financing this while putting together all of the pieces has not been easy,” he added. Fortunately, the partners have the kind of industry experience and the type of relationships that capture the attention of those who can make a difference in this kind of venture.
“Despite all of its size and breadth, the craft brewing industry is really a community, and as a rule its members cooperate more than they compete,” said Kelly. “Our role is to provide all of the flexibility of your own brewery, without the capital exposure.”
As things rapidly progress at the Isle Brewers Guild, other plans are taking shape. Preparations for a mixed-use food and beverage campus are well under way. As the brewhouse quietly works away, making good use of the abundant clean water available in Pawtucket, other areas of the site will be busy with events related to food and entertainment.
“If things go as planned, our venue will attract upwards of 50,000 visitors annually,” said Duffy. “That will put us on the state map in terms of an attraction. Visitors to the Isle Brewers Guild campus won’t just be there to see how beer is made, they will come for a meal or to hear some music.”
There is enough space to accommodate various food vendors either inside the brick-and-mortar structure or by way of food trucks. Live music and art will be a part of the mix, broadening the overall appeal of the destination.
“I want to welcome and thank Jeremy, Devin and their team,” said Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien. “Pawtucket is the home of the Industrial Revolution, and now the craft brew capital of the region,” he said.
“When completed, this mill renovation will be a great tourist destination located just blocks away from a proposed commuter rail stop, and has the potential to create a great deal of activity in the downtown,” said Grebien. “This type of destination is highly appealing to the millennials, a key target demographic,” he said. “The project will bring upwards of 40 new jobs at the location and this type of destination has the potential for spillover benefits and multipliers in the surrounding area,” Grebien added.
A quick look around the neighborhood surrounding the Isle Brewers Guild reveals an up-and-coming community. With the Slater Cotton Mill Apartments on one side and the historic Bayley Lofts on the other, the area is already on the rise. The revived industrial-era ambience makes an enticing backdrop for what is sure to be a boon to an area in transition.
“With so much support coming from so many places, it has made overcoming obstacles less difficult,” said Kelly. The beer will be flowing by January 2017, and the build-out will continue into next summer. Here’s to Pawtucket—the new brewing capital of Rhode Island.
For more information visit IsleBrewers.com.