The City of Newport, also known as the City by the Sea, has a long and storied history. Newport has been a lively city as far back as the 1700s when rum was being produced and sold as part of the “triangle trade.” Later on during the famous Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, the city served as a playground for America’s wealthiest and most infamous families for six summer weeks each year. Families such as the Vanderbilts and Astors could be found vacationing in larger than life homes, residences that now serve as an integral part of the city’s tourism industry, such as The Breakers and The Elms.
Fast forward to present day and you have the Newport we all know – home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, host to the America’s Cup boat race, location of the oldest operating bar in the country, White Horse Tavern, and a list that seems to go on and on. As if the history wasn’t enough, the city is also where you can find Rhode Island’s longest operating bottling brewery that goes by the name of Costal Extreme Brewing Company, better known as Newport Storm. The local microbrewery has been a key contributor to the state’s craft beer industry since its introduction in the 1990s.
Derek Luke is the head brewmaster and co-founder of Newport Storm. Derek got into home brewing during his college years at Colby-Sawyer College. Over time and after many discussions, he and his three friends (Brent Ryan, Mark Sinclair and Will Rafferty) teamed up to open a brewery. As Derek explained, “I had been to Newport before to go surfing with a friend, I’m not originally from RI. When looking for a location we said that Maine already had too many places and we didn’t want to go into Massachusetts or Connecticut. At the time RI didn’t have an operating bottling brewery, so we thought it was a good location and also would be a way to help the state out.” So a day after graduating from college, Derek moved down to Newport and it began. Three weeks had been spent writing the business plan, personal funds were used, and along with securing a small business loan, they ended up getting a great deal on equipment and never looked back. “A stroke of luck also helped us out in the beginning,” Derek remarked. “I ended up meeting brewing consultant John Mallett, who helped us bring all our equipment up and get everything together and in place. During the process he would ask, who is good at this and who’s good at that? We had to get hands on with all different aspects of the business. Honestly, we are successful because we had to learn the hard way.” From those days in the very beginning up through present days’ success, Newport Storm has been supplying craft beer drinkers in RI a variety of different brews to choose from.
When they first came on the scene Hurricane Amber Ale was established as the flagship beer of Newport Storm. “Early on the amber ale was too dark and too bitter for 99% of the people. A subset seemed to like our beer, with others there was disapproval.” And while it might not have seemed like a hit at first, the amber ale is actually their best selling beer. Along with their flagship there are other beers that make up their core lineup such as RI Blueberry (made with fresh pressed local blueberries) and India Point Ale (their year-round IPA). There are also seasonal offerings produced over the course of the year like their Spring Irish Red, the Summer Hefeweizen, an Oktoberfest in the fall, and a Winter Porter. Early on, the brewery also liked to push the extremes when it came to craft beers by introducing a line called their Cyclone Series. These brews were named in the same fashion as hurricanes, from A to Z, and were more intense than their normal variety. This line has since been retired, but the brewery now produces similar limited release unique/extreme beers throughout the course of the year. To round it all out, Newport Storm ends each year with their Annual Release. This is a limited batch beer that comes out in larger format bottles and is normally a diverse, intriguing and complex offering. “We have made almost 100 different styles of beer over the years. I’m excited to learn and not afraid to fail when it comes to experimenting with beer. We always want to continue to evolve,” said Derek. And with that in mind, the brewery and its team members meet twice a year to brainstorm and conjure up new ideas. “We talk as a group about what type of beers we might want to make that year. I love the feedback and ideas from the company as a whole.” So while the Amber Ale has stood the test of time, the diversity and company creativity speaks to the reputation Newport Storm has established over the years.
Craft beer in the state has slowing been growing over time and Newport Storm has had a hand in that since the earlier stages. “After 16 years in, I still really like brew days, it’s easy now. The hard part is maintenance and engineering.” Derek has a passion for brewing and also a perspective on the local scene. “We aren’t like other states, people haven’t necessarily bought RI beer, but we are poised to grow…it’s an exciting time for the state.” As a member of the RI Brewers Guild, he believes the group is collectively getting a voice. “We want to even the playing field with what other states are doing. A major goal is to unify to bring more tourists to RI. It is only going to get better from here.” Another way the brewery helps to promote the local community, and, more specifically the city of Newport, is through their sponsorship of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 2016 marked the fifth year Newport Storm has been the official beer sponsor of the parade. You can find them with their own float in full participation, helping to celebrate one of the most popular parades not only in the city, but throughout the state as well. Derek and the crew at the brewery are committed to their craft but they also continue to embrace RI and help shine a light on the local beer scene.
While you might find yourself down in Newport grabbing a lobster roll and cup of chowder, or maybe spending your time on a tour of the historic mansions, a trip to Newport Storm should also be on your agenda. The tasting room is casual and inviting with 4 to 5 different beers on draft to sample, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can head upstairs to their observation deck overlooking the brewery itself where all the daily action takes place and a timeline of its history is on display. It is the visitors and supporters of Newport Storm that Derek admits make the business well worth it, “it’s really cool and unique that people will take time out of their day to show up at our business… it’s something not many other occupations get to experience or enjoy.”
Besides tours and tastings, keep an eye out for another recurring event at the brewery – the ever popular Fridays @ 6. It’s a concept that originated early on as another way for Derek and the team to connect with and give back to their avid fans and supporters on their home turf. Simply follow them on Facebook and be one of the first 50 fans each Friday at noon to sign up via their post and you will be treated to a two hour long tasting. Just be at Newport Storm by 6pm and you get to hang out with the brewery’s staff for a couple of hours while enjoying the freshest beers they have to offer on tap.
It’s truly amazing to hear the story of a brewery that started as an idea in a college dorm room, as well as all of the trial and error that went along with it coming to life, that eventually grew into one of the biggest brands in the smallest state. This idea, now well known as Newport Storm, has established a name and following that allows them to continue to experiment, grow and, ultimately, contribute to RI’s craft beer scene. And with that I would like to thank Derek Luke for taking the time to provide me with all of the great information, history and knowledge you’ve just read. On behalf of Prost Providence, I raise my glass and Prost Newport Storm!
(Head over to the Newport Storm website (www.newportstorm.com) to find out about current beers, different events and other brewery related info. Don’t forget to not only like them on Facebook (Newport Storm Beer) so you too can attend a Friday’s @ 6 session but to also follow them on Twitter (@NewportStorm) as well as Instagram (@newportstorm) for more content and information.)