Narragansett got its start in 1890, in this Rhode Island Factory.

This image (from a circa 1970 beer festival) re-creates the type of wagon the company used in the 1890s to distribute Narragansett beer. “There were thousands of breweries across America” in that day, says Hellendrung, each serving its own city or even neighborhood. The wooden barrels of the era are twice the size of the average keg today.

By 1914, Narragansett underwent an expansion at this 30-acre facility in Cranston, Rhode Island, near Providence.

Narragansett managed to ride out Prohibition by diversifying: selling ice and cream soda. The brewery also received special dispensation to sell porter, whose high iron content was thought to be healthy for pregnant women.

Narragansett’s first intersection with pop culture begins in the ‘30s, when Theodor Seuss Geisel--later known as Dr. Seuss--began illustrating advertisements for the brand. Geisel had been a Dartmouth College friend with one of the Haffenreffers, the family that purchased Narragansett shortly after Prohibition.

Another Seuss tray

This undated photo harkens back to a time when “Gansett” held massive market share--at one point, 80% in Rhode Island, and 65% throughout New England. The landscape of beer has greatly changed: The company now owns 4% of the Rhode Island market, though it’s growing steadily.

Hellendrung saw this Mad Men-era ad and mentioned it to his brewmaster, when the two were teaming up to revive an earlier recipe. "I said, 'We really need to use seedless hops,'" recalls Hellendrung. "He said, 'You jackass! All hops are seedless.'"

The fellow on the left is J. Joseph Garrahy, who would go on to become Rhode Island’s governor in the late '70s and '80s. Before that, however, he was a top salesman for Narragansett in the '50s and '60s. “Politics and beer were deeply connected,” asserts Hellendrung, adding that “legend has it that Narragansett put him into the governor’s seat. He met so many people as a salesman. You think of a politician shaking hands and kissing babies. Selling beer is the same, absent the kissing babies.”

Can you spot the can of Gansett? It’s being gripped by Carl Yastrzemski, who has his arms around fellow '67 American League pennant winners Rico Petrocelli and Reggie Smith. Narragansett was the team’s official sponsor in these years, and would sponsor the Red Sox for over 30 years. For a long time, radio broadcasts of Sox games began with “Hi, Neighbor”--the Narragansett slogan.

Hellendrung places this image around the '60s or '70s; Narragansett played a significant role in preserving the U.S.S. Massachusetts War Memorial. The local community wanted to save a piece of history, and Narragansett stepped up as a pillar of the business community. The image shows a time when “Narragansett was New England, and New England was Narragansett,” says Hellendrung.

Narragansett was evidently the preferred beer of Captain Quint, star of a little 1975 movie called Jaws. Jaws tie-ins are part and parcel of Narragansett’s latest marketing strategies; the company has sponsored shark tracking and has revived the vintage can shown in this still.

Crush it like Captain Quint.

The Many Pop-Culture Moments Of Narragansett, The "Forrest Gump Of Beers”

New England's most beloved brew has shared time in the spotlight with Jaws, the Red Sox, and Dr. Seuss, just to name a few.

Depending on where you live, Narragansett is either a household name, or one you’ve never heard of. It’s a New England beer with a long and storied history in and around the Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, areas in particular. Once, it dominated those markets, almost monopolistically.

1975 Beer Can

The brand has changed hands many times (as would be expected for a beer with a 125-year-old history), but since 2005, it’s been partly owned and run by a man named Mark Hellendrung. Hellendrung has helped raise the profile of the beer in new markets, entering New York, D.C., and parts of Florida, while still keeping the company’s heart in the northeast. Last year, “Gansett” cracked the nation’s top 50 brewers. Sales are up 30% this year, and Hellendrung is aiming to enter yet another market--beer-friendly Portland, Oregon--in October.

In its 125-year history, Narragansett seems to have been just about everywhere of note--their brand manager calls it the “Forrest Gump of beers” for its habit of cropping up among celebrities, artists, sports teams, and politicians of note. Click through the images up top for an illustrated history of a beer that’s may turn up at your local bar soon--if it isn’t there already.

Narragansett Beer in Jaws, 1975

[Image: Flickr user Patrick]

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