New England breweries rally around Rehoboth business destroyed in a fire

Table of Contents Here’s how local beverage-makers are stepping up for Anawan Brewing Company. This Rehoboth brewery opened in December 2021. All that’s left after a fire is a photo Stay up-to-date on food news Beer Here’s how local beverage-makers are stepping up for Anawan Brewing Company. After the building […]

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Here’s how local beverage-makers are stepping up for Anawan Brewing Company.

After the building that housed Anawan Brewing Company burned down on Feb. 12, 2022, firefighters recovered this framed photo of the founding team. Steffen Johnson

Narragansett Brewing Company finally opened a brewery in its hometown of Providence, R.I., in 2021, three years after drawing up blueprints for it and 16 years after Mark Hellendrung revived the iconic brand. So when the ‘Gansett president heard that Anawan Brewing Company — located 10 miles away in Rehoboth, Mass. — suffered a devastating fire just a few weeks after their own years-long effort to open their doors, Hellendrung was crushed.

  • This Rehoboth brewery opened in December 2021. All that’s left after a fire is a photo

“While I have no idea what they’re going through after the fire, I feel their pain,” Hellendrung said. “Just [knowing] how hard it was to go through COVID and supply chain issues to actually get something built, and then to have it pulled out from underneath you is just really heartbreaking.”

After hearing about the fire directly from Narraganett’s community manager, Brooke Cure, a Rehoboth native, and seeing the story on local news, Hellendrung and the ‘Gansett team decided to put some money where their empathy is: On Monday, Feb. 21, all net proceeds from the Rhode Island brewery will be donated to Anawan Brewing Company, ‘Gansett announced on social media. That includes sales of 12 taproom-exclusive beers on draft, food like flatbreads and panini, and even Narragansett T-shirts.

“I hope we’re slammed, and I hope we give them a lot of money,” Hellendrung said, laughing.

Narragansett’s effort is one of several moves by New England breweries and distilleries to aid a fellow craft beverage-maker.

Working Man Distillers in North Attleboro has been collecting donations for Anawan this week and also plans to give a portion of their taproom proceeds. Skyroc Brewery in Attleboro has announced plans for future release of a canned beer called Anawan Roc(k), whose proceeds will go to their neighbors at Anawan. 

Another fundraising beer is in the works by a collective of Bristol County breweries. Berkley Beer Company, Crue Brew, Bog Iron Brewing, Stone Path Malt, Troy City, and Shovel Town Brewery are involved. Next week, representatives of those breweries as well as from Anawan will meet up at Bog Iron in Norton to make a beer together, according to Shovel Town owner Frank Altieri. Likely in March, each brewery will then offer the beer on draft in their respective taprooms, with proceeds going to Anawan.

“The craft beer community is really tight-knit, and while there’s some healthy competition that goes on, we all have each other’s backs,” Altieri said.

Many of the largest donations listed publicly on a crowdfunding page set up to support Anawan Brewing Company are from Massachusetts breweries, including $1,000 from Mighty Squirrel Brewing Co. in Waltham, and $500 from the likes of Harpoon, Lord Hobo, Night Shift, and others. Since going live on Monday, Feb. 14, the GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $30,000, with at least a dozen donations coming from other breweries.

Bright Ideas Brewing Company of North Adams has pledged $575. Anawan is located in an opposite corner of the state and the owners have never met, said Makayla McGeeney, Bright Ideas’ taproom manager and marketing coordinator.

“This donation was purely a craft beer community gesture of support,” she said. “In the Berkshires we believe small businesses are the bread and butter of the community, and I think that sentiment runs deep within the craft beer industry.” 

Indeed, Anawan Brewing Company is a family-owned, veteran-founded business. Steffen Johnson and his high-school friend, brewer Dan Dirienzo, began working on the business plan in 2017, after Johnson returned from Army service in Afghanistan. Anawan finally opened to the public in December 2021. The early-morning fire on Feb. 12 destroyed the entire brewery, save a framed photo of Anawan’s founding team.

A message to Steffen wasn’t returned by press time for this story, but earlier this week he told Boston.com that he and Dirienzo are still processing the loss of their brewery and aren’t sure what will come next.

“We’ve had such an influx of help through the brewing community and through our local community. It just seems like we owe it to our community to come back stronger,” he said.

Other brewery owners see themselves in Anawan’s story, even though their details differ. The Bristol County breweries coming together for the collaboration brew in Anawan’s honor are “all [founded by] people who built a dream around something they enjoyed,” Shovel Town’s Altieri said. “We’ve been given a lot of support from the community when we were building out ourselves. We want to pay it forward.”

Night Shift co-founder and president Rob Burns is also a board member with the Massachusetts Brewers Guild. “This industry is special because we look out for our peers and share similar challenges and hurdles,” he said, evoking a cliche often repeated among craft brewers: a rising tide lifts all ships. “Raising funds to help the fallen is a clear example of this mantra in action.”

Rhode Island’s Narragansett is, of course, not a member of the Mass. Brewers Guild, but Hellendrung credits state organizations like it and the national Brewers Association for fostering a sense of community in craft brewing he says. It was the guild that got word out about the fire to many Massachusetts breweries earlier this week.

“As soon as the news hit, I was inundated with emails and messages from area breweries asking how they could help,” said executive director Katie Stinchon, who then circulated the GoFundMe and watched the donations pour in. “These are businesses that are still grappling with COVID, they just survived Dry January, and they are opening their hearts and wallets to support a fellow member and brewer in need.”

The industry is interconnected, Hellendrung said, from meeting up at beer festivals to sharing resources and learning from each other’s innovation. “Our slogan has been ‘Hi neighbor, have a ‘Gansett,’ since the ‘50s,” he said. “Supporting a fellow brewery in a time of need is just the neighborly thing to do.”

New England breweries rally around Rehoboth business destroyed in a fire

Dong Anker

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