Crushing It in Cranston

Haffenreffer-Lager-Beer-Cans-Self-Opening-10-12oz-Haffenreffer--Company-Inc_28478-1If you’ve ever engaged in any sort of beer drinking in Rhode Island or Massachusetts over the past hundred and forty years, the Haffenreffer name probably sounds plenty familiar.

Yesterday, Adolf Frederick Haffenreffer IV, of Little Compton, R.I., married Meredith Childress Beck, of New York. I was disappointed to discover that their wedding announcement in the New York Times was as dry as a temperance meeting, so here’s some background.

The Haffenreffer Brewery in Jamaica Plain, Boston, was founded by Rudolf Frederick Haffenreffer in 1870. Subsequent generations of Rudolfs and Adolfs and other sundry (male) Haffenreffers ran that concern, as well as the Narragansett Brewing Company of Cranston and the Old Colony and Enterprise breweries in Fall River, which made Old Tap and Bohemian “Boh” Lager (not to be confused with Baltimore’s Natty Boh, or Stroh’s Bohemian, out of Detroit.)


During the postwar era of consolidation the various tributaries came together. In 1965 the Boston Haffenreffers closed the Jamaica Plain plant and licensed the namesake brew to their cousins in Rhode Island. That same year, the Cranston cousins sold Narragansett to Falstaff, of St. Louis, the nation’s fourth largest brewer, but continued to run the operation locally; in subsequent years, the Haffenreffers bought Enterprise (as well as Ballantine and other brands), closing their facilities and moving production to Rhode Island. But for old breweries and old beers, consolidation only bought a bit of time. In 1981, Narragansett, too, closed its doors.

(The Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams, has renovated several buildings of the old Jamaica Plain complex for use as an “R&D brewery” and conducts historical tours of the site; the Narragansett brewery was demolished in 1998.)


Haffenreffer Private Stock (aka Green Death, aka the Green Monster, aka Haffenwrecker) was, according to the Boston Globe obituary of August Haffenreffer, the Harvard-trained chemist who came up with the recipe, favored by “young beer drinkers for its potency and sale in 40-ounce green bottles.”


Naragansett, in its post-Falstaff incarnation, lives on as a “cool” nostalgia beer, the next PBR, trading on the crushability of its cans, as demonstrated most vividly forty summers ago by a shark hunter named Quint, in a gesture that prefigured his own crushability, and more broadly, the inevitable crushability of all living things, big and small.

Bloomberg Business reported on the Narraganaissance this summer:

“When we first opened, nobody knew what [Narragansett] was, and the number of mispronunciations of the name was as many as got it right,” says John McWilliams, the bar manager at Burnside, a Williamsburg bar that sells the 16-ounce Tall Boys for $4. “Now people come in and ask for ‘Gansett.” McWilliams sells “a ton” of it, he says.

The Haffenreffers developed interests beyond the brewery tanks.  According to Rudolf the 3d’s obituary in the Times, “In the 1930’s the family took over the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, a Bristol shipyard that produced eight America’s Cup yachts.” Thus leading, I imagine, to Adolf the 4th’s role as a founding partner in a yacht brokerage.

Philip_King_of_Mount_Hope_by_Paul_RevereRudolf Jr., meanwhile, was amassing a collection of more than 60,000 local Native American artifacts, and built the King Philip museum, on Mount Hope (Montaup) in Bristol, to display them.

King Philip (aka Metacomet), a leader of the Wampanoag back in the 17th century, led a brutal but ultimately unsuccessful war to drive the Europeans out of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A recent New Yorker article on the Salem witch hunts of 1692 placed the trials within the long, dark shadow of King Philip’s War.  The “fifteen-month contest between the settlers and the Native Americans, had ended in 1676. It obliterated a third of New England’s towns, pulverized its economy, and claimed ten per cent of the adult male population. Every Bay Colony resident lost a friend or a relative; all knew of a dismemberment or an abduction.” The Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes were all but destroyed.

Little mercy was shown to Philip himself: “Hunted by a group of rangers led by Captain Benjamin Church, [Philip] was fatally shot by a praying Indian named John Alderman, on August 12, 1676, in the Miery Swamp near Mount Hope in Bristol, Rhode Island. After his death, his wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda. Philip’s head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Fort Plymouth, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees.”

Upon Rudolf Jr’s death, the collection and land were donated to Brown University, becoming the foundation for its Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.


If today’s Narragansett beer calls upon kitschy nostalgia for the working-class warrior of yesteryear, the company relied on a strikingly similar strategy back in the 1940s, executed by none other than commercial artist Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss, of course). The thoroughly pacified, always-grinning Chief Gansett, appeared in a series of ads and promotional materials adorned with the company logo “Too good to miss!”

As for the newlyweds, Adolf and Meredith, “the couple met in 2009, through a mutual friend at a rafting-up of boats off Lloyd’s Beach, in Little Compton. They began dating in 2012.”