One of the great joys for beer lovers is stumbling on something you didn’t expect. I recently got a tip from a Rhode Island friend about something I needed to try. Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly had knocked its recent double-IPA out of the park, he said. “Get some if you can.”
I was unfamiliar with the brewery and called founder Jennifer Brinton for some background. She and her husband, Alan, opened Grey Sail in 2011, but it almost didn’t come together. The couple had three children when they decided to get serious about brewery planning; a fourth child delayed plans for five months. Jennifer now runs the brewery full time, while Alan, a chemical engineer, works at his day job.
The name Grey Sail is derived from Grace, the couple’s oldest daughter. In a building that dates to 1929, the brewery operates in the site of the old Westerly Macaroni Manufacturing Co., and a small staff produces three flagship beers and several seasonals. Captain’s Daughter joins Flying Jenny EPA and Flagship Ale as regular offerings, all in 16-ounce cans.
One important member of that small staff is head brewer Josh Letourneau, formerly of Mayflower Brewing Co. in Plymouth. Letourneau spent 2½ years at Mayflower, getting his feet wet before taking over his own shop. He graduated from the American Brewers Guild in Vermont, and that’s fitting, because I’ve noticed a serious increase in the quality of New England IPAs across the board in the last year or two. Vermont is home to some spectacular India Pale Ales, and you can’t help but think that good IPAs from that state are begetting others.
Captain’s Daughter is a double-IPA of 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. Citrus and Mosaic are the star hops, according to Letourneau. Three pounds of hops are added per barrel, with most of it coming at the end of the boil, and in the fermenter in dry hopping. “The aroma reminds me of when I was a kid and used to eat pink grapefruit with sugar sprinkled over the top,” says Letourneau.
It’s not the prettiest beer in the glass, taking on the color of pond water, with tons of sediment. I smell bitter grapefruit and lemon pith. Letourneau instructs drinkers to sniff for mango fruit and unripe papaya skin. The first sip is buttery and dank, the citrus balanced by a bitter, earthy backbone. “One thing we have heard and experienced was that because of the ease of drinking that this beer has it can sneak up on you pretty quick,” says Letourneau.
Good balance really does lead to that ease, and the final result is one of the more successful New England IPAs that I can remember. Brinton estimates Grey Sail will brew about 5,000 barrels of beer this year, with the brewery not quite operating at full capacity. Letourneau expects Captain’s Daughter will get them closer to that mark.
Grey Sail Brewing
63 Canal St., Westerly, R.I., 401-212-7592, is open for growler fills and samples Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.