NEWPORT, R.I. — Microbreweries have come into their own in New England, but how many can claim to brew spirits in the tradition of the 18th century? Already successful with its menu of Newport Storm beers made since 1999, Coastal Extreme Brewing Co. saw an opportunity to combine its fermenting expertise with the city’s history by brewing rum the way it was made in 1769, when Newport was considered the rum capital of the world.
The result is Thomas Tew Rum, made in a small-pot still using blackstrap molasses and local water. Thomas Tew was a Newport pirate, and his silhouetted bent arm wielding a cutlass adorns the rum bottles on package store shelves and the souvenir glasses visitors take home from the brewery.
The brewery is open for ‘‘tours,’’ though tours is probably too generous a term. What you can do is observe the brewing area from a catwalk while listening to an informative talk about the process, then taste the beers and the rum.
Our guide, Lindsay Locker, described the company’s start with seasonal beers and ales in a small facility in neighboring Middletown, then explained how the move to larger quarters in Newport opened up the opportunity to brew rum.
Rum-making starts when molasses — about a ton of molasses to a ton of water — is added to a beer fermenter where yeast is ready and waiting. Yeast and the sugar from the molasses interact to create a ‘‘caramel wash,’’ which is then moved to a copper pot still. When the wash is boiled, the alcohol burns off; the vapors travel up a cylinder until they are pushed out and fall into a condenser, where they turn back to liquid. As Locker explained the process, we could see the liquid dripping off the side of the condenser below us on the brewery floor. This is the rawest form of rum, which starts at 180 proof or 90 percent alcohol.
From there it’s ‘‘proofed down’’ to 108 or 54 percent alcohol and added to old bourbon barrels, which impart bourbon, oak, and vanilla flavors to the rum as it ages. The rum ages for up to two years, Locker said.
In the tasting room, visitors can sample three stages of rum: white raw rum, sharp and tasting strongly of molasses; cask-strength rum, more aromatic but still a bit sharp; and the final product, dark, deeply flavored, and smooth. An assortment of beers are also available for tasting.
Coastal Extreme Brewing Co.
293 J.T. Connell Road, 401-849-5232, newportstorm.com. Daily noon-
5 p.m. except closed Tue. Guided tours at 3 p.m. Beer tours and tastings $7, plus tax. Rum tours and tastings $9, plus tax.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at ellen