Sail Away to Sips at the Prudence Island Beer Festival

Island homebrewers pour their best pints on Saturday, October 5.

Prudence Island Homebrewer’s Festival galvanizes island brewers and aficionados.

Joe Bains hikes into the Prudence Island woods to collect seven gallons of fresh water at a clip. Sampling only the deepest water from multiple island springs, he eliminates runoff by waiting forty-eight hours after rain and harvests in the off-season exclusively. Nothing but the island’s best, he says, for each of his Bay Isles Brewing brews.

“I like the idea of using the island’s natural spring water for my beer,” says Bains. The retired chemist and unofficial island historian has been homebrewing with kits in his front yard for about five years. “Beer is mostly water, so if you start with good quality water, you stand a better chance of making good beer.”

Bains is one of nine members of the Prudence Island Homebrewer’s Association and its annual Beer Festival Columbus Day weekend. Now welcoming approximately 400 beer aficionados to the Narragansett Bay atoll, the festival has grown since about 120 attended its 2013 inauguration. Its increasing popularity hasn’t deterred organizers from their original mission — to stimulate island homebrewers to share their latest hoppy experiments with friends and family.

“Since we have to transport beer to the island for consumption, it only makes sense to brew our own,” says Brian Weber, professional fisherman, festival co-founder and homebrewer. “The brew fest has helped rekindle several island brewers’ interest in brewing. It is great to see the passion [they] put into it, and the stories behind their signature brews.”

Bains, for example, tells an island story with each beer and label. His Johnny’s No Error Imperial Ale was motivated by a softball-playing friend who claimed he never made mistakes. “I put that stuff together as a whimsical remembrance,” Bains says. “Sometimes I have a photo I like so I’ll put that on the label. Or I’ll make a beer with water from Indian Spring and use a photo of Indian Spring.”

Weber has a friendly naming duel with festival co-founder and flight attendant, Bill Baker. Baker regularly crafts a Maker’s Mark bourbon stout named Brian the Moral Compass, which is “one step above moonshine,” Baker says with a laugh. “It’s named for Brian and his marine experience, and he’s kind of steering our homebrew ship.” Baker is the namesake behind Weber’s Bill the Elder black IPA, “because I’m the old guy.”

The whole thing is trial and error, Baker says, from their experimental bacon beer that everyone spit out to thirty bottles of ginger beer that exploded in his kitchen. These island anecdotes culminate at the festival, which remains an afternoon of celebration, libation and philanthropic connection (all proceeds benefit island charities). “The brewfest has been a lot of fun,” Baker says. “People always get a kick out of having homemade beer.”