It’s a wintry Saturday, and I’m at a small hightop in a renovated mill complex, where clusters of fit-looking women in black Lycra and brightly colored tops are gathered, drinking beer at noon. They don’t look like the types to drink the weekend away just willy nilly (I won’t speak for myself); indeed, it’s safe to say we all feel like we earned our beer flights after completing a 90-minute yoga class in the expansive environs of Whalers Brewing Company in South Kingstown. The woman on the mat next to me turned out to be a bartender; she’s going on to pull a full shift, which impresses me, because I’m ready for the couch.
The yoga and beer classes started out being held once a month, but demand has seen them go up to every other weekend. And they’re just one example of the myriad events Whalers hosts: A week later, the cavernous, industrial-cool space was packed for an ugly sweater party raising money for the RI Pet Connection Foundation, complete with Santa posing for photos with local dogs.
It’s the kind of thinking that has helped Whalers set itself apart from other small R.I. breweries, and driven its expansion through seven incrementally larger spaces at the Palisades Mill Complex in Peacedale, R.I., with another planned for this spring.
Founded by three friends in 2012, Whalers worked with URI’s Small Business Development Center as it grew, and has enviable name recognition on campus. That’s no accident. “One of the things that made it attractive to me as an investor is that we’re close to URI,” says Eric Thunberg, owner of the mill complex, who has been a partner since December 2016. “It’s a core part of our local scene, and we’ve worked hard to establish relationships with everyone over 21, basically.”
Indeed, Whalers attracts all ages and all walks of life with its accessible hipster vibe, booths that line the walls underneath upcycled chandeliers, space to play games (cornhole, pool and a massive Jenga game) and, of course, the beer. Which is really, really good. Don’t take my word for it: It’s started to appear on tap across the state, and the company is planning to expand its distribution to Connecticut and Massachusetts, despite the hot competition in the craft beer market.
The brewery doesn’t serve food, although several nearby restaurants will happily deliver there, and their menus are kept at the bar. That means you can bring your own food in without ruffling any feathers (snacks are a good idea if you’re contemplating a yoga and beer class) and it also means that well-behaved dogs are just fine. The unique appeal makes it the setting for all sorts of functions, from informal office parties to big family affairs; the last time I went, a Sunday-best group that looked to be fresh from a first communion was laying out platters of deviled eggs and potato salad, while a suit-clad 20-something helped grandma navigate the back-door ramp with her cane.
The tap room is open Wednesday to Sunday. If you go, just make sure you take note of the alcohol percentage (many beers are in the 7-percent range) and pace yourself accordingly. The three flagship brews, which are always on tap—The Rise American pale ale, East Coast IPA, and Hazelnut Stout—are all a must-try. But then, so are each of the rotating cast of other beers, often in experimental styles such as sours. All this makes a full six-beer flight (roughly equivalent to two pints) a fun time, so share, appoint a designated driver, or hop on the Brew Bus, and plan to stay a while. You’ll want to.