Nestled in a converted mill complex in Wakefield, Rhode Island lies Whaler’s Brewing Company, one of the state’s fastest growing craft brewers.

“The sincerity, authenticity and uniqueness of the space is essential to craft brewing,” Tran said.

With craft beer production rapidly growing in the Ocean State, this brewery is on the ground floor of a major brewing takeover. Local support from town government and customers alike are a major key to the success of the brewery.

“We get to be a part of molding Rhode Island’s craft beer scene,” said co-owner Andy Tran. “That’s something we take very seriously.”

About the Brewers

Tran is the man behind the business side of the company, as well as fixing machinery when things go awry.

Tran is joined by brewmasters Josh Dunlap and Wes Staschke, the geniuses behind the company’s wide variety of craft beer. Tran says the two different styles of brewing, Dunlap’s technical approach along with Staschke’s creativity, allow for an incredible mixture of different products.

“It’s the key advantage to what we’ve got compared to other breweries,” Tran said.

Tran and Dunlap have known each other since high school. Tran previously worked for an electrical engineering company, while Dunlap enlisted in the U.S. Marines.

While stationed in California, Dunlap got into the hobby of homebrewing. Since then, his passion for brewing has grown exponentially. Once he returned to the Ocean State, he and Tran teamed up to embark on the brewing business.

Meanwhile, Staschke was doing his own thing in the homebrewing world. He’s had the passion for brewing in his soul since his college days, according to Tran. He set out to establish his own microbrewing company, but encountered permitting issues and essentially hit a stone wall. Out of the blue one day, Staschke reached out to Dunlap and Tran to see if they’d be interested in a partnership.

“It was like a weird blind date,” Tran said about meeting Staschke at a bar with Dunlap for the first time. It’s quite clear the relationship clicked.

The Brewery

Whaler’s Brewing officially began in late 2011 brewing small batches of beer. In 2013, they moved into the building they now occupy today and have just completed a major renovation, significantly increasing production.  

The brewery makes the most out of its mill setting, with a wide open setting for both brewing and customers.

“The sincerity, authenticity and uniqueness of the space is essential to craft brewing,” Tran said.

The tap room area features a pool table, cornhole, booths, high-top tables and tables made of overturned barrels and old lobster traps. Nautical paraphernalia also lines the walls and ceiling.

“It’s basically a collection of scrapyard parts and Home Depot projects,” joked Tran. “It should feel like it’s owned by a couple of twenty-something-year-olds.”

However, it’s all part of creating an accessible and comfortable environment for the customer. The team believes the atmosphere is just right, and the reviews by customers agree.

“Accessibility is part of the brand we’re trying to build,” Tran said. “So far, the reviews are pretty stellar.”

Customer interaction is a major factor in the craft beer industry, and the tap room is a big key to drawing them into the brewery. However, they can’t bring the tap room to everyone. That’s where beer festivals come in.

Events like festivals and tastings allow the three brewers to showcase their products, especially the lesser-known and experimental beers. It also helps get their name out there and generate brand awareness.

The brewery has recently undergone a major renovation and has increased its production capabilities five times over. Previously, they would average 30 barrels of beer per month. With their new equipment in place, they are seeing an average of 160 barrels per month.

In the craft beer business, like any business, it’s more challenging to expand rather than start up. All three owners acknowledge this and continue to strive to produce a better product.

A Look Ahead

With the increase in production after the renovations, Whaler’s also hopes to increase packaging and eventually transition from glass bottles to cans. With a major upfront cost, it will take some time before they make the leap but they believe it will be well worth it in the long run.

Tran notes that brewing in an area where boating trips and summer days on the beach are commonplace, it’s a no brainer to start utilizing cans since they are much more “travel friendly.”

More specialty brews are also on the way, including sours, barrel aged beers and other strong ales.

Finally, the guys are joining many other local breweries in a movement to challenge Rhode Island’s current laws regarding craft beer. Most notably, the ability to pour full pints at the tap room and sell customers more than 72 fl. oz. of beer at a time.

Tran is currently doing his research on the law and looking at what alternatives are within reasonable reach. He said these developments “could make a fundamental change in our business.”

MicroFacts:

  • 1st successful craft brewery Kickstarter campaign in RI; hit 120% of $4,000 goal

  • Most asked for beer: Strawberry Harvest (They barely brew it, but that may change)

  • The company name stems from various origins: Dunlap’s grandfather had a fascination with whaling history, Dunlap himself was a commercial fisherman and the name “just sounds New England-y”