2022 Whale Watching Beer Festival in Pawtucket: What to Know


The inaugural Whale Watching Festival scheduled for Saturday, May 21 in Pawtucket isn’t about whales, it’s about beer. About fifty breweries from elsewhere will make you taste their beers. Food vendors will sell everything from lobster rolls to donuts.

It was planned and will be managed by Finback Brewery, headquartered in New York, with locations in Glendale, Queens, and Gowanus, Brooklyn.

That raises more questions, doesn’t it? But you can simplify it to this: why would a New York brewery come to Rhode Island to host its very first festival?

It’s not location, location, location, although the setting on the Blackstone River is the most scenic.

It’s all about roots, and the roots of one of Finback’s founders run deep in the Rhode Island food community.

Basil Lee left his architectural career in 2014 to found Finback Brewery with Kevin Stafford in a residential area of ​​Queens.

Their ties to New England set them back. Stafford grew up in Marshfield, Massachusetts.

Lee grew up in Lincoln, son of Kwai Ying Lee and Tsi Lee. His mother and father were the chefs of the China Inn, the now defunct Pawtucket restaurant. His grandfather founded the restaurant in 1976 with Lee’s uncle Louis Yip (brother of Kwai Ying) and his father (Tsi Lee). Lee’s aunt, Florence Yip, also worked in the business.

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“It’s a place close to my heart,” Lee said.

He was a bartender at the China Inn for his first job. Perhaps this laid the foundation for his hobby brewing hobby which led to Finback.

When they added food to the Finback Tasting Room a few years ago, Lee asked his mom to recreate his dumplings. They are always on the menu there.

Basil Lee, left, and Kevin Stafford, right, hosted beer brewer Narragansett Lee Lord at their Queens brewery to make a collaborative beer named Neighbor Neighbor.  There is also Newport Salt in the beer.

Finback recently collaborated with Narragansett Beer and brewer Lee Lord to create Neighbor Neighbor. They called it their first collaboration Whale Watching. The beer also contains local ingredients, including Newport sea salt.

Finback will also do a collaboration with Long Live Beerworks.

The Whale Watching event will feature other local breweries including Buttonwoods, Proclamation Ale, Tilted Barn, Moniker, Origin Beer Project and Narragansett.

Lee is excited to welcome Tripping Animals, Hudson Valley, Equilibrium and Human Robot to show off their best beers.

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Finback will operate select breweries to release very small amounts of rare beers at specific times throughout the afternoon, charging for them as whale sightings.

In 2020, Finback opened in Brooklyn, where they are experimenting with pilsners and saisons. They will soon be opening a third location in Long Island City. They have also purchased a farm in Walton, New York, where they plan to grow their own fruit for their beers.

Lee admits the dream is to open a Finback outpost in Rhode Island.

A beer from Finback Brewery.

But for now, the focus is on whale watching at 249 Roosevelt Ave., overlooking the Blackstone River, and taking place from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. They have already sold some 800 tickets but released more. General admission tickets are $80. For more information, visit whalewatching-2022.eventbrite.com.

The event was originally scheduled for spring 2020, but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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It also gave them more time to bring in more special brews, many of which have never been offered in Rhode Island before, Lee said. They include 3 Sons Brewing Co. in Dania Beach, Florida; Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn; 450 North Brewing Company in Columbus, Indiana; Great Notion Brewing in Portland, Oregon; Horus Aged Ales in Oceanside, California; and Burial Beer Co. in Asheville, North Carolina.

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