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Chamber, Stonington beer maker in brew-haha over Taste of Mystic

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Mystic - The Cottrell Brewing Co. and the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce are at an impasse again over whether the company can serve its beer at the Taste of Mystic next month.

In 2008, an exclusive contract between the local chamber and Levine Distributors of Norwich, a Budweiser distributor, threatened to keep Cottrell's Old Yankee Ale from the event - but Levine agreed to let the Pawcatuck brewery join it.

After two years of the two sharing the spotlight, this year the impasse has resumed.

"We want to be involved in the only publicly sanctioned beer event in Stonington," said Chris Kepple, Cottrell's sales and marketing manager, "and we're the only brewery in Stonington."

Chamber President Tricia Cunningham and Taste Co-Chairman Dan Burns said Monday that contracts were sent out in March to potential participants, including Cottrell.

Cottrell owner Charles Cottrell Buffum Jr. said he didn't receive a contract in the mail, but Cunningham and Burns said the contracts were sent by first-class mail and would have been returned if they hadn't reached their destinations.

Cunningham sent Buffum a letter saying it was too late to submit a contract because all the promotional material has gone to the printers and it is too late to make changes. She told Buffum he should submit a timely contract and competitive bid for next year.

Buffum said Monday he wrote back, seeking to be included, but has yet to hear back. He would not provide copies of the letters. Cunningham just received Buffum's letter Monday, she said.

"We would like to be included," Kepple said, "and we're talking to people, we're doing everything in our power to be included. For us it's not about being on placards as much as it is about being included."

Levine Distributors is the Taste's major sponsor and "presenter" this year and has been a major player for several years.

"Without them, we wouldn't be able to have this event," Cunningham said.

Added Burns: "They're the major sponsor for the event. They put up the most product and the most money so we can stage this event and be able to pay for the bands and advertising and tents to allow for everybody to have a good time and for the restaurants to get a good push on it. Budweiser is the reason this event can go on."

Cunningham acknowledged that the contract with Levine Distributors gives it exclusive marketing rights at the Taste of Mystic.

"I understand the position they're in," Buffum said, referring to the chamber. "They've received their money to fund their mission. But the mission is to help local business. We are one of those local businesses. We are a member."

Kepple insists, "It is about the money, it's all about the money and that's sad."

But Burns denied that.

"The Budweiser sponsorship is a significant sponsor for us," he said. "This year, (Cottrell) didn't respond to us, so we had to move on. We would love to have Cottrell be able to step into the major sponsorship Budweiser is in, but it just isn't in the cards. It's a fact of life. We are a realistic organization trying to do realistic things in Mystic and the surrounding areas."

Burns and Cunningham also said they try not to double up on participants who are competitors, though sponsors do double up. For instance, The Day and the Westerly Sun are both sponsors, as are some local banks. Buffum said Cottrell is willing to be a sponsor, but again, Cunningham said it's too late.

"I really don't think there's a story here because they were given the opportunity to participate," she said.

The Taste of Mystic, held Sept. 10-12, is one of the chamber's largest fundraisers, and the Levine Distributors sponsorship enables the chamber to host other events, like the Lighted Boat Parade and Santa Arrives By Tugboat, Cunningham said.

"We required the sponsorship of Bud and it was the best path to take for the organization," Burns said. "We're trying to do the best thing for the community and the chamber."

Buffum said he'd like to start "a new dialogue" with the chamber about the matter, regardless.

In 2008, the impasse was resolved by early September.

Lenny Levine, owner of Levine Distributors, could not be reached to comment.

p.daddona@theday.com

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