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Comfort food’s got nothing on New London's hometown beer

It's a good time to be a local beer drinker.

The newest ale on the scene has 5 percent alcohol, a pretty lady on the label and it tastes good, too.

The self-proclaimed "official beer of the Whaling City" is on shelves now and, so far, it's getting a good reception, said Fred Argilagos, one of the creators of the new brew.

Argilagos, a co-owner of the Thames River Greenery and its wine and spirits shop, is the brains behind Safe Harbor beer and its initial offering, an American blonde ale.

"It's a tribute to the city," Argilagos said last week. "We like the phrase 'safe harbor,' and New London is a safe harbor."

Its label features a scantily-clad woman dressed in 1940s-era nautical-themed clothes, with verbiage that says the beer is part of The Great New London Brewing Company. The woman featured is local, Argilagos said, and the photographer/illustrator has a studio in the city.

"Never give up the ship" says the top of the label, a nod to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the city's parade area that bears a similar inscription.

"The label pays tribute to New London's history, specifically the maritime aspect," Argilagos said.

Safe Harbor was released Aug. 15 and is making its way out into the region, Argilagos said. He says people have been coming into his shop in the last couple of weeks looking for the brew. He held a tasting two weeks ago.

"It's been well received," Argilagos said. "People have been coming in asking for it; they love the stuff. When we created it, we said it had to be friendly and drinkable but, most important, New London's own."

There's no brewery in the city limits, but Argilagos' team stayed local, using Cottrell Brewing Company in Pawcatuck to create, brew and bottle Safe Harbor.

"We described to them what we wanted, they made several batches and we gave the thumbs up or thumbs down," said Argilagos.

The resulting brew is a winner, said Chris Kepple, Cottrell's director of sales and marketing. The brewery has been busy with tours and tastings, Kepple said, but was eager to work on a new beer.

"The spirit is in New London, but the production is in Pawcatuck," he said.

While Cottrell brews Narragansett and other beers on a contractual basis, Kepple said Safe Harbor is a partnership, and he has a vested interest in the beer's success.

The early returns are good.

Eric Filardi, owner of F & F Distributors in New London, said he's generally cautious on initial rollouts of new beer, but "this has been great - it's exceeded expectations."

"I just hope (Cottrell brewer) Charlie (Buffum) can make it quick enough," Filardi said.

Rod Cornish, the owner of Tio Rodrigo's and Hot Rod's, both on Bank Street, said he got his first shipment last week and has both restaurants stocked with Safe Harbor.

"We buy craft beer from Brooklyn and Mystic, but people here really like that this is even more local," Cornish said. "It does mean something to be from New London, to be proud of it, and this beer is a quality product."

Argilagos said the idea to make a beer began to take shape three years ago, but it's something he's always thought about during his 37 years in the city.

"Life's a storm; where's your safe harbor?" Argilagos said. "Ours is right here in New London."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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