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Cottrell Brewing Co. of Pawcatuck is closing

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Stonington — On Feb. 28, 1997, Charlie Buffum rolled his first keg of Old Yankee Ale down Mechanic Street to C.C O'Brien's bar in downtown Pawcatuck.

That keg marked the start of the craft beer boom in the region as numerous brewers across Connecticut and Rhode Island have followed Buffum's Cottrell Brewing Co., such as Beer'd Brewing Co. in the borough and Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly. Many people who learned the art of brewing while working for Buffum have gone on to open their own breweries or brew for others.   

But now, Buffum has decided to close Cottrell after a 25-year run, as his lease in the former Harris Graphics mill expired and he did not have success in renewing it with the owner. The space now will be leased by General Dynamics.

Buffum and his employees on Wednesday were continuing to dismantle the brewing equipment and sell off the remaining cases of beer or pour a draft for customers who stop by. Buffum said he has found a buyer for all the equipment and is selling the rights to the brand to the Powder Hollow Brewery in Enfield, which is continuing to make and distribute the various Cottrell beers.

"It's sad. This has been my life for 25 years, my home away from home for 25 years," he said Wednesday, while standing next to pallets of Stonington Glory Pilsner and Perry's Revenge Ale. "And it's sad for my employees."

"Like any business, it's had its ups and downs and its challenges," he added. "But it's been a passion of mine for 25 years."

Buffum, 61, said he considered finding a new location after he was informed that his lease was not being renewed last summer, which did not give him much time to make a move. He said any new location would have had to be renovated and that meant time, money and permits.

"It would have been six to 12 months at a minimum before we would have been up and running and we would have had to have someone make our beer" during that time, he said.

"I'm not a young person anymore. I don't want to start all over at my age," he said.

Buffum said he most enjoyed "making something that people liked in the community. Second would be working with my employees, customers and distributors. You meet a lot of good people over 25 years."

He employs five people.

One of those is Pat Boyle of Stonington, who has worked in all aspects of the brewery for the past seven years.

"It's pretty sad. It's the end of a family," he said while standing behind the bar where draft beer is poured for customers. "We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families. This place holds a special place in my heart. There's a lot of memories here."

Boyle said that along with being passionate about beer, the main reason he has continued to work at Cottrell is "because Charlie is such a great boss."

"I've learned a lot here. He's open to teaching you. So this has been a great opportunity for me," said Boyle, who plans to continue working in the beer industry.

Boyle said Buffum is "revered among other brewers" because of his willingness to share his knowledge and teach them.       

Long family history

It was in 1855 that Buffum's great-great-grandfather opened CB Cottrell & Sons in the same building where Cottrell Brewing is located at 100 Mechanic St. and grew it into one of the largest printing press manufacturers in the country. The building remained a printing press manufacturer until 1989, when Harris Graphics closed.

Since brewing that first keg of Old Yankee Ale, the company's flagship beer, Buffum and his team have gone on to create their most popular beer, Mystic Bridge IPA, which features a rendering of the downtown drawbridge on the label; Incredibly Pretentious Ale, a double IPA; Off Duty, a summer tropical pale ale, and Stonington Glory, a pilsner that commemorates the 1814 Battle of Stonington, in which residents with two cannons successfully defended the town from British navy ships.  

Buffum also has combined his other passion — searching for historic shipwrecks — with beer, when he launched Perry's Revenge Ale, a Scotch ale.

The beer commemorated his 2005 discovery with diving partner Craig Harger of the wreck of the USS Revenge off the coast of Watch Hill. Two cannons have since been raised from the wreck by the Navy and are being restored at the Archeological and Conservation Laboratory at the Washington (D.C.) Navy Yard.

The USS Revenge was Oliver Hazard Perry's first naval command before his famous victory in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. It was during that battle that Perry became known for some of the most famous phrases in U.S. history.

Aboard his ship the USS Lawrence was a battle flag bearing the now-famous saying "Don't give up the ship." At the beginning of the battle in September 1813, which is seen as a turning point in the war, Perry said, "If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it." Later, in his post-battle report to his superiors, Perry wrote another saying that would become famous: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

Industry, community impact 

Aaren Simoncini, the co-founder and owner of Beer'd Brewing Co., was one of those who learned the art of brewing from Buffum before going out on his own in 2012. Simoncini's popular brewery has locations in the American Velvet Mill in the borough and in Groton.

Simoncini was working as an accountant and making beer as a hobby in his garage in 2009, when he asked Buffum if he could come by the brewery and watch the operation. Buffum told him he could volunteer, which he did for a year using days off from his job. That gave him the insight into the industry that he needed to put together his business plan and open Beer'd with his wife, Precious Putnam.

"I am forever grateful to Charlie and the Cottrell family for opening their doors to me," Simoncini said Tuesday, adding that the two breweries have worked together and shared resources over the years.

Simoncini called Buffum "a pioneer" in the craft beer industry. "It's hard to believe after this long that (Cottrell) will be gone," he said.

Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki called Cottrell Brewery an "anchor" business in Pawcatuck, drawing people to the village for years. She added Cottrell also served as an incubator for future breweries as brewers learned the craft and business while working for Buffum.

She called Cottrell, a longtime chamber member, "an amazing community partner" who always was willing to help with fundraisers, events and other causes.

"They've given a lot to this community," she said Wednesday. "And they've created a legacy with their products."      

As for what he will do next, Buffum said that's the $64,000 question.

"I have ideas," he said, "I have a lot left to do."

j.wojtas@theday.com

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