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Friday, April 27 News

Beer here, there & everywhere: Brew lover pours it on for a good cause

There are many ways to raise money for cancer research. Marathons, races, bake sales, raffles, auctions and dinner parties are some examples. But those options didn't appeal to Todd Ruggere, a beer lover from Grafton, Mass.

So last year, he decided to drink a beer in every one of Massachusetts' 351 municipalities while collecting donations for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's pediatric unit in Boston.

"When I first started, no one knew what I was doing. I was on my own," Ruggere said.

But by March 2013, when he had stopped at about 50 different bars, the Mass Beer Tour picked up steam and Ruggere was featured in dozens of TV news stories and newspapers articles.

After raising nearly $40,000 for cancer research by the time he finished his quest, Ruggere decided to visit a different state. So this year, Ruggere plans to drink a cold one in all 169 Connecticut cities and towns to raise money for the children's unit of the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

In dry towns, such as Connecticut's Bridgewater and several in Massachusetts, Ruggere said he goes to people's houses or farms. He said two Bridgewater residents have already invited him to their homes, but he hasn't scheduled a stop there yet.

On Friday evening, Ruggere stopped at Chef Luis in New Canaan, and he planned stops in Westport, Fairfield, Norwalk, Darien and Stamford during the weekend.

Luis Lopez, the New Canaan restaurant's chef, said he would donate proceeds of the sales of at least one type of beer during the event. There was also an auction with several items, including beer souvenir and wine bottles.

Ruggere has been to more than 80 towns and raised more than $20,000 in Connecticut so far, which is more than half what he did in Massachusetts last year -- $38,000, according to Dana-Farber spokesman Molly McHale.

The 39-year-old mutual fund employee wouldn't say whether Connecticut residents are more generous, but he said he's more well-known now compared to last year, which he believes helps bring more people into the bars and restaurants when he appears.

The donations do not depend on how much Ruggere drinks.

"Everyone does something different," he said. "Some places donate 10 percent of the sales, some do raffles, some raffle a gift card."

Ruggere said he does not organize the events because of the number of places he visits every week.

"I don't have time to promote 169 stops, so I usually leave it to the bars," he said.

Lopez learned about Ruggere from New Canaan resident Kevin Mardorf during a breast cancer fundraiser at the restaurant in March. Mardorf works with Stratford's Two Roads Brewing Co., which is sponsoring Ruggere's tour.

He said Ruggere's mission is "a great cause all around."

"It's a great idea to bring people in the community together for a great cause, make new friends, meet new people, while helping kids who have cancer," Mardorf said.

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"What better way to raise money than a great beer and a great cause?" said Brad Hittle, Two Roads' chief executive officer. "He's really charged up about the cause. He really believes in it."

Hittle said he met Ruggere at the brewery days before he started his Connecticut tour.

"Todd came here last December as a customer and about three hours later he left with a sponsor," Hittle said. "It just made perfect sense, and he's a super good guy."

The biggest single donation Ruggere has seen in Connecticut so far was at a special fundraiser at JoyRide Cycling Studio in Ridgefield, where he said "a very generous man" gave him a $10,000 check.

Ridgefield is in first place in the state with $12,200 and Stratford is third with $1,228. The biggest night he had in Massachusetts produced $7,000.

When it comes to paying for his own beer, Ruggere said he has to do so only about a third of the time. The beer lover promises he's not drinking and driving.

"If I'm by myself, I'll just drink one beer so I can drive," he said. "But if I have someone to drive me, I'll drink more."

After Ruggere ended his Massachusetts tour last September, people from all over New England called him and invited him to do tours, he said. But he realized it would be easiest to bring his quest to Connecticut.

One of the differences with the 2013 tour is the type of beer he is drinking. Ruggere, who never drinks hard liquor or wine, is only having Connecticut beers this year after drinking a Boston beer for a year.

"In Massachusetts, I strictly drank Sam Adams," he said.

Ruggere chronicles his trips on Twitter, Facebook and on the website ctpourtour.com.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira|Education/general assignment reporter