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Micro-brewery opens in former US Rubber Company mill complex

Pivotal Brewing, which will be the anchor business for a redevelopment project, opens in Unity Park.

Pivotal Brewing Company, founded by business and life partners Todd Nicholson and Rebecca Ernst, will be the first business to anchor Unity Park, the site of the former United States Rubber Company.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

BRISTOL, R.I. — By World War II, more than 4,000 people were employed by the United States Rubber Company, led by industrialist Samuel P. Colt, where wire for portable communications and heavier wire for ships and tanks was produced. The company’s plant on Wood Street was expanding at the time, from its two-story hipped roof structure to a complex for the rubber company.

The slogan “Wire to Win the War” was splashed nearly everywhere locally, and made that factory hum as the largest rubber company in the nation. Of course, like many industrial complexes and mills throughout Rhode Island, it also met its demise.


The Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation took over the property in the late 1950s, only for technical advances in manufacturing to streamline production, and ultimately closed the complex’s doors in 1977.

The U.S. Rubber Company is now owned by Michelin, and the site has had a number of redevelopment proposals in industries related to health care, education, and recreation in the years since.

Pivotal Brewing Company in Bristol, R.I.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

But when Todd Nicholson and Rebecca Ernst drove by the complex, now called Unity Park, on a Sunday in 2019, they decided to stop and peer through the windows. They saw 40-foot ceilings, exposed brick, oversized windows, concrete floors, rusted out steel, and even a 1938 Jubilee Plymouth on cinder blocks.

It was authentic, and perfect, the couple thought, for their business plan.

Fast forward to December 2021, and the two are just a couple of weeks into the opening of Pivotal Brewing Company, where they serve pints and four-packs of cans to-go.

“You don’t really feel the grandness or history of the space until you walk in,” said Ernst, who told the Globe many local descendants of former workers who once worked inside the rubber company have already made their way into the brewery.


A selection of brews by Pivotal Brewing Company.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe
"Follow the Stack," a stout offering with an image of the building on the label. Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

Nicholson said the brewery has three kegs on tap, with another three that will be added to the daily beer menu. “Hello My Name is Pivotal” is a double dry-hopped IPA that features mosaic and Amarillo hops, punching in at an ABV of 8.5 percent. Nicholson, the hazy IPA lover of the pair, said it has a “dank aroma” with initial tasting notes of stone fruit and papaya with a smooth finish.

“Sippican Fruit Salad” is a fruit witbier made with pomegranate, racking in at an ABV of 4.8 percent. He said this particular beer will belong in a series of fruited witbier, with the next being made with several hundreds of pounds of raspberries. The “ESB,” which stands for “Extra Special Bitter,” is caramel-tasting, with notes of biscuits and a light touch of sweetness on the finish, Nicholson said.

Their imperial stout — with an ABV of a whopping 10 percent — is called “Follow The Stack,” which is an ode to the stack tower left over from the rubber company’s days, and has notes of coffee, chocolate, and a smooth, dark fruit finish. “It’s Electric,” a Catharina sour, is juicy, made with a combination of ripened mango and pineapple. The “Weekapaug Groove,” a double-dry hopped IPA with an ABV of 7.3 percent, combines galaxy and el dorado hops for a juicy-fruit bomb and smooth finish.

Flights, samples, and pint pours are available in their dog-friendly space. And while they don’t sell food, guests are welcome to order from nearby food trucks, restaurants, or bring their own snacks. Soon, Nicholson said, a number of businesses will open alongside them in the complex, including Brick, a pizza shop; a plant-based restaurant; a coffee café; and other businesses.


“The overall strategy is to try to make something for everyone,” said Nicholson. “We want people to come here and enjoy the beer, the company, and the history of this space.”

Pivotal Brewing Company is located at 500 Wood St. in Bristol, R.I. It is open from 4 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, from 2 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, noon to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed Mondays through Wednesdays. Pivotalbrewing.com.

Rebecca Ernst and Todd Nicholson at the bar.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.