Ringing in More than 30 Years of Brewing
Craft Brewing today is all about what’s new. The newest brewery on the block seems to get all the attention, and while we can’t blame anyone for needing to check out the new kid on the block, it’s the pioneers of craft beer that are proving the staying power of brewing great beer. For Bell’s Brewery that means more than 30 years of making beer that isn’t like everything else on the market, and that’s a very good thing.
To see where it all started for Bell’s, we need to take a trip down brewery lane all the way back to the late 1970’s. Here we find Larry Bell homebrewing when there wasn’t a supply store in every town or an Internet to order supplies from. To rectify this problem, Larry opened his own homebrew supply store and named it Kalamazoo Brewing Co.
Fast-forward to 1985 and Larry stepped up from homebrewing and in September of this year he sold his first commercial beer. In 1986 the total commercial production was 135 barrels of beer, and while this is small compared to today’s numbers, it was a very big deal at the time.
The 1990s were a big decade for Bell’s, as 1990 saw the first Bell’s Brewery beer sold outside of the state of Michigan. 1993 marked the opening of the Eccentric Café, which was the first on-site brewery pub in Michigan. The brewery continued to grow, which quickly made the craft brewery need a new, larger brewery to continue to grow.
In response to their continual growth, Bell’s opened their new Comstock Brewery in 2003. Constant growth and construction followed their success, and in 2012 the expansion to a new, American-made 200-barrel brewhouse was finished and open for business at the Comstock Brewery.
Seeing the trend in canned beers, Bell’s added a canning line in 2014, and since then more of their most-loved beers have seen the inside of these aluminum vessels, including Hopslam, Oberon, Smitten, Winter White, and Best Brown Ale.
September of 2015 marked the 30th anniversary of Bell’s Brewery, cementing them as a pillar of the craft brewing community. In 2017 Bell’s co-owner Laura Bell was promoted to CEO of the brewery. As the daughter of Bell’s Founder Larry, Laura grew up with the brewery, being 2 months old when the company was founded. Her father Larry continues to be Bell’s President and is still very active in the planning and oversight of projects at the brewery.
Bell’s Brewery is currently the 7th largest craft brewery in the United States with annual production in 2016 topping out at a little more than 420,000 barrels of beer.
Brewery history is all nice and fine, but the beer is really where it’s at, and that’s one thing that is always ringing true at Bell’s. With year-round and seasonal lineups that resonate with craft beer fans near and far, Bell’s is leading the way after more than 30 years of brewing.
Bell’s Brewery is known as much for their seasonal beers as they are for their year-round beers, which is hard to do for a brewery that’s been around as long as Bell’s has. Looking at their year-round lineup, it’s hard to list anything but Two Hearted Ale first. This American IPA is brewed with 100% Centennial hops, which give the beer huge hop aroma and taste, with grapefruit upfront and a nice malt backbone throughout. Two Hearted comes in at 7% ABV in cans, bottles, and on draft. If you only try one beer from Bell’s, this should be it.
On the other side of the lineup is the year-round Oarsman Ale, a 4% ABV tart wheat ale that’s bright, refreshing, and lightly hopped as to add to the overall experience and not dominate the beer. While Oarsman is perfect in the warm weather, it’s really a great beer any time of the year, which is why you should be thankful it’s available all year.
A newer beer from Bell’s is their Oatsmobile Ale. This year-round American Pale Ale comes in at a sessionable 4.3% ABV and features a hefty hop lineup including Mosaic, Ekuanot, and Glacier hops. These, along with the oats used in the brewing process, give Oatsmobile a blend of peach, mango, and tropical aromas while keeping bitterness in check.
Looking at Bell’s seasonal offerings things get even better. By and far one of the best summer beers around is their Oberon American Wheat Ale. This 5.8% ABV wheat ale is brewed with Bell’s signature house ale yeast, which helps to give the beer its hop character and mild fruity aroma. Brewed with only 4 ingredients, Oberon is clean, simple, and incredibly crushable. With summer winding down, this is one beer you want to make sure you do not miss, especially since it’s available this year in the 5-liter mini keg.
Summer isn’t the only time for seasonal beers, and a shining example of this is Bell’s Best Brown Ale. What starts as a typical brown ale is kicked up a notch thanks to the generous use of American hops that perfectly offset the caramel and cocoa nuances hiding in each sip. Clocking in at 5.8% ABV, this fall seasonal beer is lower in alcohol than the big heavy stouts found in the fall, and is just dark enough to help us transition from the brighter flavors we expect from spring and summer beers. In short, it’s the perfect balance of flavor and body with just enough alcohol to make it stand out from the crowd.
While we wish summer could last all year, the arrival of August means we’re seeing fall creep around the corner, and even though that means chillier weather, it also means some great seasonal releases from Bell’s including:
• Special Double Cream Stout
• Oktoberfest Beer
• Expedition Stout
• Third Coast Old Ale
With the focus on independent craft beer, it’s great to see a company like Bell’s that keeps a focus on family and community while making consistently great beer. Bell’s employs more than 400 employees, and thanks to the father-daughter combination of Larry and Laura Bell, continues to be a family-run business making some of the best beer around.