Keeping the American Craft Beer Dream Alive
Craft Brewing today is all about what’s new. The newest brewery on the block seems to get all the attention, & 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 makin`g beer that isn’t like everything else on the market, & 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 & named it Kalamazoo Brewing Co.
Fast-forward to 1985 & Larry stepped up from homebrewing & in September of this year he sold his first commercial beer. In 1986 the total commercial production was 135 barrels of beer, & 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 & construction followed their success, & in 2012 the expansion to a new, American-made 200-barrel brewhouse was finished & open for business at the Comstock Brewery.
Seeing the trend in canned beers, Bell’s added a canning line in 2014, & since then more of their most-loved beers have seen the inside of these aluminum vessels, including Hopslam, Oberon, Smitten, Two Hearted, Winter White, & 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 & is still very active in the planning & oversight of projects at the brewery.
Bell’s Brewery is currently holding steady as the 7th largest craft brewery in the United States with annual production in 2018 topping out at a little more than 463,000 barrels of beer.
Brewery history is all nice & fine, but the beer is really where it’s at, & that’s one thing that is always ringing true at Bell’s. With year-round & seasonal lineups that resonate with craft beer fans near & 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 has been ranked #1 in the US for a third straight year, and for good reason. Two Hearted is brewed with 100% Centennial hops, which gives the beer huge hop aroma & taste, with grapefruit upfront & a nice malt backbone throughout. Two Hearted comes in at 7% ABV in cans, bottles, & on draft. If you only try one beer from Bell’s, this should be it.
Looking at Bell’s seasonal offerings things get even better. By & 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 & mild fruity aroma. Brewed with only 4 ingredients, Oberon is clean, simple, & incredibly crushable. With summer winding down, this is one beer you want to make sure you don’t miss.
The big thing in beer these past few years has definitely been the hazy, unfiltered IPA. These beer buck the system when it comes to professionally brewed beer. They’re intense, expire quickly, & look hazy & cloudy instead of clear & amber-esque. Even though they don’t quite fit in, these hazy beers are a thing to behold.
Bell’s Brewery has their own take on this new style with their Official Hazy IPA. Official rings in at 6.4% ABV with a short 6-month shelf life. Brewed with American hops & wheat malt, Official is dry-hopped two times with a combination of Mosaic, Citra, Azacca, Amarillo, & El Dorado hops, giving it complex flavors of peach, stone fruit, & a balanced dry finish. You can find Official in 12 oz bottles, 12 & 16-oz cans, & of course on draft. Oh, & did I mention that each 12-oz serving of Official has less than 200 calories & 12g of carbs? Pretty good for a beer this amazing!
Wrapping up our look at our favorite beers from Bell’s Brewery we close things out on their Leaves of Grass Series. Currently this series has Song of Myself, which is a German-inspired American India Pale Ale and The Prairie-Grass Dividing, a Gose-Style Ale with plum, salt, and coriander.
Song of Myself is the first of seven beers in this Walt Whitman-inspired series and comes in at 6.5% ABV. SoM pours a clear golden color & uses 100% German malt & hops to give this IPA a very European twist.
The Prairie-Grass Dividing is the second beer of the series, coming in at a very sessional 4.5% ABV. Pouring a cloudy pinkish hue, this beer pays homage to old-world brewing and ingredients with heirloom grains & plum juice to help create the tart flavor profile this beer sports.
With the focus on independent craft beer, it’s great to see a company like Bell’s that keeps a focus on family & community while making consistently great beer. Bell’s employs more than 400 employees, & thanks to the father-daughter combination of Larry & Laura Bell, continues to be a family-run business making some of the best beer around.