BELLAIRE — Nearly 200 leaders in the state’s craft brewing industry were present at the Michigan Brewers Guild annual conference at Shanty Creek Resort last week, where the inaugural “Tom Burns Award” – recognizing the pioneering spirit of the “Great Beer State” – was presented to Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery.
Bell was one of four nominees for the award — the others being Ron Jeffries (Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales), Fred Bueltmann (New Holland Brewing Co.) and John Linardos (Motor City Brewing Works).
The award was named after Detroit and Mackinac Brewing Company founder and brewer, Tom Burns, who passed away of cancer May 1, 1994. Burns, a “recovering attorney” whose passion was brewing, is credited with many of the advancements in brewing legislation, rules, and regulations in the 1990s which paved the way for a thriving industry which is currently ranked #5 nationally.
“Burns truly was a pioneer for the Michigan brewing industry, and the Guild felt that naming this award after him was a great way to honor Tom as a person, while recognizing his legacy that has been the foundation for the ‘Great Beer State’,” said Eric Briggeman, president of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild.
Briggeman was joined by Priscilla Burns, Tom’s widow, and Tom Brandel, close friend and founder of Tom’s Oyster Bar, for the presentation.
“Each of the four nominees were qualified candidates for this award,” Briggeman said. “Yet, given the fact that Larry holds the oldest ‘microbrewery’ license in Michigan, and he worked very closely with Tom Burns on shaping our state’s brewing legislation in the early 1990s, we felt he was the clear choice as the recipient of this inaugural award.”
Bell’s daughter, Laura, accepted the award on his behalf. “Everyone in this room has been affected by Tom’s efforts back in the nineties. His push for, and success at getting brewpub language adopted in the state laws paved the way for what is now one of the most dynamic brewery scenes in the USA,” she said.
“Though Tom’s life was too short he left an important legacy that we all can honor and that honors us all. I was proud to call him a friend and I am proud of the Guild for honoring him today. So please, let’s raise our glass and toast Tom Burns.”
Bell opened Bell’s Brewery in 1985, with a 15-gallon soup kettle and $200. Since then, he has grown Bell’s into one of the largest regional craft breweries in the country. Bell has been actively involved in the craft beer industry — serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Brewing Studies and as a Board of Directors member for the Association of Brewers. He was also Inaugural President of the Michigan Brewer’s Guild. He currently is active as an Ex-Officio board member of the Beer Institute, as well as a member of the American Malting Barley Association Board of Directors. In 2010, Bell was honored with the Brewer’s Association Recognition Award.