This is our final preview of David Bardallis‘ upcoming book, “Ann Arbor Beer: A Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing.” Below is an excerpt from the book, slated to be released Aug. 27. To pre-order David’s book, please visit Amazon.com.
Every end contains within it the seeds of a new beginning, as the old saying goes. One Monday morning, a twenty-four-year-old sporting a beard and a backpack popped into the Real Ale Company and woke Ted Badgerow where he slept on the floor. They sat on an old sofa together and smoked while the young man asked questions about beer and brewing for a few hours before leaving to hitchhike his way back to Kalamazoo. Three years later, Larry Bell took what he learned from Badgerow (as well as some equipment he bought from the failed Real Ale Company) and founded the brewery that today bears his name.
“I was homebrewing a lot, watching what they were doing, buying beer from them, definitely interested in what they had going on,” remembered Bell. At the time, he was living at a group house on Washtenaw Avenue while he worked at various Ann Arbor restaurants and waited to start a job at a friend’s new jazz club, the Bird of Paradise, that was supposed to open soon.
“I didn’t have a car back then, but I sometimes borrowed my girlfriend’s to drive down to the Fink Brothers homebrew supply store in Dundee,” remembered Bell. “The Bird of Paradise ended up not opening until a few years later, and I had better opportunities in Kalamazoo, so I moved back.”
By the time he started the then Kalamazoo Brewing Company, Bell had acquired Badgerow’s thirty-gallon soup kettle. “I gave Ted $100 for it,” he said. “We used it only as a mash tun in our three-vessel, one-barrel system because there were no controls on it.”
Bell’s has, of course, grown a wee bit from its initial production of 135 barrels. It’s now the seventh-largest craft brewery (fourteenth largest overall) by sales volume in the country, producing more than 200,000 barrels annually and distributing such wildly popular beers as Oberon and Two- Hearted ales in eighteen states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.