bells brewery

Bell’s Brewery makes a lot of beer. During a tour of their sprawling facility in Comstock, Michigan, Austin Giles, our guide and the biggest bear hug of a person, spouts trivia at a mile a minute to drive that point home. Here are a few facts that stuck. Every second, two pints of Two Hearted are sold in Michigan. Every ninety minutes, during three different shifts a day, the team starts a new batch, and to get through one four-hundred barrel fermenter, of which they have sixty-six, it would take a person sixty years while drinking a six-pack a day. Giles smiles as though he’s up for the challenge. 

So yeah, Bell’s makes a lot of beer, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost touch with their roots. At the beginning of a timeline tracking the brewery’s milestones, there hangs a soup pot—Larry’s first brewing vessel—that could double as a sacred idol. “You look back at the pot and it’s like, oh my gosh, we were the original nanobrewery,” Bell said. It’s true and frankly insane to see how much has changed. When Bell opened up shop his competition included twenty-five other American breweries—only nine of which remain—and by 2020 we’re on track for upwards of eight thousand. Looking at the soup pot, these numbers leave an impression. This humble cauldron ushered in one of the nation’s largest and most successful breweries.

Despite his stature as a beer titan, Bell comes off disarmingly

down-to-earth and easy to get along with.

 

While moseying among the steel tanks, stories high and warehouses long, it’s hard not to feel awestruck by this empire Bell has built. Now distributed in 40 states, the Bell’s footprint goes toe-to-toe with many big box brandsand on its own terms no less. As AB-InBev continues to gobble up craft breweries, and craft breweries merge into conglomerate fortresses, Bell’s remains one-hundred percent independent and family owned. “Big brewers can say all they want that people don’t care who makes their beer, where it comes from, whether it’s independent,” Bell said. “I happen to know that they do.”  

 

I believe we’d all agree. Still, for as much as they care about their consumer, when I think about Bell’s I think about a pair of leather bootsworn in, trusty, but tucked away in a closet and taken for granted. At times, Bell feels forgotten too, “The number one question we get on tours is, is he still with us?”

He most certainly is, and to share a conversation with him now is to get lost in an aura of enigmatic energy. Despite his stature as a beer titan, Bell comes off disarmingly down-to-earth. We ricochet between his dreams of Bollrathian aliens, admiration for Walt Whitman, and musings on baseball. “When my brain has nothing to do, the place it goes is Cubs,” Bell said. Admittedly, his folkish veneer dissolves when he takes a call regarding his new Aston Martin. The sportscar will accompany his collection of eight Jaguars. Hippy turned tycoon, I can’t name another auteur in the industry quite like Larry Bell. I like to imagine he keeps a copy of Leaves of Grass stashed in every glove box. 

That said, when discussing the company, Bell is lucid. “I feel really good and excited about where we are right now,” Bell said. “We have a lot of energy behind innovation and new brands.” Take Flamingo Fruit Fight, Sparkleberry, and Pooltime for example. There’s a noticeable uptick of fun seeping into the portfolio. The Leaves of Grass series embodies the brewery’s free spirit too, breathing life into one of our country’s most nourishing poems. To borrow from verse, “the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.” Whether the beer takes off or not, it’s touching that Bell would risk sales to indulge a deeply personal project. 

 

Bell’s charters an intriguing way forward during a time when the future of craft beer isn’t entirely clear. Some argue there’s plenty of pie left for newcomers. Others worry how small the slivers are getting. “Let’s face it, we’re seeing the plateau,” Bell said. “Those heady days of 20% growth are gone. A third of the top 50 breweries had negative numbers this year.” 

From the sidelines, it seems like a good time for Bell’s to dig in their heels and pump out Oberon year-round, pile on surplus and see how things shake out, but they refuse to rest on their laurels. In fact, they’ve done the opposite. They’ve invested in a new pilot system to nurture creative recipes on a larger scale, revamped their beer garden to welcome nationally touring acts, and tinkered with their flagships to better reflect a drinker’s taste in 2019. It seems to be working. 

Unfortunately, a lot of press has focused on Bell’s trademark disputes and shifting leadership, but there’s an untold story in how they’re quietly adapting to a changing landscape. As consumer behavior shifts constantly, careful planning has gone into striking a balance between innovation and tradition, and hopefully what this amounts to is Bell’s meaning a little something important to everyone.

Let’s start with the enthusiast, perhaps the hardest to please, because no sooner does Oberon get tapped than it gets maligned on untappd as “worse than last year’s,” or for those who really want to flex their troll cred, “better when it was Solsun.” This vocal minority views Oberon as a scapegoat representing all that’s wrong with mainstream taste. It feels unfair to levy all this anger on one beer. While Oberon does taste mild, even compared to some of its seasonal competition, that’s its intentionto enhance experiences, not distract from them. Ultimately, if it bores, don’t drink it, there’s a wealth of choices to satisfy. Bell’s recently caged and corked The Wild One with raspberries, an open-fermented fruited sour that directly appeals to a beer nerd’s palate. But even these experimental offerings are beside the point. 

“Beer geeks get in their own echo chambers, whether it’s on Beer Advocate or other related groups. From where I sit, the world of beer is quite different,” Bell said. “I look at how much Two Hearted we sell.” As I’m sure you could guess, it’s a lot. “If Two Hearted were its own craft brewery it’d be the 13th largest brewery in the country.” No buts about it, Two Hearted mints cash, but maybe we’re lucky to enjoy this elephant in the brewhouse.  

For the third consecutive year, Zymurgy magazine, the homebrewer’s holy text, voted Two Hearted as the best beer, full stop, ousting the likes of Pliny the Elder and Heady Topper. Bell’s placing could derive from how cozy they are with homebrewers—what other major brewery packages their house yeast for commercial use?—but Matt Moberly, VP of sales and marketing, sees it differently. “Two Hearted’s beauty is in its simplicity,” Moberly said. “I think that sometimes the complexity of trying to innovative and utilize cool-kid hops can overpower the beauty of a balanced beer.” Single-hopped, aromatic, endlessly drinkable, it’s absolutely the six-pack I reach for after getting burned by another New-England murkbomb.

 

This brings us to Official, Bell’s foray into the hazy IPA market, which on a surface level looks like analytics pandering to what’s hot. I’ve caught myself accusing Bell’s of bandwagoning on the hazy train, but Bell anticipated these criticisms from the jump, “Look, we’ve been brewing unfiltered beer for decades,” he said. “If there’s something that’s trendy, how do we do it the Bell’s way, within our ethos and standards.” That means no flour and no shortcuts. While light on haze, the bouquet on Official is huge, and the tasting notes hit requisite citrus flavors without overwhelming the senses.  

A recurring motif from my conversations is the brewery’s insistence on quality. Bell’s gets first pick of centennial hops out west, their foeders are some of the finest in the biz, their brewing and packaging equipment is state of the art and environmentally friendly. They take pride in being a jack of all trades. “We define our brewery based on the breadth of our portfolio, not any single area,” Moberly said. “We strive to be a brewers brewery: let’s be really really good at everything we try.” The Bell’s logo has become synonymous with integrity.

bells brewery

Matt Moberly

So why have some brands like Roundhouse and Quinanan Falls disappeared into the ether? While beer speaks for itself, Moberly has noticed that to capture a younger audience, good liquid on its own doesn’t always cut it. “It’s so crowded now you have to have the total package when you put something out,” he said. “You have to not only have good beer but good branding and imagery for a chance to be successful.” Visually refreshing classics like Porter and Kalamazoo stout shows a willingness to bend even when it hurts. The new typography doesn’t quite match the original’s charm, but the consistent look should block well on store shelves. 

Ultimately, it’s about getting great beer into the hands of those who have overlooked it. For a majority of their brands, this isn’t a problem. Their portfolio has become iconic, slipping into the unexpected cracks of our lives. “I don’t know who climbs a mountain with a can of Coke,” Moberly said. “But they love to carry an Expedition Stout or a Two Hearted, take us along to their favorite places, and share their experiences with us. That’s pretty awesome.” 

Questions of succession remain as Bell reckons with his mortality, “I know I won’t live forever,” he said. I wouldn’t expect a funeral any time soon. His faculties remain acute, and his vision clear as day as a member of the old guard, Bell doesn’t see the craft beer tide reversing any time soon. “The revolution has already won,” he said. “We cracked the cosmic egg.” Whatever the future holds, all signs point to the cosmic scramble turning out in Bell’s favor. 

 

new holland spirits

The Michigan distillery announces plans to expand with new tasting room in scenic Lake Michigan town

 

SAUGATUCK, MICH. — New Holland Spirits has announced it is starting the construction of a new tasting room at 201 Culver Street in the heart of Saugatuck, Michigan. Pending regulatory approvals, the new location is scheduled to open in time for the July 4th celebration downtown.

“New Holland is thrilled to open up our first spirits-focused tasting room in Saugatuck.” said David White, Vice President of Retail Operations and Partner. “As neighbors along the lakeshore, we appreciate the unique atmosphere of Michigan’s coastal communities as destinations for great food and drinks. We can’t wait to become a part of Saugatuck’s vibrant downtown.”

The new tasting room is located across the street from Bowdie’s Chophouse and around the corner from The Butler restaurant. Its prime location in walkable downtown Saugatuck will make it an ideal destination for happy hour cocktails or an after-dinner nightcap.

new holland spiritsGuests will be able to taste and purchase New Holland’s award-winning spirits, including Knickerbocker Gin, Beer Barrel Bourbon and Lake Life Vodka, at the new location. The new space will serve some of New Holland’s most popular cocktails, as well as wine and cider. Select cocktails and limited run spirits will be available on draft. The tasting room will offer some light food options in the form of appetizers brought in from New Holland’s Pub on 8th in Holland, Michigan, including their Famous Beer Cheese and Crackers, Woodsman Platter, Spice Roasted Nuts and Hummus Platter.

Seating for 30 will be available indoors, and there will be 12 seats on the outdoor patio. The new space will be available to book for private events and parties for up to 35 people.

Visitors to the tasting room will be able to take home New Holland spirits in a variety of bottle sizes. Merchandise and cocktail bar essentials will also be available for sale in the retail space, making it a must-stop for the traveler in need of supplies.

New Holland Spirits has been creating fine craft spirits since 2005. The new tasting room in the popular lakeshore vacation destination allows the distillery to expand its footprint and reach a new audience.

“We are very excited to bring our own artistic expressions of craft spirits to Saugatuck’s vibrant art community. Our storefront at 201 Culver Street is easily accessible by car or by boat, and we will provide guests with a wide variety of bottles to go, handcrafted cocktails and a selection of wine and cider,” said Brett VanderKamp, president of New Holland.

two hearted

 

COMSTOCK, Mich. – Bell’s Brewery and two of its beers – Two Hearted Ale and Hopslam Ale – were recognized again in this year’s Best Beers in America survey from Zymurgy magazine.

Two Hearted was No. 1 in the Top-Ranked Beers category and Bell’s in whole was named top brewery.

This is the third consecutive year that Two Hearted has claimed this honor. It came in second to Russian River’s Pliny the Elder for seven straight years previously.

Hopslam Ale also placed in the top-ranked beers list tied at No. 7.

Now running in its 17th year, the survey asks members of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), which publishes Zymurgy, to choose up to five of their favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the U.S.

“Receiving this honor once, twice even was incredible. But a third time? I am speechless and incredibly thankful to the homebrewing community and everyone who has helped make this beer what it is today,” said Larry Bell, president and founder of Bell’s Brewery.

The full Best Beers in America list—which includes complete rankings on all the top beers, breweries and more is available at HomebrewersAssociation.org.

“Being selected as a winner for this esteemed list is no small feat. All of this year’s winners showcase exceptional flavors, expertly crafted by some of the greatest talent in the brewing industry,” said Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association. “I’d like to extend congratulations to all of this year’s winners and toast to their exemplary beers favorited by homebrewers and beer lovers alike.”

The AHA announced the results of this year’s survey in a press release.

“It is an honor to once again be awarded the top-ranking spots among so many great breweries and beers,” said John Mallett, Director of Operations at Bell’s Brewery. “Only the best Centennial hops, a commitment to quality by the entire Bell’s team, and the splendor of our home state are all part of the beauty of Two Hearted Ale. There is one other vital component, the beer lover. We are truly humbled to be recognized by the finest palates in homebrewing.”

The American Homebrewers Association has worked on behalf of the homebrewing community since 1978 and celebrates a membership of more than 46,000 homebrewers.

The Bell’s General Store has been supporting homebrewers in Kalamazoo and beyond since the 1980s and even, predates the brewery. Larry Bell founded the company originally as a homebrew supply store in 1983.

For homebrewers interested in replicating some of the winningest beers at home, the AHA provides clone recipes in Zymurgy and online, in the recipes section of the AHA website. Clone recipes for Bell’s beers, including Two Hearted, can be found at bellsbeer.com. Kits can also be purchased on the Bell’s online store.

 

 

single

The West Side brew hall announces new series of singles nights

Tired of using dating apps that implore you to swipe left or right and reduce yourself to a few flattering selfies and a one-sentence bio? Wish you could just meet and chat with other single people with a shared love of craft beer? You’re in luck.

Harmony Hall is taking the “e” out of “eHarmony” and making it easier for single craft beer enthusiasts to find a spark, face to face. The beer hall is hosting its first “Single & Ready to Mingle” event this Friday, June 21 at 7 p.m.

“Craft beer is a great conversation starter, and our space at Harmony Hall is a perfect place to mingle,” said Kristine Kaechele, event manager at Harmony Hall. “Join us for good beer, craft conversation and a fun, low-pressure environment.”

single

There will be no speed dating or games at this singles night. Instead, Harmony Hall will serve a special “Single & Ready to Mingle” flight, which will come with a flight sheet filled with craft beer-focused conversation starters. The flight will include a beer brewed just for the event.

“We were inspired by a consensus among members in the Facebook group DrinkGR who were single and wanted opportunities to bond over a shared love of craft beer,” said Harmony Hall co-owner Heather Van Dyke-Titus. “We wanted to offer a safe, gimmick-free space for single craft beer lovers to make a connection.”

It’s time you started looking for love in all the right places. Visit Harmony Hall this Friday evening and make a crafted connection with another appreciator of all things microbrew.

farmers market

The popular local market will kick off on Thursday, June 20

 

CEDAR SPRINGS, MI  — Cedar Springs Brewing Company has announced that its summer farmers market will return for the third year.

The market will take place on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. starting June 20 and running through September. Vendors will set up in the Heart of Cedar Springs—a grass lot behind the fire station on Maple Street in Cedar Springs near the German-inspired brewery.

farmers market“We’re excited to bring back our farmers market and once again share quality, locally made goods with the rest of the Cedar Springs community throughout the summer,” said David Ringler, Director of Happiness at Cedar Springs Brewing Co.

The local market features vendors from all over West Michigan selling fruits, vegetables and other value-added homemade products. This year’s edition will welcome new vendors as well as returning favorites such as Newton’s Family Farm, Dorothy and Toto’s Kettle Corn and Busy Mom Bakers.

Pets are also welcome to accompany their owners to the market.

“Bring your leashed fur babies for an afternoon of shopping!” Ringler said.

The CSBrew Farmers Market will coincide with the brewery’s popular recurring Jeep Night—a gathering of Jeep enthusiasts featuring live music and product displays. This summer’s Jeep Night series will begin June 20 at 6:00 p.m.

More community events at the market will be unveiled throughout the summer.

A new event series launching this summer, Dream Ride Night, will celebrate classic, modified and fun rides on two or four wheels. It will begin June 18th.

“Keep an eye on our website and social media for updates on upcoming market events,” Ringler  said.

The CSBrew Farmers Market is currently looking for sponsors. If you or your business is interested in sponsoring the market, or a market event, please reach out to opportunity@csbrew.com for more information.

big lake

Holland Brewery’s summer releases focus on Michigan outdoor pastimes 

 

HOLLAND, Mich. – Michigan summers are defined by outdoor adventuring, days spent in the woods or trips to the “Big Lake.” Big Lake Brewing, one of the fastest-growing craft breweries in Michigan, just announced two new IPAs for the summer months that capture the flavor of Michigan summertime activities—Lake King, an American IPA, and Camper, a New England IPA.

In a reference to reeling in that prized King Salmon on the Great Lakes, Lake King is an American IPA brewed with Columbus hops, which presents a clean, bright lemony flavor. Featuring a King Salmon on the label, Lake King is the perfect complement to take out on the boat during a fishing trip on Lake Michigan, or on one of Michigan’s many inland lakes.

big lakeCamping culture is the defining character of Michigan’s summer and autumn months. Whether you’re camping in a tent, trailer, RV, cabin or just under the stars, Big Lake celebrates getting out into nature with Camper, a bold, New England IPA. With its blast of citrus-forward hops and a hazy color, Camper is the perfect beer for summers around the campfire at our beautiful campgrounds throughout the state.

“We take our inspirations from Michigan’s amazing natural resources and outdoor activities, and combine what makes them great, with the beers we like to drink,” said Travis Prueter, co-founder of Big Lake Brewing. “We love the pride and the connection our customers feel when they drink a beer named after a favorite activity or place in our beautiful state.”

Big Lake recently announced a 50 percent brewing expansion with two new 30-barrel fermenters and a new brite tank, increasing the brewery’s overall output to 5,000 barrels per year. Since opening in 2013, Big Lake has grown more than 400 percent, and recently landed on the Brewers Association list of fastest-growing independent and craft breweries in the United States, one of only two Michigan breweries on the list.

Lake King and Camper are now in distribution across the entire state, in retail stores through Imperial Beverage, and on draft in bars and restaurants.

 

About Big Lake Brewing

Big Lake Brewing is a craft brewery located on 7th St. in downtown Holland, Mich. The taproom has more than 15 taps, always full of handcrafted beer in a variety of styles, made by a passionate team of brewers who love to experiment. The brewery also offers a full hand-crafted lunch and dinner menu in the taproom, focusing on pizzas, sandwiches, salads and more, all made from scratch with the same care and love as their beer.

 

tour program

COMSTOCK, Mich. – One of the best brewery tours in the U.S. just got even better.

Bell’s Brewery debuted a handful of improvements that have been in the works for months as part of enhancing its tour program.

Bell’s tour guests can now explore the history of one of the oldest craft brewers east of the Mississippi River with a comprehensive 50-foot timeline. They can also be able to purchase exclusive merchandise and see pieces of Bell’s history like the soup pot that started it all.

Bell’s tour program was voted as one of the best in the country by the readers of USAToday as part of its 10Best series in April. Bell’s finished second and was the only Midwest brewery to make that list.

“These installations will enhance our ability to tell our story with visual elements and pieces of our history – a more complete experience,” said Shelly Claflin, Bell’s Tour Manager. “We’ve literally added a huge splash of color to our tour space with this new timeline exhibit and are very excited to take the visitor experience to the next level. Providing stellar hospitality while sharing the story of Bell’s will continue to be cornerstones of our tour program.”

All tours are free and open to all ages. For those of legal drinking age, samples are included as you browse and learn about Bell’s history.

Other improvements include additional seating, the upcoming addition of a selfie station and plaques detailing the history of fermenters that were once used at the Stroh Brewery Co. in Detroit.

Bell’s tours blend an extensive knowledge of the brewery and craft beer with incredible storytelling as it welcomes tens of thousands of guests every year. The Eccentric Café, Bell’s original brewery in downtown Kalamazoo and its main brewery seven miles east in Comstock, are destinations for craft beer fans from around the world.

Behind-the-scenes brewery tours have also returned for the summer. Guests can tour areas not typically seen on regular tours on Thursday evenings. Reservations for all tours can be made here.

ABOUT THE BELL’S TOUR PROGRAM 

Free tours (all ages welcome) are held Wednesday through Sunday at Bell’s main brewery in Comstock and on weekends at its original downtown Kalamazoo brewery.

Each Comstock tour includes free samples for those 21 and up. Specialty tours are also offered throughout the year. Examples include a Hopslam and Two Hearted focused tour as well as special Reach for the Sun tours on Oberon Release Day. These specialty tours are limited and sell-out fast.

Each Bell’s brewery tour covers the history of Bell’s and brewing throughout the years in addition to sustainability, packaging, ingredients, quality and more.

Free tours can be reserved at bellsbeer.com.

thornapple brewing

Microbrewery, winery, distillery and restaurant to unveil expansion on June 15

 

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — Thornapple Brewing Company has announced the grand re-opening of its newly expanded space on 28th Street in Grand Rapids. The microbrewery, winery, distillery and restaurant has added 4,000 square feet to its footprint, allowing room for more guests and more beverages on tap.

The unveiling comes on the brewery’s second anniversary. There will be a party to celebrate the occasion on June 15.

The expansion has doubled the floor space in the brewery’s front of house and comes with 90 additional seats in the taproom.

“We reached a point where expanding was necessary,” said Jeff Coffey, co-owner of Thornapple Brewing Company. “With added space and seating, customers won’t have to wait in line anymore.”

Included in the expansion are a game area with darts and corn hole and a quieter section for those who just want to come in for a beer and conversation while others are enjoying live music on the weekends. The space can also be used for private events hosting up to 100 people.

Thornapple has also added a 14-tap bar, bringing the brewery’s total number of taps to 40. The expansion also comes with a new 400 square foot cooler, which will increase the brewery’s production capacity.

“We’ll be able to have a lot more varieties on tap and get more beer out into distribution,” said Eric Fouch, co-owner.

The anniversary party and grand re-opening will feature live music, indoor and outdoor games and slushie machines with housemade wine and mead slushies.

“Headbrewer Sebastian Henao will have new beers on tap to help fill in those 14 new taps,” Fouch said.

Thornapple will release its first bourbon for the occasion as well.

“The Thornapple Artisan Spirits Bourbon is a very smooth, corn forward, slightly sweet bourbon aged in oak barrels for at least one year,” Fouch said.

Coffey, a native of Green Bay and life-long Packer fan, has decorated the new space with some of his personal Packer memorabilia, including a football signed by Bart Starr. The lounge will feature “up north” themed decor as well.

“Both Eric and I enjoy the great outdoors and like to bring a bit of that to the brewery,” Coffey said.

Guests can watch Packers and Lions games in the new space all season long. All games will be shown on projection TVs.

“The Lions’ home at Thornapple Brewing Company will be in the main seating area and Packers’ home turf will be in the lounge area,” Coffey said.

Thornapple Brewing Company is the area’s only full-service microbrewery, winery, distillery and restaurant.

“We like to do a lot of things, and when we do them, we do them well,” Coffey said. “Most breweries don’t have a distillery, and we’ve got a good one. Our gin is tasty, our vodka is clean. I’ve never heard a bad word about our whiskey, and our bourbon will be the same.”

Three Thornapple beers, two ciders and one perry won awards at national and international competitions this year.

Coffey said Thornapple’s staff is to thank for the brewery’s success in its first two years.

“Our management, servers and kitchen staff work hard together to make sure our customers are happy,” Coffey said.  “On busy nights it’s like an orchestra.”