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upper hand

ESCANABA, Mich. – A taste of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is headed to the Mitten.

Upper Hand Brewery, a division of Bell’s Brewery, will end its drought of availability below the Mackinac Bridge. Beginning this fall, Upper Hand will begin distribution of its beer to the Lower Peninsula.

“When we started this adventure more than five years ago, we wanted to give everyone another reason to come and enjoy the beauty and culture of the U.P.,” said Larry Bell, founder and president of Bell’s Brewery. “That mission has not changed. We are just sharing more of what makes the Upper Peninsula special and will hopefully entice more people to make the trek up here and experience this beer where it’s meant to be enjoyed.”

“Every can, every pour, is another invitation to that experience. Our goal is still to bring people up north. Now, everyone will have one less excuse not to sample a taste of what the U.P. has to offer,” Bell added.

Upper Hand will ship initially to Northern Michigan in September, where Griffin Beverage and H. Cox & Son will handle distribution.  Additional distributors and territories will follow in 2021.

Upper Hand Brewery will begin Northern Lower Peninsula distribution with its three most popular year-round brands: UPA (Upper Peninsula Ale), Upper Hand IPA, and Upper Hand Light, with additional brands to follow.

Join Upper Hand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as their website for the latest news and updates.

 

ABOUT UPPER HAND® LIGHT

Keep it simple with the U.P.’s own light lager. Upper Hand® Light is crisp, crushable, and delicious: all day, any day, and every day.

4.2% alcohol by volume

Available Year-Round – Cans and Draft

 

ABOUT UPA®

Our flagship and firstborn, UPA® is our go-anywhere, do-anything, back-to-basics pale ale. Timeless and traditional, some things are classics for a reason.

5.5% alcohol by volume

Available Year-Round – Cans and Draft

 

ABOUT Upper Hand® IPA

Equal parts bitter and bright, Upper Hand® IPA is fresh, flavorful, and perfectly balanced. Our commitment to quality, value, and consistency.

7.0% alcohol by volume

Available Year-Round – Cans and Draft

Find more information about distribution below the bridge here.

ABOUT UPPER HAND BREWERY:

Upper Hand Brewery is a crew of hikers, campers, dog-walkers, anglers, hunters, bikers, and folks that just want to get out there. We believe that life’s mission is to do what you love, where you love, with the people you love. For us, that means brewing the best beer we can, in the best place on Earth: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We put a lot of thought into brewing beer that reflects what we love about where we live. We have the unique opportunity to try and capture an experience—a sense of place—in each and every beer, and we take it seriously. That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of fun. The U.P. is full of adventures and we love making beer that makes those adventures even better.

A little more about us: our founder—Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery—had always dreamed of opening a brewery in the Upper Peninsula. Little clues of those dreams can be found in many of the classic Bell’s brands, which pay tribute to the U.P. in their names and label artwork. His dream became a reality when we broke ground on our 20-barrel brewhouse in 2013, and we haven’t looked back since.

 

black is beautiful

COMSTOCK, Mich. – Bell’s Brewery is proud to announce that it has joined the Black is Beautiful initiative; an effort to help bring awareness to the injustices many people of color face daily.

The Black is Beautiful initiative originated with Marcus Baskerville, founder and head brewer at Weathered Souls Brewing based in San Antonio. Originally planned as a Weathered Souls-only release, Baskerville was encouraged to expand his reach and make the recipe and label artwork available to all.

“We all have some work to do, Bell’s included, and we are committed to that. It starts on an individual level. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to continue this conversation and help drive real change,” Larry Bell, president and founder of Bell’s Brewery said.

There are currently more than 700 breweries from across the globe committed to this initiative.

Bell’s version of the Weathered Souls Imperial Stout recipe will be released in 6-pack bottles exclusively at Bell’s General Store in downtown Kalamazoo and Upper Hand Brewery Taproom in August.

“Our mission is to bridge the gap that’s been around for ages and provide a platform to show that the brewing community is an inclusive place for everyone of any color. We are asking for all breweries and brewers far and wide to raise a glass with us in unison and participate in this collaboration,” a statement on the Black is Beautiful website reads.

As part of this initiative, Bell’s will make donations to two local Black-led organizations; the Kalamazoo NAACP and Face Off Theatre.

This collaboration brew, while sharing some of the same values, is not part of Bell’s Celebration Series. That series, which empowers different groups within the company that makes Bell’s what it is, will continue later this year with another beer designed and brewed by Bell’s employees.

That next release, which will come from and celebrate Bell’s Black and African American employees, will be released in the fall.

Previous brews have celebrated International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day, the LGBTQ+ community and veterans.

Additional details about Bell’s participation in the Black is Beautiful initiative will be announced as they become available on Bell’s website and social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Upper Hand Brewery is a division of Bell’s Brewery, located in Escanaba, Michigan.

 

ABOUT BELL’S BREWERY

Bell’s Brewery, Inc. began in 1985 with a quest for better beer and a 15 gallon soup kettle. Since then, we’ve grown into a regional craft brewery that distributes to 41 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC. The dedication to brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality craft beers that started in 1985 is still with us today. We currently brew over 20 beers for distribution as well as many other small batch beers that are served at our pub in Kalamazoo, the Eccentric Cafe. Our ongoing goal is to brew thoughtfully, creatively and artistically. 100% family-owned and independent, we strive to bring an authentic and pleasant experience to all of our customers through our unique ales and lagers. For more information, please visit bellsbeer.com.

delta series

News series is inspired by the local brewing history

 

ESCANABA, Mich. – Upper Hand Brewery is proud to announce the upcoming release of its Delta Series, six beers inspired by the historical Delta Brewing Company.

The beers, which will be available in cans and on draft, are based on real brands and styles brewed by Delta Brewing Company in the City of Escanaba between 1933 and 1940.  The cans feature artistic elements from the original beer labels and descriptions based on newspaper advertisements found in the archives of the Delta County Historical Society.

“We have been inspired by the rich history of brewing in Escanaba since we opened Upper Hand in 2014,” said Upper Hand Brewery Director, Sam Reese.  “These Delta Brewing brands really captured a time and place that isn’t altogether unfamiliar today, and in a lot of ways, they accomplished what we have always tried to do from our onset, which is to establish the U.P. as an iconic place to both brew and enjoy great beer.”

“After digging through the archives at the Delta County Historical Society, we saw an opportunity to resurrect some of these prohibition-era styles and present them to a new audience of beer lovers using some old-world ingredients and methods we don’t usually explore.”

The first brand in the Delta Series, Peninsula Pride, ships throughout Delta, Alger, Schoolcraft, and Luce counties beginning June 15, 2020.  The remaining brands—including Pioneer Extra Pale, Arctic Club, Hunter Special, Buckingham Ale, and Old Delta Bock—will be released progressively through the end of the year.

Delta Brewing Company’s Victorian-style commercial building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, is located at 1615 Ludington St. in downtown Escanaba.

 

ABOUT PENINSULA PRIDE CREAM ALE:

Clean, light, and classic with a snappy modern hop foundation.

4.6% alcohol by volume

Available in 12oz cans

Shipping the week of June 15, 2020

ABOUT PIONEER EXTRA PALE CLASSIC AMERICAN PILSNER:

Pre-prohibition-style American Pilsner with floor-malted Bohemian malt and old-world hop varietals.

5.2% alcohol by volume

Available on draft and in 12oz cans

Shipping the week of July 20, 2020

ABOUT ARCTIC CLUB ICE BEER:

Dry, bubbly, light-colored lager with mildly elevated ABV.  A peak summer celebratory specialty.

6.0% alcohol by volume

Available on draft and in 12oz cans

Shipping the week of August 31, 2020

 

ABOUT HUNTER SPECIAL BAVARIAN-STYLE LAGER:

Balanced and refreshing Festbier featuring premium Bavarian hops and malt.

5.5% alcohol by volume

Available on draft and in 12oz cans

Shipping the week of October 12, 2020

ABOUT BUCKINGHAM ALE ENGLISH MILD:

Low ABV, moderately malty, sociable, historically-accurate English pub-style ale.

3.8% alcohol by volume

Available on draft and in 12oz cans

Shipping the week of November 23, 2020

ABOUT OLD DELTA BOCK BEER:

Malty, mid-sweet brown lager with a sturdy ABV.  The traditional and renowned mid-winter accompaniment.

6.5% alcohol by volume

Available on draft and in 12oz cans

Shipping the week of January 4, 2021

 

ABOUT UPPER HAND BREWERY: 

Upper Hand Brewery is a crew of hikers, campers, dog-walkers, anglers, hunters, bikers, and folks that just want to get out there. We believe that life’s mission is to do what you love, where you love, with the people you love. For us, that means brewing the best beer we can, in the best place on Earth: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

We put a lot of thought into brewing beer that reflects what we love about where we live. We have the unique opportunity to try and capture an experience—a sense of place—in each and every beer, and we take it seriously. That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of fun. The U.P. is full of adventures and we love making beer that makes those adventures even better.

A little more about us: our founder—Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery—had always dreamed of opening a brewery in the Upper Peninsula. Little clues of those dreams can be found in many of the classic Bell’s brands, which pay tribute to the U.P. in their names and label artwork. His dream became a reality when we broke ground on our 20-barrel brewhouse in 2013, and we haven’t looked back since.

Find Upper Hand Brewery online at www.upperhandbrewery.com, as well as FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

 

pizzapalooza

COMSTOCK, Mich. – Bell’s Brewery is teaming up with restaurants and bars across the country to celebrate two things everyone loves: pizza and beer.

This virtual celebration will coincide with National Pizza Party Day, at 7 p.m. EDT on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Bell’s Pizzapalooza will be a live guided beer tasting hosted by Bell’s streamed live on the brewery’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Four different and unique pizzas and how they each pair with a different Bell’s beer will be featured.

“This event combines two things that should be readily available no matter where you live. Comfort food meets delicious beer in a way that will hopefully help people feel a little connected, something we’re all looking for these days, and help support nearby restaurants and bars,” Larry Bell, President and Founder of Bell’s Brewery said.

The featured beers are Bell’s Official Hazy IPA (6.4% ABV), Light Hearted (3.7% ABV), Porter (5.6% ABV) and Lager of the Lakes (5% ABV). All are available year-round and widely available throughout Bell’s distribution footprint.

Bars and restaurants across the country are participating with a special quad pizza with the pairings. Additional details will be posted at bellsbeer.com.

Short on supplies or can’t order a pizza? Can’t find the exact beers, just their styles? Everyone (21 and up) is invited and welcome to join Bell’s and others to learn about how pizza and beer work together!

Pizzapalooza

 

PIZZAPALOOZA PAIRINGS

Here are the full pairings for the pizza party:

  • Light Hearted Ale with a chicken, bacon and ranch pizza; or a seafood and citrus pizza.
  • Official Hazy IPA with hot Hawaiian pizza or a pizza with goat cheese, hot pepper and peach.
  • Porter with sweet sausage crumbles and mushroom pizza or a pizza with peppers.
  • Lager of the Lakes with a Margherita pizza or a pizza with prosciutto and arugula.

PICKY EATER PAIRINGS / DIY

Don’t like to have a complex pizza or ordering one to share with some picky eaters? Here’s a list of alternative pairings:

  • Light Hearted with a pepperoni pizza.
  • Official Hazy IPA with a ham pizza.
  • Porter with a sausage and mushroom pizza.
  • Lager of the Lakes with a classic cheese pizza.

About the pizza party host:

Jacki Hannon, is a self-proclaimed beer nerd and lover of the culinary arts. The daughter of two bartenders, she brings almost 25 years of experience working in the hospitality industry at independent restaurants along with regional and national chains. As Bell’s On-Premise Key Accounts Manager for the northern U.S., she continues that journey helping to prove that: “Beer is delightful and food is delicious, but together they are epic!”

 

ABOUT BELL’S BREWERY

Bell’s Brewery, Inc. began in 1985 with a quest for better beer and a 15 gallon soup kettle. Since then, we’ve grown into a regional craft brewery that distributes to 41 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC. The dedication to brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality craft beers that started in 1985 is still with us today. We currently brew over 20 beers for distribution as well as many other small batch beers that are served at our pub in Kalamazoo, the Eccentric Cafe. Our ongoing goal is to brew thoughtfully, creatively and artistically. 100% family-owned and independent, we strive to bring an authentic and pleasant experience to all of our customers through our unique ales and lagers. For more information, please visit bellsbeer.com.

 

light hearted

COMSTOCK, Mich. – The eagerly awaited Light Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery is now available.

A Low-Cal IPA with only 110 calories, Light Hearted is the newest year-round release from Michigan’s largest independent craft brewery.

With a 3.7% ABV, it is the latest addition to Bell’s Hearted family (Two Hearted is available year-round; Double Two Hearted will return in August).

“We did not just set out to make a lighter version of Two Hearted. We wanted to brew the best tasting, low-cal IPA we could. It all begins with quality ingredients. Balance, hoppiness and aroma are all there,” said Larry Bell, Bell’s president and founder.

While Light Hearted may not share the exact ingredient list as Two Hearted (Bell’s flagship IPA is brewed with 100% Centennial hops), it does share many of the defining characteristics that make Two Hearted what it is.

“One thing we did not do, was take a shortcut; no corn and no rice. Our goal was to deliver the same quality you would expect from a Bell’s beer, but with a lower ABV and with less calories,” Bell said.

Light Hearted is brewed with Centennial and Galaxy hops with only 110 calories per 12 oz. serving. It cuts down on the things many beer drinkers don’t want, but keeps everything about Two Hearted they love.

This new year-round beer was the first release in Bell’s General Store Exclusive Series; limited, small batch releases only available at Bell’s pub, the Eccentric Cafe, and its General Store. Focused on innovation, the GSE series serves as a testing ground for new recipes, small batch re-releases of fan favorites and other experimental brews.

Light Hearted is now available in cans (12 oz. packaged in 6-packs) and on draft. Fans in Michigan will also be able to purchase 12-packs of 12 oz. cans later this month.

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, the brewery’s flagship IPA, has been named the No. 1 Beer in America three years in a row by members of the American Homebrewers Association.  It has been at the top of numerous “Best of” lists and consistently ranks as one of the most popular craft beers on the market.

Keep an eye on the Bell’s website and its social media channels for the latest information and release updates.

About Light Hearted

Style: Lo-Cal IPA

Tasting notes: Citrus and pine aromas; easy-drinking

Description: Made with Centennial and Galaxy hops, and a variety of specialty malts, Light Hearted is aromatic, balanced and incredibly easy-drinking. This IPA has only 110 calories, yet all the Heart.

Nutritional information & specs

ABV: 3.7%

Calories: 110

Carbs: 8.7g

Protein: 1.3g

Fat: 0g

Availability: Year-round

Packages: Draft and cans

Shelf life: 6 months

 

2020 release calendar

COMSTOCK, Mich. – Bell’s Brewery is proud to announce an incredible beer lineup coming to coolers, store shelves and draft lines in 2020.

The first few days of January saw the packaging and release of Hopslam Double IPA. Coming in at 10% ABV, Hopslam was again released in 12 oz. cans, packaged in 6-packs, on draft and in 5L mini-kegs. New for this year, is a brand new Hopslam mini-keg design. Cans and mini-kegs are limited, and have already arrived on many store shelves and coolers.

Each batch is packaged and shipped as quickly as possible so this beer can be enjoyed fresh.

The most anticipated release for the year is the brand new, low-calorie, Light Hearted Ale.

A Lo-Cal IPA, this member of the Hearted family shares many of the characteristics of Bell’s award-winning Two Hearted Ale. At 3.7% ABV and only 110 calories (per 12. oz serving), Light Hearted is now shipping (and in many locations, arriving) in 12 oz. cans, packaged in 6-packs and on draft. Twelve-packs of 12 oz. cans will also ship in February in Michigan.

“This is going to be another exciting year for us. In addition to our release calendar, I am also very proud to celebrate our 35th anniversary. Funvitational (2020) will be a huge part of that milestone and we’ll have other ways to celebrate throughout the year,” said Larry Bell, president and founder of Bell’s Brewery.

Bell’s Official Hazy IPA will also be back for its second-year after an incredible reception by fans and beer writers in 2019. It is available now on draft and in 12 oz. cans packaged in 6-packs. Twelve packs are also an option.

Seasonal beers, Best Brown and Bright White, will both return (Bright White is available now through March or while supplies last). Oberon, Bell’s summer flagship American Wheat, will return on March 23 with midnight release parties, special tappings and more. In May, Oberon mini-kegs will begin shipping featuring a brand new design as well.

Returning specialty offerings include: Flamingo Fruit Fight (Tart Ale brewed with passionfruit and lime zest), Octoberfest (Märzen), Special Double Cream Stout (Sweet Stout), Expedition Stout (Russian Imperial Stout), Third Coast Old Ale (Barley Wine), Cherry Stout, Christmas Ale (Scotch Ale) and Lampshade Party Ale (a Double IPA previously only released in 2018).

Double Two Hearted (11% ABV) will return in August.

New to the Bell’s specialty release lineup is another Flamingo Fruit Fight variation; a Gose-style Ale brewed with lemon and lime. Bottles and kegs of Lemon Lime Flamingo Fruit Fight will ship in July.

Incessant, a Double New England-Style IPA, will be released in 16 oz. cans, packaged in 4-packs and on draft for a wider release in May. Incessant was previously a Bell’s General Store Exclusive.

With Incessant’s release this spring, Bell’s will offer four different Double IPAs for a wide release in 2020 in addition to the year-round Hopsoulution (Great Lakes state area distribution only).

Bell’s Leaves of Grass series, seven beers each inspired by a different Walt Whitman poem, will conclude in 2020 with three remaining offerings. Song of the Open Road, a Winter Warmer Ale, is available now. Salut au Monde will ship in March and Spontaneous Me will conclude the series in May.

The General Store Exclusive Series will also continue in 2020 with a variety of new beers and possibly some old favorites returning from Larry Bell’s Recipe Library. That includes yet another member of the Hearted family, Black Hearted, which will debut in “celebration” of Valentine’s Day.

Black Hearted will only be available on draft at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe and in 12 oz. bottles packaged in 6-packs at the Bell’s General Store.

“Now, this isn’t all we have lined up for 2020. We always like to keep a few things close to the vest. We’ll have plenty more to share in due time,” Bell said.

Bell’s fans should save Sept. 12, 2020 for Bell’s Funvitational Beer Festival. This will be Bell’s second Funvitational and will feature a variety of breweries from across the globe at Homer Stryker Field, home of the Kalamazoo Growlers, in downtown Kalamazoo. The original Funvitational was held in 2015 in celebration of Bell’s 30th Anniversary. Additional details will be announced at a later date.

Keep an eye on the Bell’s website and its social media channels for the latest information and release updates.

2020 release calendar

Bell’s 2020 release calendar

Bell’s 2020 release calendar at a glance

Year-round

Two Hearted (7% ABV), Light Hearted (3.7% ABV), Official Hazy IPA (6.4% ABV), Lager of the Lakes (5% ABV), Amber Ale (5.8% ABV), Kalamazoo Stout (6% ABV), Porter (5.6% ABV) and Hopsoulution (8% ABV – MI, WI, IN, IL, OH, MN only).

Seasonal

Bright White (5% ABV), Oberon (5.8% ABV and Best Brown (5.8% ABV)

Specialty 

Hopslam, Flamingo Fruit Fight (5% ABV), Oberon 5Ls, Incessant (8.5% ABV), Flamingo Fruit Fight Lemon Lime Gose (4.8% ABV), Octoberfest (5.5% ABV), Special Double Cream Stout (6.1% ABV), Expedition Stout (10.5% ABV), Third Coast Old Ale (10.2% ABV), Cherry Stout (7% ABV), Christmas Ale (7.5% ABV) and Lampshade Party Ale (9% ABV).

Leaves of Grass

Song of the Open Road (8.5% ABV), Salut au Monde and Spontaneous Me

General Store Exclusives

Black Hearted (7% ABV) and many others TBA.

oberon

COMSTOCK, Mich. – Bell’s Brewery signature summer beer, Oberon Ale, will get a new, temporary look to close out the summer.

Inspired by the 2019 Oberon mini-keg design, limited edition Oberon packaging has started shipping from the brewery. This refreshed look will be reflected across all Oberon packaging: 16 oz. cans (4-packs), 12 oz. cans (6-packs and 12-packs) and 12 oz. bottles (6-packs and 12-packs).

“This is a fun way to celebrate the different parts of the summer season… rest assured, it’s the same beer you’ve grown to know and love,” said Larry Bell, founder and president of Bell’s Brewery.

Oberon is available seasonally beginning in late March through August (Arizona and Florida are year-round distribution states).

 

oberon

One of Bell’s most popular beers, Oberon (5.8% ABV) is an American Wheat Ale fermented with Bell’s signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The addition of wheat malt lends a smooth mouthfeel. A classic summer beer, Oberon is only brewed with water, malt, hops and yeast.

This same beautiful imagery has also inspired some brand-new Bell’s merchandise that can be purchased online and in person from the Bell’s General Store.

For more information about where to enjoy those last few months of summer, check out Oberon cooking recipes, learn more about the history of the beer and more, visit bellsbeer.com.

ABOUT BELL’S BREWERY

Bell’s Brewery, Inc. began in 1985 with a quest for better beer and a 15 gallon soup kettle. Since then, we’ve grown into a regional craft brewery that employs more than 550 people over a 41 state area, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC. The dedication to brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality craft beers that started in 1985 is still with us today. We currently brew over 20 beers for distribution as well as many other small batch beers that are served at our pub in Kalamazoo, the Eccentric Cafe. Our ongoing goal is to brew thoughtfully, creatively and artistically. 100% family-owned and independent, we strive to bring an authentic and pleasant experience to all of our customers through our unique ales and lagers.

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.