Cool news. Man...is any other state in the union as shady as Illinois when it comes to the distribution of beer?
Bell's beer is coming back to Chicago
(Crain’s) — A year after pulling its beers from Chicago taps and liquor stores, Bell’s Brewery Inc. is making plans for a return.
The Kalamazoo, Mich., brewery stopped serving Chicago after a dispute with National Wine & Spirits Inc., the Indianapolis company that holds the rights to distribute Bell’s Beer in Illinois.
The label’s disappearance from local bars that cater to specialty-beer lovers, such as the Clark Street Ale House and the Hop Leaf, made headlines last year, and sparked a wave of hoarding among beer aficionados.
Brewery president Larry Bell says he has found a way to get around the impasse: He has created three new beers specifically for the Chicago market.
“This is a different beer,” he says. “These are not the beers that were assigned to them.”
Mr. Bell, a Park Forest native, says he is finalizing contracts with two distributors to bring the beers, under the name Kalamazoo, to bars and restaurants in just a few areas of Chicago. The company already has federal permits to sell three varieties of Kalamazoo — Indian pale ale, porter and royal amber ale.
Each bottle will have a label reading: “Brewed especially for the people of the great state of Illinois.”
Mr. Bell also needs a license and label approval from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, but litigation may be a more significant obstacle.
He says National Wine & Spirits officials have told him they will sue to stop the sale of Kalamazoo beers in Chicago. NWS executives could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
“I think it will be a very interesting court case,” Mr. Bell says. “They’ve promised to make it as messy and difficult as they can.”
The threat of a lawsuit is one reason the Kalamazoo beers will be available only in a few places at first.
“We know we’re going to get sued, so we’re just sticking our toes in the water with a couple of people who are willing to get in the water with us,” Mr. Bell says.
The dispute between Bell’s and NWS arose in the fall of 2006, when NWS subsidiary Union Beverage Co. planned to sell the distribution rights for Bell’s Beer to Chicago Beverage Systems LLC, a large national wholesaler that handles Miller and Coors beer.
The Illinois law on beer distribution gave Mr. Bell no voice in stopping that deal. Rather than go along, Mr. Bell pulled his beer from Chicago.
Many beer lovers in Chicago have bemoaned the loss of Bell’s.
“I hear from tons of people, more than I can handle,” Mr. Bell says, adding that sales of Bell’s products have quadrupled in northwest Indiana. He declined to disclose the brewery’s revenue.