Larry Bell Stepping Down, Selling to New Belgium's parent company

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Apple_Jacker

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Not sure what the proper forum to post this in, but here goes:




To the Kalamazoo Community and my Bell’s family:

When I first came to Kalamazoo as an ambitious freshman attending Kalamazoo College, I didn’t think I would stay here longer than my education required. I had aspirations to go far, but also had no idea that I would find my life-long passion and home in this city. It is here, in Kalamazoo, that I found my best friends and the hobby that has kept me around for the past four decades: brewing incredible-tasting beer alongside the people and community that I love.

It all started in the basement of my first house on Wheaton Street, which turned into my homebrew shop on Burdick Street, and ultimately grew into the downtown Kalamazoo and Comstock breweries you all visit and love to this day. But just like a stout sitting in a cellar, everything has its time, including me. That is why today, it is immensely exciting – and a little bittersweet – that I am writing to share some important news about the future of Bell’s Brewery.

I have made the decision to retire from the business that I have considered one of my best gifts in life, ever since I was an 18-year-old dreamer. When I started Bell’s, we were called Kalamazoo Brewing Company, a nod to our community’s original brewery that closed in 1915. I wanted to make a brewery that would last longer than us, for generations to come, like the great 500-year-old breweries in Germany – and I believe we have only begun on that path. But to keep Bell’s a strong and stable brewery for generations to come, we need someone to run it with the same energy and passion that I’ve had for these past decades.

That’s why this week, Bell’s finalized a sale agreement that will see us join forces with New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado. By bringing together two of the largest and fastest-growing craft brand families in the country and unifying our companies under a single business model, we’re creating one of the best and largest craft portfolios in the country. Under the terms of the deal, I am selling my stake in Bell's to Lion, who acquired Colorado-based New Belgium in 2019.

As I make this announcement, I want to make two things very clear: First, Bell’s home is – and will remain – in Kalamazoo County. While I fully expect this alignment with New Belgium will result in countless new fans around the country and beyond, we are still a Michigan-based operation brewing (world-class) Michigan beer. Second, our values, our DNA and our dedication to this community will not change. If anything, our belief in positively impacting the world will only be strengthened through our work with New Belgium.

I know the brewery is in good hands. Bell’s and New Belgium are very similar in a lot of ways. We share the same values and commitments to our people, to our communities, and to the quality of our beer. As hard as it is for me to let go, I know I have found in Lion and New Belgium true partners – and beer lovers – who value the Bell’s brand, employees, culture and places we call home.

This was a tough decision to make and one that I did not decide on lightheartedly. During the past six months, I was reminded of all the hard times in our history – times when we were barely making payroll, fighting for distribution rights, passionately advocating for new laws and so forth. But I was also reminded of the memories that I will cherish forever: fans wanting Bell’s beer at their weddings and other once-in-a-lifetime milestones, the clink of the glasses in our pub when our craft brew is raised in celebration, and the love for this company and the team who are at the heart of it all. You wanted to have Oberon at midnight, so we started having release parties. When we brewed Eccentric Ale, you wanted to celebrate, and Eccentric Day was born. Beer needs people to drink it and Bell’s needs you.

It is important to know that much will not change day-to-day for Bell’s. The company will continue to craft the beers you know and love, and our leadership team and staff will remain in place in Comstock/Kalamazoo. The same is true for Upper Hand in Escanaba. What I believe will change, however, is the impact Bell's will be able to have on our local communities and causes, and our ability to introduce more fans to the ‘national’ beer of Michigan.

I know this isn’t all about me. I brewed the beer originally, but it’s what you all did with it that brings us here today. On a personal note, I want to thank the township of Comstock, the city of Kalamazoo, the city of Escanaba, our wonderful employees, and our many fans for all of the love and support you have shown Bell’s. When I founded the company in 1985, I never could have imagined how far we would come. I’m so proud of what we – our team, network, fans and partners – have been able to accomplish together over the last 36+ years. From what began as a personal passion for delicious craft beer and turned into a household name that millions love and enjoy each year, this has been an incredible and profoundly satisfying journey.

In the coming weeks, we expect to provide more information about our future with New Belgium and the opportunities it brings to the table. For more information, I encourage you to visit our website: bellsbeer.com/larrysretirement.

For now, let me just say cheers – and thank you, sincerely, because Bell’s is as much about you as it is me.
 

NickTheGreat

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Yeah the article I saw mentioned selling to Lion, which owns New Belgium. But the guy in charge of New Belgium with oversee Bells as well.
 

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And Kirin is the BMC of Asia...
The "indepedents" ranks continue to decrease. Slowly I've migrated away from New Belgium even though they were one of my favorites, especially when I was spending a lot of time in Denver. The beer will hopefully remain good without interference from the new home office. Time will tell.

In the meantime I'll be expending more effort chasing down more regionally local beers for me, like Troeg's and the hometown transplant Flying Dog, both of which have remained independent (especially Troeg's, which is fiercely so). Dogfish Head and Victory still crank out some quality semi-local indy brews, too.

Fortunately I've got a really good local micro that puts out quality brews. They'll continue to get my patronage.
 
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Trivia #1: I ran into Larry Bell and his marketing guy many moons ago at a World of Beer in Tampa (the one on Linebaugh, for the locals). I talked his head off. Because I was a homebrewer, we had a lot of technical conversations that likely bored the hell out of him haha.

Trivia @2: I spent a large part of my youth in the kzoo area, expecially parchment and portage. I never heard of Bells until I moved to FL :)
 

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I lived in KZoo over 20 yrs ago while in grad school at western mich. This was when Bell's had ONLY the downtown location and before their national explosion the way we know it today really. Awesome beer that I fell in love with. They also had a beer garden out back which featured local bands and we always had a great time. I can't say that I blame Larry for his decision. Not sure if he has kids but if he does, obviously they weren't wanting to take the reigns 100% I assume. Expedition is one of my all time fav stouts and Im sure it will be preserved as part of their seasonal core lineup. But I am fearful about their more exclusive beers. Black Note IS my all-time-favorite BA beer and it wasn't released last year (that I saw). Hopefully I haven't seen the last of it. I think I'd rather the Aussie's (Lion) own them though then InBev lol.
 

A1sportsdad

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Too bad. Love Bell’s. Just afraid it will not be a positive for the beers I love.
 
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shetc

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I lived in KZoo over 20 yrs ago while in grad school at western mich. This was when Bell's had ONLY the downtown location and before their national explosion the way we know it today really. Awesome beer that I fell in love with. They also had a beer garden out back which featured local bands and we always had a great time. I can't say that I blame Larry for his decision. Not sure if he has kids but if he does, obviously they weren't wanting to take the reigns 100% I assume. Expedition is one of my all time fav stouts and Im sure it will be preserved as part of their seasonal core lineup. But I am fearful about their more exclusive beers. Black Note IS my all-time-favorite BA beer and it wasn't released last year (that I saw). Hopefully I haven't seen the last of it. I think I'd rather the Aussie's (Lion) own them though then InBev lol.

I think I read way back that his daughter was taking over for him. Guess it didn't work out.
 

Murph4231

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There goes another one of my favorite breweries down the cash cow man hole. No Bells will join the has been ranks as Goose Island, Red Hook and so many others. Damnit man, wish I could have gotten some of his Porter before this.
 

kmmuellr

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I lived in KZoo over 20 yrs ago while in grad school......They also had a beer garden out back which featured local bands and we always had a great time. .....

First time I went to Bell's was when a few friends were undergrads and I was visiting. I had TERRIBLE gas that night. One of my friends and I left the outside beer garden to get a beer at the bar inside, and while standing there I busted ass. It was so nasty that it literally cleared out the bar and everyone scrambled to get outside. I grabbed my beers, and walked outside, and my wife (fiancé at the time) said, "that was you, wasn't it?!?"

Not my proudest moment, but pretty funny memory!

K
 

Fly_Guy

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When I saw this I was really hoping it was a joke. I, like many others have mentioned, love most of Bells beers, I never was able to get my hands on a black note despite trying harder than I ever have to get one.
As happy as I am for Larry...I mean everyone needs to retire eventually right? I am surprised there was no one below him to take over.
I am also worried about whether two hearted will still taste like two hearted. I love that beer so much that centennial is the first hop I've tried to grow.
 

TheMadKing

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Good for Larry, I'm happy for him

New Belgium hasn't been the worse for the change and I don't think Bell's will either. The anti-corporate out there will claim this is a negative thing, but every brewery is just a business at the end of the day. They aren't some little guy sticking it to the man with their artistic integrity, they are trying to make a living like everyone else.

Bigger pocket books and the same brewers and the same recipes mean better benefits for employees, more consistent access to quality ingredients, and equipment upgrades when needed.
 

rallenhall

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Kmmeuellr, your story had my wife and I in tears! Last time we were in the biergarten was a few years ago to hear Bruce Hornsby ... what a great evening. Since the new hierarchy ultimately leads to Kirin, I'm hoping that the Japanese emphasis on quality remains. They've done a good job with Four Roses, which I'm drinking again after a long hiatus.
 

Murph4231

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Good for Larry, I'm happy for him

New Belgium hasn't been the worse for the change and I don't think Bell's will either. The anti-corporate out there will claim this is a negative thing, but every brewery is just a business at the end of the day. They aren't some little guy sticking it to the man with their artistic integrity, they are trying to make a living like everyone else.

Bigger pocket books and the same brewers and the same recipes mean better benefits for employees, more consistent access to quality ingredients, and equipment upgrades when needed.
Yeah like Red Hook and Goose Island to name a couple. But they were gobbled up by Anheuser Busch. Their beers aren't worth drinking now in comparison. I'm all for the the workers doing better but we know that is not the case. Some will stay while most will move on to something else. Sad in my opinion.
 

TheMadKing

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Yeah like Red Hook and Goose Island to name a couple. But they were gobbled up by Anheuser Busch. Their beers aren't worth drinking now in comparison. I'm all for the the workers doing better but we know that is not the case. Some will stay while most will move on to something else. Sad in my opinion.

I had a good conversation with the head brewer at Blue Point brewing company, owned by InBev. He said it was the best thing that had ever happened to him

He had been the head brewer since the beginning, and InBev didn't change any of the recipes, they didn't require any changes to equipment, and they got access to all the big hop and grain contracts for fresher ingredients. There was no change in their beers after the InBev buy out, except what people imagined.

I'd be very curious to see if anyone could tell a difference between a before and after beer in a blind taste test, or whether the drop in quality is mainly due to perception

Edit: fixed Brooklyn to Blue Point per conversation below
 
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ITV

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I was in Kalamazoo back in 1985 for work and mentioned that I was a homebrewer. An employee suggested that I visit Kalamazoo Brewing Company.
After work that day I visited KBC and young Larry Bell was working. I was the only one visiting and mentioned that I was a homebrewer. Larry's eyes light up and he gave me a personal tour of his brewery which consisted of converted dairy equipment. Since I was an extract homebrewer at the time, the full scale brewery was way over my head. Larry sold his beer by the gallon in a "bag in a box" which was long before growlers existed. I purchased a gallon of his beer and Larry's eyes light up again.

Years later I attended Great Taste of the Midwest and visited Bells which Larry was present. I told him about us meeting back in 1985. The following year or two at GT beer fest I ran into his daughter Laura who was running Bells at the time. I was proud to tell Laura about my 1985 visit with her dad.

My understanding is that Larry is having health issues and Laura had other interests than running a brewery. I am glad that Larry had a chance to close the chapter on his successful brewery.

I am greatful that I met Laura and Larry and wish the best for the Bell's family.
 

Murph4231

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Sad to hear about Larry's health. I had the pleasure of meeting him in the mid 90s. A group of BJCP Judges from BOSS (Brewers of South Side) a Chicago Homebrew Club made the trip to visit Bell's Eccentric Cafe and Brewery. A severe snow storm stranded us there for 3 days. We had a great time with Larry and his crew. I wish the best for him and his family and truly hope his beers remain the same and his crew does well moving forward.
 

ITV

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Sad to hear about Larry's health. I had the pleasure of meeting him in the mid 90s. A group of BJCP Judges from BOSS (Brewers of South Side) a Chicago Homebrew Club made the trip to visit Bell's Eccentric Cafe and Brewery. A severe snow storm stranded us there for 3 days. We had a great time with Larry and his crew. I wish the best for him and his family and truly hope his beers remain the same and his crew does well moving forward.
Not a bad place to be stranded for 3 days.
FYI, I'm a member of UKG (Urban Knaves of Grain).
 

Brooothru

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I was in Kalamazoo back in 1985 for work and mentioned that I was a homebrewer. An employee suggested that I visit Kalamazoo Brewing Company.
After work that day I visited KBC and young Larry Bell was working. I was the only one visiting and mentioned that I was a homebrewer. Larry's eyes light up and he gave me a personal tour of his brewery which consisted of converted dairy equipment. Since I was an extract homebrewer at the time, the full scale brewery was way over my head. Larry sold his beer by the gallon in a "bag in a box" which was long before growlers existed. I purchased a gallon of his beer and Larry's eyes light up again.

Years later I attended Great Taste of the Midwest and visited Bells which Larry was present. I told him about us meeting back in 1985. The following year or two at GT beer fest I ran into his daughter Laura who was running Bells at the time. I was proud to tell Laura about my 1985 visit with her dad.

My understanding is that Larry is having health issues and Laura had other interests than running a brewery. I am glad that Larry had a chance to close the chapter on his successful brewery.

I am greatful that I met Laura and Larry and wish the best for the Bell's family.
Great story and neat adventure. I had a similar experience around the mid 90s. It was early January and I had a conference to attend in Hawaii (damn the luck!). My wife was teaching school and couldn't accompany me, but my son was between semesters at the U. of Maryland, as well as newly 21 years, so we made it a Father/Son trip with plenty of golf and beach time. We happened to stumble upon a local brewpub, met the head brewer, got the tour, etc.

The rest is the storied history of Kona Brewing!
 
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Bell's general store was my point of entry into homebrewing, I love Bell's and I love Kalamazoo.
Thank you Larry for your commitment to excellence in everything that you do, including the way you chose to divest. I trust in your decision to sell to LWB, who has demonstrated piety in their acquisition of New Belgium, and will hopefully continue to do so with Bell's. Cheers.
 

mashpaddled

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I would be surprised if Kirin makes changes at Bell's. As others have mentioned, New Belgium hasn't seen a change in product quality although there has been changes to the lineup. New Belgium had a lot of underperformers and outdated ideas about new beers. I don't know if Kirin/Lion had anything to do with that but they streamlined out some of the beers they tried to force into the market unsuccessfully and expanded their Voodoo Ranger series which is their biggest seller by far these days.
 

Brooothru

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I would be surprised if Kirin makes changes at Bell's. As others have mentioned, New Belgium hasn't seen a change in product quality although there has been changes to the lineup. New Belgium had a lot of underperformers and outdated ideas about new beers. I don't know if Kirin/Lion had anything to do with that but they streamlined out some of the beers they tried to force into the market unsuccessfully and expanded their Voodoo Ranger series which is their biggest seller by far these days.
I remember when the original Ranger came out. I was in Denver staying at a downtown hotel, having a beer at the bar, and was approached by one of New Belgium's "Rangers" (how the beer got it's name) who was there promoting this new beer. At the time I was ambivalent towards IPAs, but he talked me into trying one.

Mind blown!💥

Really liked it, so when they changed the recipe a few years back and started introducing the Ranger 'series' I felt abandoned. But slowly I started warming up to the Voodoo varient of the original. Evolution, maybe?
 

hout17

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I remember when the original Ranger came out. I was in Denver staying at a downtown hotel, having a beer at the bar, and was approached by one of New Belgium's "Rangers" (how the beer got it's name) who was there promoting this new beer. At the time I was ambivalent towards IPAs, but he talked me into trying one.

Mind blown!💥

Really liked it, so when they changed the recipe a few years back and started introducing the Ranger 'series' I felt abandoned. But slowly I started warming up to the Voodoo varient of the original. Evolution, maybe?

I thought their original Ranger IPA was great too!
 

Fly_Guy

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There are two breweries that I stopped buying beer from once abinbev took over.
Breckenridge Brewery - their beers went way way downhill. Im not sure what happened there. My family used to buy two or 3 24 packs of the Christmas ale throughout December. After they got bought not a single one of us was able to stomach them. Maybe it's just that abinbevs ingredient supplier is different?
Goose Island - i was never a huge fan of them to begin with, but I feel like 312 is heavier now than it was previously.
 

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Oberon was the beer that really opened my eyes to craft beer. I had enjoyed some pales prior but really didn't understand the scene at the time. Oberon made me want to dive in headfirst. Because of this, it will always have a special place in my heart. I understand the reasons for selling and don't hold it against them in any way, but it still stings. I wish Lary nothing but the best and hope he is able to live a full and long life after this. I'm toasting him and everyone involved in the company all weekend with a fridge full of Bell's products. Thank you for some truly great beers. Great beers that have been a part of special moments shared with family and friends for more than 20 years.
 

Brooothru

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Oberon was the beer that really opened my eyes to craft beer. I had enjoyed some pales prior but really didn't understand the scene at the time. Oberon made me want to dive in headfirst. Because of this, it will always have a special place in my heart. I understand the reasons for selling and don't hold it against them in any way, but it still stings. I wish Lary nothing but the best and hope he is able to live a full and long life after this. I'm toasting him and everyone involved in the company all weekend with a fridge full of Bell's products. Thank you for some truly great beers. Great beers that have been a part of special moments shared with family and friends for more than 20 years.
I'm working my way through a sixer of Oberon, along with Jai Alai/Jai Low and the last of some Festbier and Ayinger Marzen. Life is good, beer life is great!)
 

Fly_Guy

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Oberon and Two Hearted were all I drank in the UP before a bunch of smaller local breweries opened up when I was attending school up there.
I didn't know bells owned upper hand brewery (makes one of my favorite dark lagers)
 
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