Bell’s Brewery announces sale of Lion as Larry Bell retires
Bell sells brewery. Its leader, Larry Bell, is about to retire. However, the Changing of the Guard is about to happen at Michigan’s largest and oldest independent brewery.
Bell — who founded Bell’s in 1985, brewing his first beer in a 15-gallon soup kettle and later invented several signature beers such as Two Hearted Ale and Oberon Ale — announces that he is selling his company to Australian beer company Lion, a subsidiary of Japanese drinks conglomerate Kirin, for an undisclosed amount in the coming months. Lion also has New Belgium Brewing in Colorado among its portfolio of international beer brands.
This step will eventually bring Bell, Ranked the 16th largest brewery in America by sales volume in 2020, and New Belgium, which ranks 11th, to “a leading new American craft beer company,” although both will retain their brands and their beer.
While Bell’s leadership team will not change and neither will the day-to-day operations of its Comstock, Eccentric Café and Store facility in Kalamazoo, the brewing industry giant will advance without Bell, Michigan’s leading beer brewer And the influence of personality as anyone thrived in one of the richest beer states in America, with more than 400 operating breweries. He announced his retirement at the annual company event for all employees.
“I first founded the company when I was 25 in 1983,” Bell told the Free Press, referring to what was originally the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, Inc. , a brewer’s supply store that began selling its own beer two years later. “I’ve been the CEO of the company for 38 years. That’s a long time. It’s an amazing career.
“But there comes a time when you have to decide what you are going to do. And last year, I dealt with my old friend’s cancer again. I am fine, I had a successful surgery. But it makes you think about what you are going to do.”
So Bell turned to his board of directors, which agreed that selling the company was the best option for the legacy of Bell and its approximately 550 employees. And the opportunity to join New Belgium, “a company that is like us in its values and how it works”, was too good to be missed.
New Belgium was founded in 1991 by Kim Jordan and Jeff Liebich in Fort Collins, Colorado, and expanded to Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016, Denver in 2018, and San Francisco in 2020. Its beer can be found in all 50 states ; It is best known for its Fat Tire amber ale and Voodoo Ranger IPA. It employs approximately 700 employees.
“For us to join forces with the new Belgium is great,” Bell said.
employee owned for seven years, New Belgium sold to Lion in 2019. Its CEO, Steve Fechheimer, has remained on track with the deal and remains headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Fischheimer told Free Press that New Belgium has enjoyed roughly 25% growth over the past two years and that the company has been able to build on its mission and invest more in its brands since it was sold to Lion. It also has the flexibility to take care of its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And personally, as a Michigander who grew up, he knows how important Bill is to the state of Michigan.
“I love this country,” said Fechheimer. “I know how important this brand, this company, Larry’s legacy is to Michigan’s artisanal beer drinkers. And I take that really seriously.
“I’m really proud to be here with Larry and I thank him for entrusting a part of his legacy to me. We’re going to do right by the Kalamazoo community, the Michigan community, and Bell fans across the country.”
Bell Executive Vice President Carrie Juncker, who will continue to lead the day-to-day operations of the brewery, will report to Fechheimer and join the combined company’s leadership team, as well as Vice President Operations John Mallett, who will focus on the merger of the two brewing organizations,” according to a press release about the sale. .
Although there are no plans to change operations at Bell’s Brewery’s 500,000-barrel Comstock facility — or at its upper Escanaba brewery, which has recently begun brewing beer on the Lower Peninsula — Bell’s only course is The upside, Bell said.
“The purpose is not to produce less beer and less staff, quite the opposite,” he said.
Bell’s is best known for its Two Hearted Ale (7% alcohol by volume), an award-winning American IPA brewed with all Centennial plants, and Oberon (5.8% ABV), a grainy seasonal wheat beer released annually, Oberon Day, marks the first unofficial sign of summer Michigan is just around the corner. Other year-round staples include the official Hazy IPA, Light Hearted Ale, Porter and Lager of the Lakes.
Bell said the sale won’t change the way this or other beer will be brewed or stored.
“Come on Friday morning, the Bell and Upper Hand employees will be brewing beer the same way they did last week,” he said. “We hope our consumers will continue to support these employees.”
Since its establishment, Bell has earned distinction As the largest brewery in Michigan By volume of beer through 2018, when Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids. The founders, long considered Bell’s peer as Michigan’s craft brewer giant, sold a 90% majority stake to Spanish company Mahou San Miguel in 2019. Both moves mean that Netherlands-based New Holland Brewing is now the largest independent brewery Totally in Michigan, based on sales volume, According to the Top 50 Brewers Association List (New Holland is number 50).
And it’s the latest move in a beleaguered American craft beer industry that faces all kinds of challenges, from market saturation to Aluminum deficiency can be to me covid-19 pandemic, that closed indoor dining for many breweries and forced them to find alternative strategies to sell their beer, such as curbside pickup. Then there is the introduction to solid seltzer and canned cocktails, which have affected overall beer sales in the past few years.
And now Michigan’s handcrafted beer is moving into the post-Bill era, uncharted territory for an industry that has grown exponentially over the past two decades.
“To all artisanal beer drinkers, thank you for supporting me for 38 years,” Bell said. “I’ve had an amazing career, especially in Michigan. The people who have supported us, I can’t thank them enough.”