Bell’s Brewery was acquired by an Australian company that bought New Belgium Brewing in 2019

KALAMAZOO, MI – Bell’s Brewery is set to become the second largest US craft brewing company to be acquired by Lion, an Australian based beverage company with a growing international portfolio.

Lion recently bought Fort Collins, headquartered in Colorado, New Belgium Brewing Company in 2019.

Founder and President of Bell Corporation Larry Bell He told Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive Wednesday that Bell’s board of directors voted in January to begin exploring the sale of the company. upper brewery At Escanaba, which Bell opened in 2014 in Escanaba, it will also be part of the sale.

“I’ve had some health issues in the last few years, and when you start in your 60s, you just have to start thinking about these kinds of things and how you’re going to deal with them,” said Bell, 63. My brain is a few years old and I think the main thing here is that we found someone to unite with that we really respect, love and feel confident in.”

That person is New Belgium, fellow brewer giant who has traveled a similar path from humble beginnings in a college town in Colorado in 1991 to nationwide distribution in recent years. Notable new Belgian drinks include the Fat Tire and the Voodoo Ranger IPA.

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“I don’t know there are a lot of these types of sales in the industry,” said Bell, who founded the Kalamazoo brewery in 1985. “It was a really conscious decision.

“I think this is a mature decision on my part, just to realize that things need to be taken care of, employees need to be taken care of at work. I am fortunate to have found someone who will be able to carry on this legacy and take care of my employees in Comstock, Kalamazoo and Escanaba.”

Young Larry Bell lifts a pint in the ’80s. Bell started Bell Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1985. (Photo provided by Bell Brewery)

Once the sale closes, New Belgium CEO Steve Fischheimer, a Michigan native who has been with the brewing company since 2017, will head a joint company leadership team overseeing the brewers.

Bell Executive Vice President Carrie Juncker, who has been with the company for 18 years, will continue to lead the day-to-day operations of the Bell brand, and John Mallett, Bell’s vice president of operations, will join the joint leadership team. Mallett, who has been with Bell for 20 years, will focus on merging the two brewing organizations.

Related: Bell’s Brewery, founders lead the way in Michigan’s craft beer boom

“I think the future is pink,” Bell said, referring to what he called a meteoric rise in beer sales that New Belgium has seen over the past two years.

“The lion is not buying this company to sell less beer,” Bell said. “They intend to develop this and I think Bell is well positioned with our production facilities and our employees to enjoy this growth.”

He said beer drinkers should not expect any changes to existing Bell beer and employees will continue to operate primarily from Kalamazoo and Comstock, and operate as usual.

Fischheimer, who grew up in the northern suburbs of Detroit and now resides in Fort Collins, said in the past two years that the only change he’s felt in New Belgium is growth.

“I think in many ways, if you’re a fan of New Belgium and a fan of handcrafted beer, you probably haven’t felt any change,” Fechheimer told MLive. “My entire leadership team has not changed since 2019. When we announced it, our mission, vision and values ​​as a company have not changed and we remain, at our core, as focused on our communities and our employees as we are our profits.

“Leon has given us the freedom to run the company just as Kim (Jordan) and Jeff (Liebich), when they founded New Belgium, dreamed of running it.”

Since Lion acquired New Belgium, Fechheimer said, the company has added nearly 100 employees, a second canning line to its main brewery in Fort Collins, expanded its location in Asheville, North Carolina and opened a brewery in San Francisco. The company also operates a brewery in Denver.

In addition to having two major American breweries soon, Lion, a wholly owned subsidiary of a Japanese company Kirin HoldingsIt has a portfolio that includes craft breweries in the UK, wineries in California and Oregon and a number of beers, ciders, wines, spirits, coffees and kombuchas worldwide.

Lion also leads the way in distributing major brands such as White Claw, Heineken, Corona, Stella Artois, Budweiser, Smirnoff, Johnny Walker and Wild Turkey in New Zealand and Australia.

Bill's Weird Day

Bell brewery owner Larry Bell talks with patrons during the 13th annual Whimsical Bell Day in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan on Friday, December 6, 2019. Joel Bissell |

But just because Lion is involved with the big corporate brands doesn’t mean that anything should be expected to change on a local level. Bell brewery enthusiasts are told to still expect the same level of community involvement and continued tradition as Oberon Day and support for Kalamazoo Pride, which has been central to the company’s vision and values ​​since the beginning.

“What’s exciting about this announcement is that we’re bringing these two companies together with the support of Lion,” said Fechheimer. “We share a commitment to world-class beer and a people-first approach to business that will make these two companies even stronger when they come together.

“We will continue to move forward with a focus on clearly great beer, but on our communities, on our employees, the way Larry has done with his company. Larry has built a wonderful legacy here in Kalamazoo and in Michigan, focusing on these things.”

Bell said that while he is in retirement, he has no plans to leave Kalamazoo and will continue to be active in the community.

“This decision ultimately came down to two decisive factors,” he said. “First, the people at New Belgium share our unwavering commitment to the craft of brewing and the community-first way to build our business.

Second, it was the right time. I’ve been doing this for over 36 years, and recently battled some serious health issues. I want everyone who loves this company like me to know that we have found a partner who truly appreciates our great beer, our culture, and the importance of our roots here in Michigan.”

Also on MLive:

Bell’s Two Hearted Ale wins America’s Best Beer 2020

Hops travel from field to brewery in two hours at Bell’s for the return of Sideyard Ale

Revelers let their changing selfishness shine through during a whimsical day at Bell’s Brewery

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