Bell’s Brewery & New Belgium Brewing Join Forces to Form a New American Craft Beer Leader

Bell’s Brewery and New Belgium Brewing Join Forces to Form a New American Craft Beer Leader

 

From Bell’s & New Belgium:

Shared commitment to craft of brewing and human-first approach to business creates new model for industry success and shared prosperity

COMSTOCK, MI  (Nov. 10, 2021) –– Today, Bell’s Brewery founder, Larry Bell announced that he has reached an agreement with Lion, an Australian based brewer, for the sale of Bell’s. Lion acquired Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing in 2019. The move will see the Michigan-based craft brewer come together with New Belgium – aligning two great American craft brewers.  zzubreebym

Larry Bell, who founded Bell’s in 1985 and brewed its first beers in a 15-gallon soup kettle, shared the news – and announced his own retirement from the company he turned into a household name – at the company’s annual all-employee event.

Bell’s Brewery & New Belgium Brewing Join Forces to Form a New American Craft Beer Leader

“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together,” Bell said. “From our wonderful fans, to the amazing team that has helped share our beer with the world, to the ways we’ve been able to invest in causes we believe in – this has been an absolutely incredible journey.”

“This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors,” Bell said. “First, the folks at New Belgium share our ironclad commitment to the craft of brewing and the community-first way we’ve built our business. Second, this was the right time. I’ve been doing this for more than 36 years and recently battled some serious health issues. I want everyone who loves this company like I do to know we have found a partner that truly values our incredible beer, our culture, and the importance of our roots here in Michigan.”

The combination of Bell’s and New Belgium places the expanded company at the top of the U.S. craft beer market in sales volume and growth, with an extraordinary lineup of brands including the #1 IPA brand in the U.S., Voodoo Ranger, along with Fat Tire, Two Hearted Ale, and Oberon Ale.

Bell’s decision to join New Belgium was based on the company’s commitment to the future stewardship of Bell’s iconic beer brands, its dedication to the ongoing successful operations of Bell’s in Comstock, Mich., and Upper Hand in Escanaba, Michigan, and excitement around the opportunity to grow corporate social responsibility initiatives.

By aligning with New Belgium, Bell’s will expand on its own commitments to coworkers, communities, and customers by adopting many hallmark, human-powered business practices – including seeking B Corporation certification, 100% carbon neutrality by 2030, $1 per barrel philanthropy, and 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. Bell’s fans can expect the same meaningful involvement with the Michigan community, driven by events like Oberon Day and supporting Kalamazoo Pride, which have been core to the company’s vision and values from the beginning.

“In Bell’s, we see a likeminded group of people dedicated to making the world’s best beer – doing business in a way that improves the wellbeing of the people who power our success,” said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer, a Michigan native and longtime Bell’s drinker. “We couldn’t be happier to welcome the entire Bell’s team. Joining together will immediately strengthen our ability to serve and expand the craft community, deliver more value for our partners, and continue to redefine how business is done in a world facing historic economic, social, and environmental challenges. Personally, I can’t wait to celebrate Oberon Day in 2022!”

Over its 30 years in business, New Belgium has pioneered a unique ‘human-powered’ business model grounded in the idea that building the most successful and resilient business requires prioritizing the prosperity of coworkers, communities, and customers across the company’s operations. This novel approach has been the foundation for New Belgium’s industry-leading growth and standout ability to reach younger, more diverse beer drinkers. That model will now grow to include Bell’s approximately 550 employees, 500,000-barrel brewery in Comstock, Mich., and beloved brands like Two Hearted, voted the best beer in America multiple times.

After the sale closes in the coming months, beer drinkers should expect no changes to Bell’s current beers, which are distributed across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker, who maintains an 18-year tenure with Bell’s, will continue to lead day-to-day operations for the brand, reporting to Fechheimer and joining the combined company’s leadership team. VP of Operations John Mallett, who has been with Bell’s for over 20 years, will join the leadership team to focus on integrating the two brewing organizations. Bell’s coworkers will keep working primarily out of Kalamazoo, with their breweries operating as usual.

“As a shareholder and board member, I am excited to support the sale of Bell’s to Lion and to join forces with New Belgium. Our job as owners is to ensure the best future for Bell’s and I believe this step is an important and critical part of our journey to continue the Bell’s legacy long into the future,” said Laura Bell, daughter of Larry Bell.

“We are thrilled to be taking this next step in the United States, bringing these two great names in craft brewing together,” said Matt Tapper, Managing Director of Lion’s global craft beverages business. “We look forward to continuing to support both Bell’s and New Belgium in this next phase of growth.”

About Bell’s Brewing

Bell’s Brewery, Inc. began in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with Larry Bell, a quest for better beer and a 15-gallon soup kettle. Since then, Bell’s has grown into one of the largest craft breweries in America, distributing to 43 states, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC. The dedication to brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality craft beers that started when Larry was a homebrewer continues today with iconic brands such as Oberon Ale and Two Hearted Ale, as well as Light Hearted Ale and Official Hazy IPA. Bell’s currently brews more than 20 beers for distribution out of its Comstock brewery as well as many small-batch beers that are served at the Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo. Over the years, Bell's has become an industry leader in safety, quality and human resources, and has paved the way for the hundreds of craft breweries across Michigan. Bell’s ongoing goal is to brew thoughtful, creative, and artistic ales, and strives to make craft beer welcoming and open to all. For more information, please visit BellsBeer.com.

About New Belgium Brewing

New Belgium was founded in 1991 in Fort Collins, Colorado, by Kim Jordan, a social worker, who built her company the only way a social worker would: People first. Early on, New Belgium established norms that were and still are rare in the business world: fully paid healthcare premiums for coworkers, paying a living wage, open-book management, renewable energy sourcing, a free onsite medical clinic staffed by a doctor trained in trans medicine, and more – practices that, all together, represent a unique ‘human-powered’ business model that continues to evolve. New Belgium expanded to Asheville, N.C., in 2016; Denver, Colo., in 2018, and San Francisco in 2020. The company is famous for its flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale, along with year-round favorites like Voodoo Ranger IPA, Dominga Mimosa Sour, and La Folie Sour Brown Ale; as well as an award-winning wood-aged sour program and innovative limited release beers. To learn more about New Belgium, visit NewBelgium.com.

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From Larry Bell:

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. 

Larry Bell
Founder & President
Bell’s Brewery

[Editor’s Note]:  How long before we’re using the term “New Bells-gium”

This from New Belgium:

We knew the iconic New Belgium cruiser bike was missing something… turns out, it was a Bell.
We're so excited to welcome Bell's Brewery to the New Belgium family! This milestone represents the coming together of two craft leaders that share a commitment to world-class beer and a people-first approach to business.
Bell's Brewery, Inc. began in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with Larry Bell, with a quest for better beer and a 15-gallon soup kettle. Since then, Bell's has grown into one of the largest craft breweries in America. The dedication to brewing flavorful, unfiltered, quality craft beers that started when Larry was a homebrewer continues today with iconic brands such as Oberon Ale and Two Hearted Ale.  Bell's ongoing goal is to brew thoughtful, creative, and artistic ales, and strives to make craft beer welcoming and open to all.

“This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors. First, the folks at New Belgium share our ironclad commitment to the craft of brewing and the community-first way we’ve built our business. Second, this was the right time. I’ve been doing this for more than 36 years and recently battled some serious health issues. I want everyone who loves this company like I do to know we have found a partner that truly values our incredible beer, our culture, and the importance of our roots here in Michigan.” -Larry Bell

Bell's will expand on many of its own strong commitments to coworkers, communities, and customers by working quickly to adopt many hallmark human-powered business practices – including:

Seeking B Corporation certification
100% carbon neutrality by 2030
$1 per barrel philanthropy
100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index
…and many more!

Meanwhile, fans can expect the same deep involvement with the Michigan community, driven by events like Oberon Day and Kalamazoo Pride, that has been core to Bell's business from the beginning.

LEARN MORE

Our (Two) Hearts are full today and we hope you'll join us in raising a glass to a bright future together. Cheers!

About MyBeer Buzz

Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor for mybeerbuzz.com. Producer and Co-host of the WILK Friday BeerBuzz live weekly craft beer radio show. Small craft-brewer of the craft beer news sites and one-man-band with way too many instruments to play.

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