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