This is the seventh interview in a series that spotlights coworkers who make Bell’s the brewery it is. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As we continue our series of coworker interviews, we sat down with Amy, one of the people who’ve made Bell’s the brewery it is over the past two decades. We sat down to learn how Amy went from being a bartender to working in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), our Inspired Giving clean water grant cycle and how our beer can inspire unity.
Hey Amy, it’s great to be here with you today after a wonderful Retreat Week. You killed it cohosting our company meeting.
I was super excited and honored when I was asked — and a little nervous as well. But I was also like: wow, this might be the most people I’ve ever talked in front of before. But I said: let’s f’ing do this! It ended up being one of the highlights of my career.
How long have you been here now? It must be more than 20 years here?
Yep, September 19th is my beer-erversary – Twenty-two years at Bell’s.
That’s remarkable. So, how did you start working here?
Well, it was kind of random. I hung out at Bell’s a lot in college. It was our favorite spot — we used to go to the pub and study. We would take our homework and get a delicious pint of Porter or Stout laugh. When I finished school, I was a little unsure about what was next for me, and a friend suggested I apply to the Eccentric Café – they wanted to hire more women.
I was a little intimidated by the staff at that time; it was a very male-dominated industry. But I got an interview, which consisted of walking across the parking lot from the old General Store to the taproom. After filling out a handwritten application, I was hired. I didn’t know how long I would be here, but I needed money to pay the bills, and it came with some cool beer perks.
I started in the kitchen, then moved to the door before going behind the bar, pouring beer. After a few months, I was made a full-time employee, and we received all the same benefits that everyone in the brewery did. I’m doing something I really like and could tell Mom and Dad: “I have a real job!”
Beer jobs are real jobs.
Yes, they are! After bartending for a few years, I started booking music, as we had a steady stream of bands performing in the Café and Garden. Some of my favorite shows include Asleep at the Wheel, Johnny Winters ( he passed away just a few weeks after playing in the back room) Steve Kimmock and Yorma and Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) with Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls to name a few
In 2014, I saw an opening in the marketing department to manage our Keypartnerships and promotions and applied. It was a big change in my career, but I got to focus on taking our beer around the country to some of the coolest events and support organizations.
You started at Bell’s during a pivotal time in our history: the Comstock Brewery was just opening, Oberon was becoming a summer tradition in the Midwest, and Two Hearted was leading the pack of IPAs. What has it been like to see all of that?
It was great. As the brewery expanded, we started seeing more and more people from across the country come and visit the Café as we expanded distribution. Working at the Café, we used to judge it by the license plates we saw in the parking lot. It was common to see cars with plates from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, but then we started seeing them from North Carolina or Pennsylvania and then further away from Arizona and Colorado. They wanted to come and get the beer they couldn’t get in their market, many of whom made the brewery the focus of their vacation or their trip. Or we were the destination to make that, you know, pilgrimage to see; they wanted to tour the brewery.
We also saw the brewery’s growth reflected in our personal lives. As the brewery expanded, friends and family would get excited when they saw Oberon in Florida or Two Hearted in North Carolina. You feel it beyond just your own peripheral, right?
When you moved to marketing, you traveled to almost every region of the country where we distributed our beer. What was the reaction to Bell’s outside of Michigan?
As we traveled to events across the country, it was hard not to be inspired by the role our beer played in people’s lives. Being in Kalamazoo, you kind of can be in a bubble and not see how far and wide the impact our beer can have. You’d be at Bonnaroo (in Tennessee), and somebody would tell you about their traditions of drinking Two Hearted with their friends. Or meet someone in Austin, Texas, who goes to a Michigan bar there on Oberon Day. As the stories have evolved further away from Michigan, they’re just as special. It was great to share these experiences with our sales team.
These interactions were really inspiring for me as an employee. I’d meet someone at an event, and they would ask what I did at Bell’s. I would tell them I manage events and sponsorships, but I used to book all the bands. They would often say, “Ohhh my gosh, I saw so-and-so band in the beer garden you put that show on. Ohh, that was spectacular.”
It all comes back to the experiences our beers help create. Some of my best memories during that time were how the magic we had in Kalamazoo traveled with our beer to people across the country.
And you’re helping to spread the magic across the country in your current role. Tell us about what you do now.
I’m now a community engagement specialist, and it’s kind of crazy how I got here. In 2020, we had more than 50 events and sponsorships planned in less than six months; it was going to be our biggest year ever. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything was put on hold, and I started going through a reflective phase about what was going to happen next in my life. I was a little burned out from living out of a suitcase. A friend asked me: what do you want to do once the world gets turned back on?
I knew I wanted to keep working for Bell’s and started to think about what was going to challenge me in the years to come. Shortly after, Carrie Yunker, our vice president, came to me and told me about our environmental social impact governance team and the social impact piece. We were adding a dollar-per-barrel Inspired Giving program and needed someone to help manage it.
It sounds like it was the right opportunity at the right time. Tell me more about the program and some of the work you’ve done in it.
Last year, we launched our first-ever water stewardship grant cycle, and I worked with the ESG team to develop the themes for that program. We put some themes together around what we’re looking to fund. It’s a grassroots funding program, which means we are looking to partner with organizations across the country who support clean water stewardship, which is a huge, valuable resource to us at Bell’s – and everyone, quite frankly. We all need clean water.
And it’s been great to link this grant cycle with Lager for the Lakes to help raise awareness. I think it shows something that our beer has been able to do over the years — connect people to one another and to important causes for our communities. But this has been more intentional and more impactful. In 2022, we were able to award grants totaling nearly $110,000.
Beer is a great way to inspire unity in many different parts of life.
It is. One of the coolest parts about that program is the Coworker Grants Committee, which is composed of employees within our company who review the applications and give recommendations on where the money is directed. It’s brought together a diverse group of folks who have done some great work.
So again, I think it comes back to that opportunity that came to me to be the connector of people across departments and with other nonprofits and organizations that we give to.
So Amy, you know the Bell’s brand almost better than anybody. I’ve been excited to ask you this question: What does our slogan “Inspired Brewing” mean to you?
That’s challenging because I feel like when I hear “Inspired Brewing,” it’s part of our DNA, just like my name is Amy.
For me, Inspired Brewing means that if you really believe in and care for something, you can make it happen. Whether that’s a beer recipe, a label design, organizing an event, or running a grant cycle, Inspired Brewing is the foundation that everything else is built on, regardless of what you do for the brewery. It’s also pushing ourselves forward, asking: What haven’t we done? What are we inspired to do next?
I also see Inspired Brewing in the stories and experiences coworkers and beer lovers have with our brands and all the different ways they are truly inspired to keep it going. It’s like — it’s just not me who’s living it every day.
Inspired Brewing does run through the people who make the brewery run. What inspires Amy?
You’re keeping the hard questions coming! Hmmmm, I think it’s seeing people experiencing joy, happiness, and excitement in life. For me, I often get more enjoyment from seeing someone win a prize than getting it myself.
When I was putting on shows at the Café, we spent so much time and energy getting everything organized, and seeing people come and experience watching live music in our space was literally one of the best things. The same goes for putting on events across the country, watching people stand in line to drink Oberon and hang out with their friends. It was that kind of shit that just makes you want to keep doing it more and more.
And now, helping to award grants that can help nonprofits do their important work.
That piece of inspiration doesn’t get any more real than this for me, I guess like that part where it’s like we literally are helping keep the lights on at some places, you know, providing things for people and places.
Well, Amy, it was great to chat with you. I can think of dozens of things you’ve done to bring enjoyment and happiness to my life. Thank you for everything you do!