The Michigan institution, now the No. 8 craft brewer in the country, introduces six of its brews in the First State
When one of the popular Midwestern or West Coast craft brews—be it Lagunitas, New Belgium, or Oskar Blues —makes its way to Delaware, the craft beer community gets a little hop happy in anticipation.
And so it is with Bell’s Brewery, a craft beer institution and pioneer based in Kalamazoo, Mich., whose brews date back to the early 1980s, when then-brewery supply store owner Larry Bell started making his own beer.
Three decades later, six of Bell’s beers are now available in Delaware, and the restaurants, bars and liquor stores fortunate enough to stock this vaunted line of suds are ready to show them off. Laura Bell, daughter of the company’s founder, shares their excitement.
“We’ve always been thoughtful about our growth and footprint, but the time is perfect for expanding to Delaware,” she says. “It really helps that Delaware is a craft beer drinking state. The residents there have embraced craft for a long time, so it’s really a positive setting for us to enter.”
The Bell’s line of products now available in Delaware include two of their most popular beers, the Two Hearted Ale, a 7 percent IPA made with Centennial hops, and the Oberon Ale, an American style wheat beer. Both are available on draught, in bottles and by the 16-oz. can.
Others include the flagship Amber Ale; the Bell’s Porter; the Kalamazoo Stout, made with licorice; and the Oarsman Ale, a tart, wheat ale. All will be available on draught and by the 12-oz. bottle.
Some of the locations featuring Bell’s on their menus include Stone Balloon Ale House, Trolley Taphouse, Tyler Fitzgerald’s and Kelly’s Logan House, as well as Peco’s Liquors and Kreston’s Wine & Spirits.
John Russell, general manager of Tyler Fitzgerald’s and Scratch Magoo’s, is particularly pumped for the long-awaited arrival of Bell’s products in Delaware.
“Bell’s is the best craft beer in the country, in my opinion, that had yet to arrive in Delaware,” Russell says. “The Two Hearted is such a consistently great pale ale, and the name alone resonates through the craft beer market as one of the best.”
Russell says Tyler’s featured the Debs’ Red and Double Cream Stout for a special beer dinner in late June, and will keep them on tap until they run out. He says he plans to continuously run the Amber and Two Hearted, adding that he thinks the latter can rival the Lagunitas IPA.
“A lot of craft breweries have come east since the days of Sierra Nevada and, later on, Stone,” Russell says. “I think these beers are here to stay. We put the Lagunitas IPA on in November of 2013 and it’s been on tap ever since. I see Two Hearted establishing a similar presence.”
Tim Crowley, general manager of Kelly’s Logan House, a Trolley Square destination with more than 100 rotating craft beers on draft, by the bottle, and in cans, has watched the eastward migration with a close eye.
“We’re somewhat limited to what’s available to us, so when a new line arrives, we all tend to get really excited,” Crowley says. “The nice thing about the recent bigger breweries arriving is they have the ability to support the market and have enough beer so that we can keep them on tap consistently.
“But Bell’s is on a different level, simply due to the fact that they’re part of craft beer history, and that a majority of their beers are unfiltered. That allows for more flavor, which I think is a big draw for their beers.”
On the liquor store side of things, Ed Mulvihill, director of sales and marketing for Peco’s Liquors, says that one of Bell’s most attractive qualities is the consistency of its product.
“The quality really is amazing with Bell’s, and it’s evident in drinking their ales that they’ve done this for a long time and have perfected their craft,” Mulvihill says. “They also still maintain that small craft brewery feel. They posted to Facebook when their trucks were being loaded with shipments to Delaware. I think that’s a really neat thing and shows that, even though it’s part of the marketing plan, they haven’t lost touch with their fans.”
But if Bell’s has been brewing such quality beers for 30 years, and so many Delaware craft beer fans love the product so much, the question must be asked; Why did it take so long to get here?
“Logistically speaking, Delaware is a small market, so I think it speaks loudly about the success of craft in this state that we’re getting it,” Mulvihill says. “Otherwise, I’m guessing the delay had only to do with market supply and demand.”
Bell, who is co-owner and vice president, puts it bluntly: “Honestly, we couldn’t make enough beer. We’ve always wanted to grow at a reasonable rate and continue to offer quality beer for fair prices. The last thing we’d want to do is enter a new territory, realize we couldn’t keep up with demand, and then have to pull out.”
Now that Bell’s is ranked No. 8 in the country in terms of craft production, and No. 15 overall in terms of overall beer production, Bell is confident the time is right to market her family’s beers in Delaware. From the sound of things, Delaware craft drinkers are just as confident.