I’ve found after living in Encinitas for many years now that there are a high percentage of folks that come from somewhere else. With that there are always their stories and cravings for food and beverage favorites that are specific to their area. For us Michiganders it’s a long list that includes Coney Island style hot dogs, Vernor’s, Faygo, pasties, and Sanders sweet treats just to name a few. There is new addition to that list as Bell’s Brewery has been around long enough now and has cultivated such a following in Michigan and among beer aficionados around the country that it has earned it’s way onto that list for me and plenty of others who get a bit homesick from time to time.
Bell’s Beer lovers in San Diego were rewarded recently when Bell’s secured distribution here and has been quickly embraced by the craft beer community. Bell’s is the classic story of a guy beginning on a very small scale at home and being on the forefront of a major shift in beer drinking tastes. It did not happen overnight though as founder Larry Bell started as a home brewing supply shop in 1983 and did not sell its first commercial beer until 1985. Bell initially brewed in a 15-gallon soup kettle and since that point the company has grown remarkably from its production of 135 barrels (1 barrel = 31 gallons) in 1986 to over 248,000 barrels in 2013.
In the beginning they self-distributed, bottling and delivering all of the beer to market for the company’s first four years. By 1989, Bell’s was shipping more than 500 barrels annually and assigned its first wholesaler to further establish itself across the state of Michigan. In 1993, Bell’s became the first Michigan brewery to open a pub at the brewery; a first of it’s kind in Michigan and ahead of the national trend as well. It should be noted that the craft beer movement had not yet taken shape and mass-market domestic beers but the seeds had been planted. They began to see the demand for craft beer grow dramatically and expanded into 20 states in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC. Bell’s now has a total annual capacity of more than 500,000 barrels with more than 20 beers available for distribution.
I was back in Michigan recently and had the opportunity to interview Laura Bell for Lick the Plate on KPRI. Laura is founder Larry Bell’s daughter and is now co-owner and Vice President of Bell’s. Laura said growing up in family that brewed beer just seemed normal to her and it was not until she was in college that she realized the scope and potential of the brand. She learned the business by working in just about every position at the brewery and was rewarded for her dedication with co-ownership of the brewery.
I’m still somewhat of a novice at pairing beer with food, other than the obvious, so Laura gave me some fun, seasonal pairings to try out. The first was a Bell’s Amber Ale with a blue cheese burger. Burger and a beer go way back but the amber ale and the blue cheese burger sound wonderful together. On the more exotic side she paired a Bell’s Two Hearted IPA with carrot cake as a tasty dessert option. And as we head into colder weather, I really liked her selection of Bell’s Winter White Belgian paired with a hearty bowl of chicken lemon rice soup. Bell’s Winter White is Belgian Witbier and offers a lighter alternative to traditional heavy winter warmer style ales, with a mixture of clove and fruity aromas. Sounds perfect with a warm bowl of soup.
Since my day job is advertising, I’m a sucker for well-designed labels on both beer and wine bottles. Bell’s has always had some of my favorites. Be it the trout that adorn their Two Hearted Ale, the map of coastal Upper Peninsula of Michigan on their Third Coast Beer or the farmhouse on their Midwestern Pale Ale, they all evoke a strong sense of Bell’s Michigan roots and all are works of local artists. It’s not just about the labels though; Bell’s has a beer for just about every taste out there. From those looking to expand their taste beyond the mass-market yellow fizzy beer to those serious craft beer snobs, they have it covered.
They have great distribution in San Diego and it’s easy to find a store or restaurant carrying Bell’s by going to www.bellsbeer.com and click on the Beer Finder tab.