Another famous legacy craft beer brand will no longer fit under the Brewers Association definition of a craft brewer, a category description that feels less and less relevant, but that is another story. This story is about Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery selling to Lion, an Australian based brewing rollup, that’s a subsidiary of Kirin Holdings Company Limited. This same company bought New Belgium Brewing Co. a couple of years ago, and I made a big stink about it because Kirin until recently had a joint venture in Myanmar, which helped fund the Myanmar military. That is also another story (read all about it).
Why did Bell’s make the move? Here is Founder Larry Bell from the press release:
“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.”
Listen to the man yourself:
According to MLive:
Bell’s founder and president Larry Bell told the Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive Wednesday that the board of directors at Bell’s voted in January to begin exploring the sale of the company. Upper Hand Brewery in Escanaba, which Bell opened in 2014 in Escanaba, will also be part of the sale.
With the sale, Bell’s and New Belgium will become powerful beer partners. From the release:
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.
The sale is expected to close in the coming months, but both parties insist 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 ranked as America’s seventh largest craft brewery and the 16th largest overall brewing company by sales volume, according to the Brewers Association Top 50 Brewing Companies of 2020. As mentioned, the brewery will no longer be considered a “craft brewer” by the trade association’s definition.
Two big names were mentioned from management, noting that Larry Bell says he’s retiring in the video above. Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker, an 18-year Bell’s employee, will continue to lead day-to-day operations for the brand, reporting to New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer. 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. Mallett helped Craft Brewing Business with an award-winning story on the Michigan hop industry that you should read right here.
Bell’s joins a long list of a craft breweries that have made the jump to public companies. Bell’s employs approximately 550 employees and ”sold 461,582 barrels in 2020, a 7% decline amid the pandemic, ending three years of growth,” according to this Axion article. Here’s how Laura Bell, daughter of Larry Bell, put it:
“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.”