Another icon of the American craft beer scene is retiring and selling his life's work to one of the major international brewing groups. Larry Bell who founded Bell’s Brewery in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, confirmed today that he has sold his brewery to Kirin-owned Australasian brewer Lion.
Bell’s Brewery can be found as the seventh largest craft brewery on the 2020 list of the U.S. Brewers Assocoiation. What started in a 15-gallon soup kettle has turned into one of the top ten craft beer breweries in the U.S. with distribution across 43 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Exactly two years ago, Lion Little World Beverages, the global craft beer division of Lion, already bought New Belgium Brewing, the fourth largest craft brewery in the United States. (inside.beer, 19.11.2019)
“The combination of Bell’s and New Belgium places the expanded company at the top of the U.S. craft beer market in sales volume and growth, with an extraordinary line up of brands including the #1 IPA brand in the U.S., Voodoo Ranger, along with Fat Tire, Two Hearted Ale, and Oberon Ale,” Lion wrote in a press release today.
When asked about his reasons to sell the business, Larry Bell said that the decision ultimately came down to two determining factors. “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, I’ve been doing this for more than 36 years and now is the right time. 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.”
In May 2019, Bell’s daughter, Laura Bell, who served as CEO of Bell’s Brewery for more than a year stepped down from the position and was not replaced by an outside CEO. This marked most probably the turning point when Larry Bell decided to sell the business.
Managing Director of Lion’s global craft beverages business, Matt Tapper said that Bell’s history, outstanding brewing credentials and brand appeal would complement New Belgium and support the expansion of Lion’s US operations. “In terms of quality, capability and reputation, Bell’s is a standout in the American craft brewing scene.
“They’re a great match for New Belgium, another pioneering US craft brewer and both companies share a deep commitment to their co-workers, communities and customers. We’re thrilled to be taking this next step in the United States and bringing these two great names in craft brewing together.
“Just as Lion once crossed the Tasman to establish itself in Australia, now we have crossed the Pacific to form a leading craft beer business in the United States, the largest craft beer market in the world,” he added.
Mr Tapper said that Lion’s approach to working with New Belgium, acquired in 2019, had paved the way for strong growth in the United States. “Since the successful acquisition of Colorado based New Belgium Brewing in 2019 it’s leading brand Voodoo Ranger has gone on to become the number one selling IPA in the US, propelling New Belgium to be the fastest growing craft beer business in the country.”
“When we first partnered with New Belgium, we committed to not only support their growth, but protect and nurture their unique human-powered business model.
“This purpose-led business model and connection to its community were values we shared, and which we’ve continued to build upon since New Belgium became part of the Lion family – with flagship brand Fat Tire becoming the first carbon neutral beer in the United States.
“We’re pleased that these values and the craft culture we’ve fostered at New Belgium were key factors in the creation of this new partnership with Bell’s, and Lion looks forward to supporting both breweries in this next phase of growth.”
The transaction will close upon receipt of all regulatory consents, which is expected in the coming months. Financial details about the deal were not revealed.