November 2014 The Oconee Cellar Beer Club
Founded by Larry Bell as a home brewing supply shop in 1983, Bell’s Brewery, Inc. sold its first commercial beer in September 1985. Beer was initially brewed in a 15-gallon soup kettle and the company has grown remarkably from its production of 135 barrels (1 barrel = 31 gallons) in 1986 to over 248,000 barrels in 2013.
Originally self-distributed, Larry and his staff of 9 employees bottled and delivered 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 an onsite pub.
After struggling several years to produce and sell robust, full-bodied ales against a tide of a mass-market domestic beer, Bell’s began to see the demand for craft beer grow dramatically and expanded into new markets. Bell’s currently sells beer across a 20 state area in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC through a network of over 80 quality wholesalers.
In 2003, Bell’s opened a new production brewery in nearby Comstock, Michigan about seven miles east of Kalamazoo. This facility has seen five major additions since then and encompasses over 100,000 square feet of building on a 32-acre site.
Construction of a 200-barrel brewhouse began in April, 2011 and it officially opened on May 14, 2012. Fourteen 400-barrel fermentation tanks, new grain handling facilities and an employee care area were also added.
Beers are now brewed on a 50-barrel system and a newer 200-barrel system with a total annual capacity of more than 500,000 barrels. Bell’s brews more than 20 beers for distribution.
In 2014, a canning line and twelve 800-barrel fermenters were added.
Future expansion at the Comstock Brewery will include the addition of a wastewater treatment facility.
Despite repeated expansions at the main production facility, we haven’t forgotten our roots and continue to brew at our original Kalamazoo location. Using the same equipment that served us so well for more than 20 years, this space has become home to several specialty projects, as well as brewing an extensive array of brands typically only available at the adjoining Eccentric Café.