Bell’s Brewery shared a massive announcement from the brewery’s founder Larry Bell, who told fans that he planned to retire from the company in the coming months and sell his equity stake to the parent company of New Belgium Brewing.
Bell, who started the company in 1985, detailed the plans to the public in a video and press release, explaining that he is selling his stake to Lion, the Australian-based global craft beverage division of Japan’s Kirin Holdings, which purchased Fort Collins, Colorado brewing giant New Belgium Brewing in 2019. According to a report from M Live Michigan, the board of directors voted in January 2021 to begin exploring selling the company. Upper Hand Brewing, located in Escanaba, is reportedly included in the sale to Lion.
Currently, Bell’s Brewery ranks as the 7th largest craft brewing company in the U.S., and the 16th largest brewery in the U.S. overall. The brewery is famous for its American wheat ale Oberon and its Two Hearted Ale, an American IPA that has become ubiquitous across the brewery’s 43 state distribution footprint. Bell’s was one of the earliest craft breweries in the Midwest and the U.S. more broadly.
Part of the reason for Larry Bell’s retirement and the sale of the company stems from recent health issues faced by the founder. “This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors,” Bell says. “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.”
According to a press release, with the sale and alignment with New Belgium Brewing, Bell’s Brewery will “expand on its own commitments to coworkers, communities, and customers by […] seeking B Corporation certification, 100% carbon neutrality by 2030, $1 per barrel philanthropy, and 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. 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.”
New Belgium’s CEO Steve Fechheimer, a Michigan native and longtime Bell’s drinker, will head a leadership team that manages the operation of both brewing companies. Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker, who maintains an 18-year tenure with Bell’s, will continue to lead day-to-day operations for the brand, reporting to Fechheimer and joining the combined company’s leadership team. 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. Bell’s coworkers will keep working primarily out of Kalamazoo, with their breweries operating as usual.
“I know the brewery is in good hands,” Larry Bell said in his announcement. “Bell’s and New Belgium are very similar in a lot of ways. We share the same values and commitments to our people, to our communities, and to the quality of our beer. As hard as it is for me to let go, I know I have found in Lion and New Belgium true partners—and beer lovers—who value the Bell’s brand, employees, culture, and places we call home.”