Bell’s Brewery founder Larry Bell is retiring and selling the brewery to Lion, the Australia-based parent company of New Belgium Brewing.
Larry Bell said Wednesday, Nov. 10, he signed an agreement with Lion, a global beverage company based in Sydney, Australia, for the sale of Comstock-based Bell’s Brewery. Lion acquired Fort Collins, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing in 2019.
The combination of Bell’s and New Belgium will place the expanded company at the top of the U.S. craft beer market in sales volume and growth, the companies said, with brands including Voodoo Ranger, Fat Tire, Two Hearted Ale and Oberon Ale.
After the expected close of the sale in the coming months, Bell said customers will see no changes to Bell’s current beers, which are distributed across 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker, an 18-year employee of Bell’s, will continue to lead day-to-day operations for the brand, reporting to New Belgium CEO Steve 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 employees will keep working primarily out of Kalamazoo, with the breweries operating as usual.
Bell, who founded Bell’s in 1985 and brewed his first beers in a 15-gallon soup kettle, shared the news — including his retirement — at the company’s annual all-employee event.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together,” Bell said. “From our wonderful fans to the amazing team that has helped share our beer with the world to the ways we’ve been able to invest in causes we believe in, this has been an absolutely incredible journey.
Bell said his decision came down to two key 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,” he said. “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.”
Bell said the deal ensures the ongoing operations of Bell’s in Comstock and Upper Hand in Escanaba.
By aligning with New Belgium, Bell’s said it will expand on its commitments to co-workers, communities and customers by adopting additional socially responsible business practices, including seeking B Corporation certification, 100% carbon neutrality by 2030, $1 per barrel philanthropy and a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
Bell said the company will continue events such as Oberon Day and supporting Kalamazoo Pride.
Fechheimer said he is a Michigan native and longtime Bell’s drinker.
“In Bell’s, we see a likeminded group of people dedicated to making the world’s best beer — doing business in a way that improves the wellbeing of the people who power our success,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier to welcome the entire Bell’s team. Joining together will immediately strengthen our ability to serve and expand the craft community, deliver more value for our partners and continue to redefine how business is done in a world facing historic economic, social and environmental challenges.”
Laura Bell, daughter of Larry Bell and shareholder and board member of Bell’s, said she supports the sale.
“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,” she said.
Matt Tapper, managing director of Lion’s global craft beverages business, said Lion is “thrilled” to welcome Bell’s to its portfolio.
“We are thrilled to be taking this next step in the United States, bringing these two great names in craft brewing together,” Tapper said. “We look forward to continuing to support both Bell’s and New Belgium in this next phase of growth.”