Arts & Culture / Mosaic / February 23, 2011

Bell’s Brewery

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Bell’s Brewery tasting hosted by none other than Larry Bell, the founder of Bell’s, at Ray’s Wine and Liquor in Milwaukee. The tasting included roughly four ounces of eight different beers, a Bell’s pint glass, various bumper sticker and pins, and, of course, the chance to listen to Larry Bell, for only $15. A fantastic deal to learn more about the 12th largest craft brewery, located in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

The format for the tasting was fairly standard. There was a brief introduction and then Larry Bell sat in the front of the room while beers were poured throughout the night. Every 15 to 20 minutes, a new beer would be poured while Larry Bell talked about that specific beer, while mixing in some interesting stories, Bell’s history and answering some questions.

Bell shared a lot of really enjoyable stories, some great Bell’s tidbits and some hints at where Bell’s will be in the future. One of the highlights included when Bell reached into his pocket and took two pills. He said that he learned from a wine taster that taking Milk Thistle and Vitamin B improves the morning after a night of drinking. He said that they are exploring canning their beer, probably in 16-ounce cans. He explained that their most popular beer, Oberon Ale, a wheat ale, is responsible for 45 percent of their sales, even though it is available for only 6 months of the year. He noted that Bell’s currently produces the second most 5-liter mini-kegs (behind Coors) and have such quick and efficient fillers that Coors contacted them about filling some of Coors’ mini-kegs. Larry Bell declined the deal. He hinted at some special limited release beers after their recent Batch 10,000 release, saying they probably won’t do a Batch 11,000, but have some tricks up their sleeves.

Here are the beers that were included in the tasting as well as some tasting notes:

Bell’s Oarsman Ale: I did a full review of this one last week, but Larry further stressed that it is not a traditional Berliner Weissbier but a “German session beer.”

Bell’s Amber: I probably enjoyed this one the least. Just not that memorable.

Bell’s Pale Ale: Their pale ale is actually a blonde ale (typically more lighter, less hoppy than a pale ale). Before I knew it was actually a blonde ale, I thought it was a little light on the hops. A very crisp, refreshing beer that would be great for summer.

Bell’s Two Heated Ale: One of my favorite IPAs. I picked up a lot of citrus, piney flavors from the hops and it paired fantastic with the cheddar cheese. This beer uses only Centennial hops, of which Bell’s purchases 30 percent of the world’s crop each year.

Bells Special Double Cream Stout: A really great stout. Extremely creamy, slightly sweet, some coffee flavors and a roasty finish.

Third Coast Old Ale: It is actually not an old ale, but a barleywine. Bell said that he did not want to go through the hassle that Sierra Nevada had to go through with the government for calling their Bigfoot a barleywine style ale. I feel this one underwhelms a little bit. I get some nuttiness and alcohol and it is fairly sweet.

Bell’s Expedition Stout: The one beer I didn’t have before was my second favorite of the night. Very smooth and drinkable, significant coffee and a lot of sweetness. They actually brew this beer to be cellared as it peaks at 6-18 months, but Bell said at 16 years it is unbelievable.

Bell’s Hopslam: I reviewed this one a couple of weeks ago. I’ll just say that it is very fitting that around the brewery, Hopslam is known as “Crackslam.”

John Christiansen

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