Beer Man

Bell's Brewery Merges With the New Belgium Brand Under Kirin Ownership

Bell's Brewery Merges With the New Belgium Brand Under Kirin Ownership
Bell's Brewery
Another one of America's biggest legacy craft breweries has sold. This time, it's Michigan's Bell's Brewery, which will join Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing as part of a group of beer brands nested inside Australia-based beer giant Lion, which is in turn owned by Japan's Kirin, an international conglomerate.

Bell's was founded in 1985, and its beers — like Two Hearted Ale and Oberon Ale — are routinely listed among the best-selling and most-loved across the country. Its beers are so highly sought after that when Bell's finally began distributing in Colorado in 2018, it made statewide headlines.

“This decision ultimately came down to two determining factors,” Bell's founder Larry Bell said in a statement on November 9. “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.”

click to enlarge NEW BELGIUM BREWING
New Belgium Brewing
New Belgium, which Lion/Kirin bought in 2019, was similarly enthusiastic. “In Bell’s, we see a likeminded group of people,” New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer said in the same statement. “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."

The merger will give the combined company some of the top-selling beers in American and even more clout with supermarkets, groceries, liquor stores, convenience stores and other retail beer outlets. But that may also make it more difficult for smaller and mid-sized craft breweries to sell in those outlets.

At the end of 2020, Bell's was the seventh-largest craft brewery in the nation and the sixteenth largest brewery overall, according to the Brewers Association (BA). New Belgium was the fourth largest craft brewery in the country at the time of its sale to Kirin.

The acquisition also means that Bell's will no longer be considered a "craft brewer" by the BA, the nation's largest trade association for craft breweries. New Belgium lost its standing there in 2018, as well as its membership in the Colorado Brewers Guild, which follows the BA's guidelines.

Bell's executive vice president, Carrie Yunker, who heads up day-to-day operations at the brewery, will now report to New Belgium's Fechheimer, while Bell's 550 employees will be overseen by New Belgium.
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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes