2013-05-02 / Community

Bell’s Brewery plans expansion to Esky

ESCANABA – Downstate Bell’s Brewery is expanding to a 3.16 acre parcel in Escanaba’s Whitetail Industrial Park. Plans for a craft brewery and bottling facility were recently discussed in special session with Escanaba City Council and the company’s part-owner, Larry Bell.

The proposed brewery plans to produce a variety of beers and ales to be distributed across the U.P. and adjacent northern states. In addition, Bell also asked the council to give him the right of first refusal to purchase additional unplatted land next to the parcel if needed for future expansion. According to Escanaba City Manager Jim O’Toole, if approved by council, a site plan review of the property development will take place before the Planning Commission.

Bell owns Bell’s Brewery, Inc., based out of downstate Comstock, along with children Laura and David. The Escanaba project is part the company’s $15 million capital improvement investment.

The craft brewery employs more than 200 people, and distributes beer over a territory that includes 18 states. Initial plans call for five employees at the Escanaba brewery.

A native of Park Forest, Ill., Bell moved to Kalamazoo to attend and study history at Kalamazoo College. In 1983, Bell founded the Kalamazoo Brewing company, a precursor to Bell’s, as well as a home brewing supply shop. The brewery opened in 1985 and sold 135 barrels in its first year of production, starting with a 15-gallon soup kettle.

Since that time, production has grown to a quarter of a million barrels annually, with over 20 unique ales and beers available for regional distribution. Today Bell’s is the oldest craft brewer east of Boulder, Colo. In 2012, Bell’s ranked seventh in the top 50 craft brewing companies in the nation, with an annual production of 6 million barrels or less, and is the 14th largest brewery in the nation overall.

“Our ongoing goal is to brew thoughtfully, creatively and artistically,” Bell said. “We strive to bring an authentic and pleasant experience to all of our customers through our unique ales and beers.”

Bell estimates the cost of construction and equipment to be $2.5 million and expects to complete the project in 18 months. He intends to use local contractors and suppliers as much as possible during construction. Bell has been testing recipes for the Escanaba brewery at his Eccentric Café in Kalamazoo for several months.

No stranger to the U.P., Bell owns two cottages, one in Curtis and the other in Gulliver – where he is currently in the process of refurbishing a family cottage that his grandmother built in 1949.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said the investment means a brighter future for the Central Upper Peninsula.

“This represents good, solid growth for our area. Larry is willing to invest in our community. He’s going to be here for the long haul,” Casperson said.

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