It gets cold in Michigan during the winter months, so cold that the average winter temperature there is only 30 degrees. The coldest temperature on record there was recorded on February 9, 1934 when the mercury dropped to an astoundingly cold 51 degrees below zero. Add to that the over 58 inches of snow they get annually and one might wonder why anyone would want to live there much less brew beer. But, brew beer there they do!
Bell’s Brewery began its life back in 1983 when Larry Bell opened a home brewing store called Kalamazoo Brewing Company. Soon after opening – 1985 to be exact – the store he began brewing his own beers and selling them to customers. In those early days the brews were made utilizing a 15 gallon soup pot and fermented in open fermenters covered only with plastic wrap. In the first year of production the budding brewery managed to turn out only 135 barrels of brew, but change was coming and along with came capacity. In 1989 the operation had grown to over 500 barrels a year with no end in sight to their expansion.
With an eye to brewing flavorful, unfiltered beers, Bell and his merry band of helpers grew their portfolio to over 20 different quality craft beers not including small-batch brews for their on-site pub. The company strives to make thoughtful, creative, and artistic beers as well as an authentic experience to their customers through unique ales and beers.
In 2005, Bell changed the name of the Kalamazoo Brewing Company Bell’s Brewery, Inc., reflecting the name by which most people refer to the brewery. Today, the brewery owns two separate facilities, the original Kalamazoo facility and the new plant in Comstock Township that sports state-of-the-art brewing equipment. The original building still houses brewing equipment as well as an attached pub – Bell’s Eccentric Café – and a store that still supplies home brewers and sells Bell’s apparel.
In-the-know beer enthusiasts know that Bell’s has a tradition of introducing outstanding seasonal brews. This practice of releasing beers only during optimal seasons ensures the beers are perfect for enjoying right away. Moreover, savvy beer snobs know that this time of year is when the much sought Hopslam is released. This week several, local watering holes such as Pele’s Wood Fire, Kickback’s, and Brewer’s Pizza have put this delicious double IPA on tap to much fanfare and the delight of beer drinkers in Jacksonville. Tuesday night, Pele’s went all out with representatives from Team Hopheads passing out Bell’s pint glasses with a Hopslam purchase, a special spicy pizza concocted specifically for the event, and Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, the outstanding local bluegrass phenomenon playing to an adoring crowd. But, Hopslam is not limited to just taps, it is also available in six-packs at local stores if you can find it. And if you can, prepare for sticker-shock. This potent (10% ABV) brew retails for $20 a six-pack.
Some may be asking if Hopslam is worth the necessary search and high price, the answer is a resounding yes! The Bell’s version of a double IPA begins with a complex hopping schedule of six different hops and a huge dry-hop addition of Simcoe hops for the perfect aromas of citrus, grapefruit, and pine along with a pleasing and stand-out bitterness. To balance the impressive bitterness of the hops, the brewers add a healthy amount of honey and just enough to the malt bill to balance the brew with sweetness.
Hopslam pours clear copper in color and is redolent with the aromas of piney hops, sweet caramels, pineapple, and citrusy grapefruit. When you finish admiring the smell of this great beer and finally take a sip your taste buds will be assaulted by the huge hoppy nature of this brew – but, in a very good way. Intense pine and grapefruit flavors give way to honey sweetness and maltiness. Your mind will tell you to savor every sip, but your instincts will be to drink it much more quickly so you can get another. Even with the extreme hop profile, this brew is extremely drinkable so be sure to watch out, that 10% ABV will sneak up on you fast.
Lest you think that Hopslam is the only noteworthy brew from this brewery, I would also like to discuss some of their other outstanding brews. Another exceptional seasonal brew is Oberon Wheat Ale fermented with Bell’s own house yeast strain. Available to most of the country only during the warmer months of the year, Bell’s makes this brew available in Florida year-round. This brew is smooth and delicious, perfect for a hot summer afternoon of sipping from a hammock.
Two Hearted Ale is another intensely-hopped beer that is expertly balanced by a great malt backbone. This brew is hopped exclusively with Centennial hops from the Pacific Northwest in both the brew kettle and fermentation tanks. The result is a smooth, citrusy IPA in the best American tradition.
There are many more beers from this brewery to discover like Third Coast Ale, Kalamazoo Stout, and Amber Ale. You really cannot go wrong with any of their products.
Cold winters in Michigan give way to mild summers and the brewers of Bell’s revels in the change of seasons by surprising its followers with yearly additions of their highly demanded beers. All that can be said is; keep them coming, we will drink all you send!
Until next time,
Long Live the Brewers!