As Oberon Day Nears, Is Kalamazoo’s Bell’s Still A ‘Craft’ Beer?
We're a few days away from what is essentially a state holiday, Oberon Day. But what has happened since the last Oberon Day and the one on March 21st begs the question: is Bell's still a craft brewer of craft beer?
Back at the end of 2021, Larry Bell, one of the founding fathers of craft beer, especially here in Michigan, cashed in his chips and sold the brewery to New Belgium Brewing, which itself is owned by a giant Japanese conglomerate.
The Brewers' Association defines a craft brewer by three components, two of which come into play here. One is that the brewer brews less than six million barrels of beer a year and some recent figures show Bell's did 464,000 several years ago. That was the year they were nosed out by Founders in Grand Rapids, which came, as Larry Bell pointed out after Founders sold a big chunk of itself to a Mexican brewer. Now, that independent edge, of course, went away with the deal with New Belgium, which is owned by Lion, which is owned by Kirin, and ultimately, Mitsubishi.
In case you're keeping score, New Holland Brewing, up the road in Holland, is now the state's largest independent craft brewer.
What we're seeing is the maturation of the craft beer industry, with the OG's cashing in. Goose Island is now owned by Anheuser-Busch. Heineken is now the owner of Lagunitas and one of the granddaddies of all of this, Boston Brewing (Sam Adams, Angry Orchard) merged with Dog Fish Head. But not to worry as there are still plenty of small. independent brewers hoping to become the next Bell's, or Founders. Locally, there are brewers like Final Gravity, One Well, Territorial in Battle Creek, and one-time TV darling, Dark Horse in Marshall, which was featured on the History Channel, but even exposure doesn't guarantee success, as it fell into serious debt and was bought by Roak Brewing in Royal Oak.
So is Bell's still a craft beer? Well, yes and no. Certainly by production numbers, yes, but, by independence, not anymore. Maybe we can decide the answer over a beer.