The Beertender Rings the Bell for Bell's Brewery

If you haven't had any Bell's beers yet...well, you just might be new to this whole craft-beer thing. Bell's is one of those breweries that has repeatedly blown our minds over the years, getting us all frothy and hyper and passionate about better beer.

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Screenshot: www.bellsbeers.com
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Bell's has been responsible for beer epiphanies (beeriphanies?) since 1983. Bell's brews -- the burly Two Hearted Ale, the honey-hop bomb Hopslam, any one of its many stouts, even the quaffer Third Coast Beer -- have brought many drinkers to the light.

The bold flavors in these beers inspire some serious geekery, and owner Larry Bell knows how to manage the resulting buzz. He puts out a ton of special releases and experimental single batches, including a completely new recipe for each 1000th batch. Coming soon: Batch 9000.

It's too bad that my visits to Western Michigan took place before my beer awakening. Unfiltered and unpasteurized, Bell's beers are reportedly an even greater treat when served super-fresh at Bell's Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo. Freshness is key, especially with the lower-alcohol selections.

Bell's Pale Ale, for example, is often sold in bars that lack a commitment to craft beer because the Bell's name is somewhat familiar. These bottles are usually stored at room temperature in a liquor cage or sit in a cooler for months, so what you wind up drinking is a shell of its former self. I'll confess: I stopped drinking Bell's in bars for a while, but now that we have quite a few more beercentric establishments around town, it's safe to take the plunge.

In addition to the aforementioned Hopslam, Oberon is one of the most hotly anticipated seasonal releases of the year. A simple wheat beer on the surface, Oberon is spicy and hoppy and complex like few American wheat ales manage to be. Look for it in the spring. Current seasonal deliciousness includes the massive 10% sipper Expedition Stout and a traditional German doppelbock called Consecrator.

This week I enjoyed draught Bell's Double Cream Stout at Pi in the Central West End and draught Hopslam at 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar in Lafayette Square, and thought about Larry Bell. In 2006, he pulled his entire business out of the state of Illinois because he lost control over who distributed his beer. Rather than turn his product over to someone who didn't understand it, he sacrificed an enormous chunk of his earnings and lived with the constant threats of lawsuits.

When the situation changed two years later, Bell happily reentered the market, starting with the behemoth Chicagoland area and spreading all the way back down to our beloved Corral Liquors in Granite City. But he took a hit so that we could have fresh beer. Thanks, Larry!

Matt Thenhaus is a Saint Louis bartender who believes there is a time and place for every beer. He blogs about beer every Wednesday.
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