Thursday, June 7, 2012

You got me drinking Bell's Bell's!

Second major brewery in our Florida tour is Bell's Brewing of the hilariously named Kalamazoo, Michigan.  In my beer-literature wanderings, the name of Bell's has cropped up many times, especially with regards to their Hopslam Double IPA, Oberon Wheat Ale, Two Hearted IPA and Expedition Stout.  These four giants have racked up some impressive accolades, and are among the most-reviewed brews on BA and Rate Beer; not to be outdone, their other brews in regular rotation have faired well for themselves as well.  Really, I would be satisfied to try any of the bunch myself, and I was in luck: Knightly Spirits had a solid selection of Bell's in six packs, and thanks to their generous "help yourself" policy, I was able to get together a decent showing of the lineup, including the Two Hearted and Expedition.  I also was the beneficiary of a priced-to-clear Bell's pint glass, which was in perfect timing, as being in a budget hotel did not provide me with a large array of glassware from which to sample brews.

Bell's is one of several craft breweries to crop up during the mid-80s rush of craft brewing, which affords them some claim to "veteran" status.  Under the guidance of founder Larry Bell, they released their first batches in 1985 and opened their Eccentric Cafe brewpub in June of 1993, making Bell's the "first Michigan brewery to sell beer by the glass to the public."  Cheers to Bell's for that, although it's very telling about the wasteland of the of American brewing industry up to this point that the first Michigan brewery to sell beer by the glass did so less than 20 years ago.  As of 2012, they are the nation's 13th largest brewery, and look to be undertaking a 52 million dollar expansion at some point this year.  It also looks like Larry Bell is contemplating selling the brewery, though not necessarily as a means of staving off any financial crisis, but rather as a means to ensure a succession of ownership.  Not sure what the future brings, but I wish all the folks at Bell's the very best in what could be a busy year!

For the bird-watchers out there, this is a Northern
Out-of-Focus Owl.  Very hard to spot.
I managed to snag a few bottles of Bell's brew, and with a couple of exceptions (their Pale Ale wasn't too impressive, and the Two Hearted was sadly past its prime and needed to be pitched), I was pretty damn happy with the bunch.  Here's a look at my two favorites:

Beer: Bell's Best Brown
Type: English Brown Ale
ABV: 5.8%

Chestnut-ruby in colour, slightly hazy, and with a few lingering flecks of sediment.  Left a thin, but sturdy head of foam, and sheets of lacing.  Nice looking brew.

Nose is classic English brown, with a few extra goodies: caramel, chocolate malt, English hops, raisins and a faint hint of toffee and roastiness.

This here's one sturdy, dependable English brown ale.  Simple enough to quaff heartily, yet busy enough to warrant careful consideration.  The caramel malt is pronounced, but not dominant, as the raisins and roasted character are allowed a foot in the door.  Medium-light bodied, carbonation is a bit higher than what you'd expect from an English version.

Damned decent brown ale, and well worth picking up if you get the chance.  (Grade: B+)

Beer:  Bell's Expedition Stout
Type: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.5%

This brew was so high on my anticipation meter that it ended up making the journey back to Canada so that I could afford it the proper attention it deserves.  Fortunately, it survived the flight unscathed, and we are ready to rock!

To paraphrase the classic scene from Rob Reiner's classic This is Spinal Tap: How much more black could this be?  The answer is none...none more black.  Textbook Russian stout: the pour yielded an inch of deep mocha foam that would not quit, and the lacing rings left behind rivalled the age lines of a mighty sequoia.   In brief, this brew looks terrific!

The nose is also pretty damned fine, though it is not this brew's most outstanding attribute.  Roasted grain, coffee, chocolate and cream are present, along with a faint whiff of dark fruit.  Not quite as potent as other great stouts I've encountered, but still classic Russian Stout all the way.

 This is one tasty stout, and I'm kicking myself for not bringing back more.  (Grade: A, maybe an A+ if I had a dozen more to really make sure.  The larger the sample pool, the better.)

With beer glass in hand, I am ready to keep my eyes open for more Bell's brews, especially considering the no-show and the brew that went past its prime.  I feel like I didn't get enough of a taste, but what I did get to try was terrific.  Give'm a go when you're out Michigan way.