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Bell’s Brewery sells craft credentials to big beer in Lion acquisition

Bell’s Brewery is set to sell to Australia-based Lion, a subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin Group.

Lion, which is acquiring Bells for an undisclosed sum, already owns Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing which it acquired in 2019 and the sale would consolidate craft beer in terms of sales volume and growth, according to Nielsen data.

Bells, which was recently named as best US brewer by the American Homebrewers Association, is the latest in a raft of independent craft breweries selling out to corporate beer companies. The move is a u-turn on its independent image as well as its base of loyal craft beer drinkers who reportedly seek out its beers to avoid supporting macro beer.

Last year, the Brewer’s Association Bell’s ranked Bell’s as the seventh largest craft brewery in the US and the 16th largest overall brewing company. The Kalamazoo Michigan-based brewer sold 461,582 barrels and endured just a 7% decline amidst the pandemic during 2020 after showcasing an impressive three years of steady growth.

According to the Brewer’s Association, the popular craft brewer’s Two Hearted IPA has been voted the best in the US for four years in a row.

Bell’s founder Larry Bell has said he has sought out a buyer because he has plans to retire and doesn’t consider the move “selling out”. 

“I wouldn’t call this a sell out. I would call this a sale. Nobody lives forever and I needed an elegant solution to succession. If you look at what has happened to New Belgium since acquisition by Lion, it’s nothing but good – it’s grown significantly,” said Bell in a recent interview.

The new collaboration will reportedly be steered by New Belgium’s CEO Steve Fechheimer and his leadership is set to also include Bell’s Upper Hand Brewery. 

According to Fechheimer, no major changes or redundancies are to be expected in the initial stages of the acquisition and the plan is for the union to allow Bell’s brand values to be upheld as part of the deal.

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