KALAMAZOO — Bell’s Brewery Inc. started 2022 under new ownership after its sale to Australian brewing conglomerate Lion Little World Beverages closed on Dec. 31.
The blockbuster deal for the Kalamazoo-based brewery — the 16th largest in the country — was announced in November. Lion also owns Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium Brewing Co., which served as the vehicle for the transaction as Bell’s founder and craft beer pioneer Larry Bell made a full exit from the company.
As two breweries with a nationwide footprint, the combined company can now focus on leveraging efficiencies. But, according to Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker, who will lead day-to-day operations for Bell’s, that doesn’t necessarily mean combining production.
“I think what we have seen from an operations standpoint is we make and brew beer differently than New Belgium does,” Yunker said. “At the moment, there aren’t plans to, say, brew each other's beer in those locations. I think we’ll probably look at things like brewing tracking, order cycles and combining procurement. We’ll look for efficiencies in those spaces first and take our time with the production integration.”
When asked if the new mega craft brewery would be hungry for new deals, especially with the deep pockets of Lion and its parent company, Tokyo-based Kirin Holdings Company Ltd., Yunker said Bell’s is focused on integration with New Belgium.
“Really, for 2022, these are two very large, iconic craft breweries we’re trying to bring together,” she said. “That is our sole focus. … Once we get past this successful integration, there is a lot of open space for us.”
Citing a non-disclosure agreement, Yunker declined to say when negotiations with Lion and New Belgium began. She did say that no significant roadblocks threatened the deal along the way.
Grand Rapids-based law firm Rhoades McKee P.C. served as legal adviser for Bell’s, which was also advised by Birmingham, Ala.-based Arlington Capital Advisors on financing and Plante Moran on tax matters.
The sale price was undisclosed.
“From a timeline perspective, it was certainly several months that we were trying to figure out who our best suitor was,” Yunker said. “At the end of the day, New Belgium got their No. 1 pick and we got ours. I think that’s the important piece here.”