Larry Bell, founder of the pioneering Michigan craft brewer Bell’s Brewery, on Wednesday announced the sale of his company to Lion, an Australia-based subsidiary of the Kirin Group.

Set to complete in the coming months for an undisclosed fee, the acquisition will see Bell’s join Colorado’s New Belgium in Lion’s portfolio, propelling the group to one of the largest craft brewers in America. Following more than three decades in the industry, Bell also announced his retirement from the company as the news broke.

“I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together,” Bell said in a press release. “From our wonderful fans, to the amazing team that has helped share our beer with the world, to the ways we’ve been able to invest in causes we believe in — this has been an absolutely incredible journey.”

Based on 2020 statistics from the Brewer’s Association, Lion’s ownership of Bell’s and New Belgium should see the group rise to become the third-largest craft brewer in the United States, overtaking Sierra Nevada and falling behind only Yuengling and Boston Beer Co.

Bells Brewery in Michigan
Credit: Bell’s Brewery

New Belgium alone is set to top 1 million barrels in 2021, according to Brewbound, thanks in large part to the success of its Voodoo Ranger line, which accounts for around 65 percent of its volume.

While New Belgium is available in all 50 states, Bell’s footprint currently covers 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Expanding distribution into those seven untapped states will not be an immediate objective. “[T]that’s not a Day One priority that we’re going after,” New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer told Brewbound.​​

Beyond volume outputs and distribution, the sale is immediately notable for a number of reasons: A foreign company now holds ownership of two of America’s oldest, most cherished craft breweries.

In the announcement, founder Bell said now was the right time to sell for two main reasons: “First, the folks at New Belgium share our ironclad commitment to the craft of brewing and the community-first way we’ve built our business,” he said. “Second […] I’ve been doing this for more than 36 years and recently battled some serious health issues. I want everyone who loves this company like I do to know we have found a partner that truly values our incredible beer, our culture, and the importance of our roots here in Michigan.”

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