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I met Larry Bell at the Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival this past January. He was in the Bell's Brewery tent with two of his employees wearing a safari hat and thin, dark sunglasses, like he was about to embark on an expedition.
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Bell started his Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1985, long before the craft beer revolution had moved east. I imagine he might have taken to wearing the safari hat back then -- an explorer in a World of Beer largely yet to be discovered. Today, Bell's is the largest craft brewery in Michigan and one of the most significant in the northern U.S.
Bell's makes 19 beers not including seasonal or specialty brews, a list as wide ranging as to cover cherry stout and something called Hell Hath No Fury Ale (who did you scorn, Larry?). The brewery was, at first, self-distributed. As such, Bell's is very particular about the way their beer makes its journey to states as far south as we are.
Amber ale is Bell's flagship brew. It's rich and malty and packs a wallop at nearly six percent alcohol by volume. It pours a deep copper with a frothy head, and feels thick on the tongue as you drink it. It's a great beer to cool off spicy foods, and even though it's a little expensive at about $10 per six-pack, it's fun to cook with. It makes its presence well known in chili and stews, and, though I've yet to try it, some beer and cheese dip made with Bell's Amber Ale would be bold stuff.
And don't worry: there's no need to don a safari hat and hit the pavement to find Bell's Beer. These days, even Publix carries the Amber as well as Bell's Oberon Ale, a spicier brew made with saaz hops.