It's well known that New York provides refugee status to thousands of Midwesterners each year. It will thus come as news of great joy that Bell's Brewery of greater Kalamazoo, Michigan, has announced plans to expand its distribution to the Empire State beginning this month.
Beginning the week of October 21, Bell's will introduce Two Hearted Ale, Amber Ale, Bell's Porter, Kalamazoo Stout, Oarsman Ale and the newly renamed Midwestern Pale Ale (formerly just "Pale Ale") to markets in Western and upstate New York. That's right—not New York City. At least, not yet.
"We're starting in Western and upstate," said Laura Bell, Bell's Marketing Director. "For a long time we haven't been able to expand territory because of production," says Bell. "We weren't able to make enough beer. So we're starting with western and upstate to see how that works. New York City is such a large territory, we need to treat it with the care and attention we do for some whole states. It's such a large area."
So while city-dwellers will for now have to wait, those in the likes of Saratoga Springs, Chili, and Troy can begin the party in a few short weeks. Bell points out that the brewery hasn't expanded into a new sales region since Arizona—cleverly determined, along with their Florida market, to be a viable year-round-Oberon territory. But Bell stresses that it's the need to gradually and safely expand production, rather than concerns about issues within the three-tiered distribution system that, nearly a decade ago, saw the brand temporarily exit the state of Illinois.
"From a distribution standpoint, for Bell's, our biggest MO is to make sure that we take the high road and conduct our business in a way that is respectful to our partners, making decisions that are best for the brand, and doing it in a way that is lawful, and just good business," said Bell.
For their upstate and Western New York markets, Bell's will be handled by Tri Valley Beverage, PJ Sheehan, and the Craft Guild of NY. Expect to see heaps of launch events—the company has already scheduled 29 in New York State as the beers appear both on taps and in Wegmans' aisles in two weeks. Bell says that seasonal beers, naturally, will make an appearance in time as well. And just to cement its identity that much more firmly, Bell's Pale Ale, now named Midwestern, can claim better bragging rights: the beer's now made with a portion of Bell's own home-grown midwestern barley from their barley farm in Shepherd, Michigan (right in the center of the mitten).
And even if the brewer doesn't deploy in New York City before springtime, expect schlepping beers back downstate to get a little easier: the company plans to roll out 16 ounce cans in 2014, just in time to enjoy them out of doors.
I had to ask: why again did Arizona get lucky before Gotham?
"The rumor in Arizona is that that's where the Cubs do their spring training, and my dad's the biggest Cubs fan in the world," says Laura Bell of her father Larry. "But that's a RUMOR."