Bell’s Brewery Inc. expects new 200-barrel brewhouse to begin operation in January

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Bell’s Brewery Inc. installed last week the first major equipment for its new 200-barrel brewhouse that will allow the state’s largest brewery to significantly increase production.

Laura Bell, marketing director for Bell’s, said the installation is part of a $17 million project to add the brewhouse, which will replace the 50-barrel brewhouse built in 2002, as well as add a fermentation cellar, update mechanical equipment, and build a new employee area and parking lot at the Comstock Township facility.

Bell said more large equipment is expected to arrive in the coming months with the brewhouse set to be up and running by January.

“This is a big day to start assembling some of the new brewhouse vessels,” she said last week. “It was pretty exciting for us.”

Bell said the old facility was at the “absolute maximum this brewhouse could do.”

View full sizeJohn Mallett, Bell’s Production Manager, and Laura Bell look at the development of the Comstock Township’s plant expansion project.
“We’re doing OK with filling orders now,” she said. “But the demand for the beer is more than we can make right now.”
Bell said the brewery has made 133,000 barrels so far this year — an 18 percent increase from this point last year — and she expects to make at total of about 180,000 barrels by the end of 2011. That is a projected increase of nearly 17 percent. Bell’s produced just under 154,000 barrels in 2010.

The new brewhouse will allow Bell’s to make more than 500,000 barrels annually, according to Bell’s production manager John Mallett.

This is part of a $52 million investment over the next six years the beer maker announced during its 25th anniversary in the fall. The brewhouse will also help the company’s production as it plans to roll out beer in cans at some point in the first half of 2012, Laura Bell said.

Laura Bell said the expansion means the brewery can begin to explore “new territory,” although specific locations haven’t been decided.

Laura Bell said the large tanks, weighing about 9,000 pounds each, were made by the German manufacturer Huppmann, which was acquired by GEA Brewery Systems in 2006. Huppmann’s manufacturing facility in Hudson, Wis., made all the fermentation equipment, while more specialized parts portions of the project will come from the company’s German facility.

The tanks were shipped across Lake Michigan on the S.S. Badger.

“The logistics of getting these tanks here is pretty interesting,” Laura Bell said.

As for the remaining more than $30 million in investment, Laura Bell said more projects are to come, while some of the money will go toward hiring staff to run the new brewhouse.