Craft brewer Bell’s Brewery sold to Australia’s Lion

The U.S. beer industry has one less independent brewer.

Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery said Wednesday it is being acquired by Australian brewer Lion, a subsidiary of Japan’s Kirin Group. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Lion will join Bell’s with Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing, which it acquired in 2019. Together, the companies will vault to the top of the U.S. craft beer market in off-premise __ or non-restaurant __ sales volumes, edging out competitors like Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon and Sam Adams, according to data from Nielsen.

The move comes amid declining U.S. beer sales as younger drinkers flock to seltzers and other options. Overall U.S. beer sales fell 3% in 2020; craft beer sales plummeted 9%, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft brewers.

As a result, many craft brewers have joined up with larger partners in recent years. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing sold to Japan’s Sapporo Group in 2017. Anheuser-Busch has bought several craft brewers, including Goose Island, Wicked Weed Brewing and Platform Beer.

Comstock, Michigan-based Bell’s was founded in 1985 by Larry Bell, who brewed the company’s first beers in a 15-gallon soup kettle.

By 2020, Bell’s was the seventh largest craft brewer in the U.S. and was sold in 43 states and the District of Columbia. That same year, one of its signature beers, Two Hearted Ale, was named the best beer in America for the fourth straight year by Zymurgy, the magazine of the American Homebrewers Association.

Larry Bell said he decided to sell because he has health issues and is ready to retire. Day-to-day operations at his 550-employee company will continue be led by Bell’s Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker.

“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,” Bell said in a statement.

New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer noted that he is also a Michigan native and a longtime Bell’s drinker.

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