Good Beer Hunting

After Oil Pipeline Spill in Kalamazoo River, Bell’s Looks to Spend $7 Million on Their Own Production, Sustainability Initiatives

Bell’s Brewery plans to invest in excess of $7 million on a number of projects meant to streamline its quality, production, and sustainability initiatives through 2018, the company announced late last week. In a statement, Bell’s says the bulk of the upgrades will be made in Comstock, though improvements are also slated for the company’s original facility in Kalamazoo. The 32-year-old brewery says additional details will be made available as plans are finalized.

Among the upgrades the company has already disclosed, Bell’s says it plans to build a pilot brewery and specialty packaging line in Comstock, where it already operates a sizable facility, alongside a number of other unspecified “beer production related projects.” The company also plans to build out a smaller pilot brewery in Kalamazoo, where the pioneering company began.
“We are deeply committed to our community in Comstock and will continue to invest additional resources so that we remain top in class further ensuring our commitment to quality,” says Larry Bell, brewery president and founder, in a news release. “We also want to offer our partners and customers additional options. These new projects will help us accomplish both.”
Of broader importance, the company also says it plans to recalibrate its focus on sustainability by upgrading its waste water treatment procedures. “Instead of sending low pH yeast to Kalamazoo’s waste water treatment facility, it will be reclaimed and sold to local farmers to feed their animals, further enhancing Bell’s commitment to sustainability,” the company says.
Speaking with the Associated Press, Bell elaborated further: “Sustainability happens in a lot of different ways, whether it's departmental, ownership, but then also on the environmental front…We take our wastewater now and turn it into biogas to power the brewery out in Comstock. We still have some solid (waste). This is going to allow us to remove some more solid from the waste stream and we think that's a good thing.”
This prong of the project is of particular consequence as Bell’s has been active of late on the preservation front. In 2016, the American Council of Engineering Companies commended Bell’s for its bio-energy facility, which the brewery opened in 2014. Of the plant, the ACEC wrote at the time: “The Bio-Energy facility not only cut operational costs drastically, but also took advantage of the economic benefits of the treatment process that includes both electrical generation as well as the heat recovery. Bell’s was able to project a return on the facility’s investment in under 10 years.”
More recently, this past January, Bell’s helped form a group – along with HopCat, Grand Rapids Brewing, and others – in a still ongoing effort to persuade Michigan lawmakers to decommission a pair of oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac.
As reported by MLive in January: “Bell expressed a deep distrust for the Canadian company after one of Enbridge's pipelines spilled 1.1 million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. Seven years after the largest and most costly inland spill in American history, Bell said the incident remains fresh in his mind. ‘Enbridge's oil disaster really hit home for me,’ Bell said. ‘It was absolutely devastating for our community. I pledged to do all I can to not let that happen anywhere else in Michigan.’”
As evidenced by our own ongoing catalogue of brewers upholding sustainability as a core tenet to business, Bell’s is hardly the only brewery operating today with the future in mind. No less, as more and more prominent breweries embrace a leading role on the matter, it’s only becoming more and more worth acknowledging.
- Dave Eisenberg

Craft beer company in Michigan to spend $7M on projects [Associated Press]