2005 | REGIONAL | EAST COAST
Twenty Years of Eccentric Beers : Bell’s Brewing
Celebrates in Kalamazoo
By Lucy Saunders
315 E. Kalamazoo Ave.
Food Dance Café
161 E. Michigan Ave.
402 E. Kalamazoo Ave.
Olde Peninsula Brewpub
200 E. Michigan Ave.
335 N. Burdick St.
241 E. Kalamazoo Ave.
Union Cabaret and Grill
125 S. Kalamazoo Mall
KZOO is the cryptic name on bumper stickers sold at Bell’s
General Store. Historians call it the “Celery City”
in homage to early Michigan settlers who planted celery in
marshy fields by the Kalamazoo River. But this could be the
year to proclaim Kalamazoo the “EccentriCity,”
as founder Larry Bell celebrates his brewery’s 20th
anniversary with a big party — and even bigger plans
Bell is tapping new markets in nine states, spurring expansion
of the production brewery in Galesburg co-managed by Brewmaster
John Mallett, and renovation and expansion of the Eccentric
Café pub in downtown Kalamazoo. On September 9, Bell
will ring in festivities for the anniversary celebration with
music, food and plenty of fresh beer.
Bell’s Best Brown, a smooth malty ale, launches in
September. But this year, be sure to splurge on the last of
the summer seasonal pale wheat ale, Oberon, in 5-liter keg-cans.
“The cans are imported from Germany and were delayed
in shipment, so we may have the mini kegs on the market until
the end of the season,” said Bell. And Two Hearted Ale,
winner of the first Alpha King hops challenge, is a year-round
brew well worth sampling from the tap at the Eccentric Café.
So plan an expedition to Kalamazoo. Start on Saturday morning
with coffee at the Water Street Coffee Joint, a funky café
right around the corner from the Eccentric. It features a
rotating display of local artists’ work, as well as
offering the luscious Palazzolo’s gelato with flavors
such as Lavender Honey and Bourbon Caramel. Be sure to pick
up some hazelnut biscotti from Judy Sarkozy’s bakery
on Burdick Street, which opens at 7:30 a.m. (this is where
Larry Bell began his career as a baker, pushing bread loaves
in the 90-year-old brick oven with a baker’s paddle).
The biscotti are crisp and light, with a mélange of
chopped hazelnuts in the batter and a thick coating of sesame
seeds on the exterior for crunch and contrasting color.
Kids in tow? Then take a quick trek out to the AirZoo, sort
of a theme park devoted to aviation and space exploration
with replicas and real aircraft on display. Thanks to an affiliation
with the Smithsonian Institution, the AirZoo also gets visiting
exhibits such as “Surfing the Wind,” a collection
of aerodynamic kites from around the world.
If traveling solo, stroll the downtown mall, a brick-lined
stretch of sidewalks opening onto restaurants and boutiques.
Kalamazoo’s downtown offers a refreshing number of independent
retailers and antique dealers. Food Dance, tucked inside an
office building, is a wonderful spot for breakfast, lunch
or brunch. The menu features homemade soups, Bruce Aidells’
sausages, Zingerman’s Bakehouse breads from Ann Arbor
and fresh produce in season from local farmers. It serves
several Michigan brews, including ales from neighboring Arcadia
Brewing Company and New Holland Brewing Company.
The Union Café and Cabaret is noisy at night with
cabaret and live music, but lunch there is quite serene, with
a menu of seasonal soups, sandwiches and salads. I sampled
an Italian salad with mesclun, chopped veggies and capicola,
tossed with just a smidge of balsamic vinegar dressing, and
grilled panini on the side. Shakespeare’s Pub, named
after the defunct fishing-tackle-maker that built the art
deco building, offers more standard pub fare and about 16
Other craft breweries in the area include the Arcadia Brewing
Company of Battle Creek, worth the 25-mile drive for its burgers
and English-style ales. In Kalamazoo proper, there are brewpubs
such as the Olde Peninsula on Michigan Avenue, Bilbo’s
Pizza (an extract brewery near Western Michigan University)
and Kraftbrau on Water Street, which is popular with the collegiate
crowd for its live music and poetry slams served up with German-style
But you’ll want to save room for the food and beer
at the Eccentric Café. Though the menu includes standard
pub fare such as grilled sausages, hot dogs, veggie burgers
and soups, the chalkboard menu lists far more exotic fare
to match the wildly funky décor. On my last visit,
the kitchen offered specials such as grilled rattlesnake and
veggie kabobs, a toasted sandwich with spicy grouper and toppings,
and brewhouse snacks such as pretzels with Bell’s beer
mustard. Tap lines include seasonals such as Oberon and Cherry
Ale, plus year-round staples such as the Pale Ale, Porter,
Amber Ale, and the celebrated Two Hearted Ale. By 2006, the
new brewery will include expanded parking on site for the
Eccentric Café and a renovated facade.
On September 9, Bell will
ring in festivities for the anniversary celebration
with music, food and plenty of fresh beer.
Though the production brewery in Comstock Township does not
offer tours, the new corporate brewhouse facility will be
amazing. Much of the gorgeous stainless equipment came from
the original Eureka Brewery, an early collaboration between
Anheuser-Busch and chef Wolfgang Puck. Though the Eureka Brewery
and Restaurant closed in 1991, the brewhouse is hardly out
of date, as it now rolls out 20 different brands of Bell’s
beer, seven of them year-round.
It’s a highly automated facility with computerized
controls; automatic keg-filling lines operated by David Bell,
Larry’s son; and a quality-control lab filled with snazzy
new gear such as a high-speed gas chromatograph for analyzing
“We have to build a new annex to make room for the
400-barrel fermenters we’ve ordered,” said Bell,
“because they certainly won’t fit through our
existing loading dock. We could barely squeeze in the 200-barrel
In May of this year, Kalamazoo Brewing sold almost 6,000
barrels, a record that put the company well on track for annual
sales in excess of $10 million. Truly, Bell’s Beers
are a resounding success for craft brewing in the Great Lakes.
NOTE: If you are planning on staying overnight in Kalamazoo,
there are hotels such as the Radisson and Holiday Inn, and
the Henderson Castle, an enormous 11,000-square-foot Victorian
manse for plush B&B stays. The central-city.net
site will let you build your own itinerary for downtown destinations,
complete with maps.
Lucy Saunders edits beercook.com