Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pink Boots at Bells

"Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work." ~H. L. Hunt

July 24-26: Drove from Holland to Kalamazoo, but took the wrong exit. Bell's Production Manager, John Mallett and his son Linus met me and I followed them to the home of Bell's Packaging Manager, Mike Furst. John handed me a Bell's Lager and we silently climbed a ladder in the barn to the hayloft, which had been made into a recording studio. Three musicians and a singer were about to record a song. John's son and daughter Anna were amazingly still and quiet during the recording session. It took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the darkness as the only lighting was the recording switchboard and strings of white Christmas lights hung across the rafters.

After the recording sessions I followed John's truck to his house. John and I pushed my trailer up the driveway as Kalamazoo has a no overnight street parking ordinance. I was able to settle in for three nights there, which was a real treat on this fast-paced trip.

John, Anna and Linus had a tour of my trailer, and the kids both declared they would love to sleep there. Unfortunately there's just room for me! John had baked homemade bread and we enjoyed fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden while we waited for John's wife Maggie to get home.

I've known John for many years as a fellow GABF and World Beer Cup Judge. He is one of the smartest people I know and could probably brainstorm his way out of any brewing or brewery engineering problem. Call Larry Bell a genius for hiring John Mallett and you wouldn't be wrong!

The next day I rode with John to the old Kalamazoo brewery. John worked on a Firkin washer while brewer Dan Barrett showed me around. The most interesting feature about the brewing equipment still at this original location is that they have two mash/lauter tuns: One is 15-barrels, the other is double-size so that they can make gigantic beers with double the grainbill.

The last time I visited Bells was in 2000 when I was Eccentric Day guest brewer. They definitely use the double-size mash/lauter for their Eccentric Day Brew. If you are in Kalamazoo around St. Nicholas Day in December, be sure to dress in your whackiest costume and join in the fun at Bell's Eccentric Cafe on Eccentric Day.

Then we went to Bell's new brewing plant in Comstock outside of Kalamazoo. The batch size there is 50 barrels and John has designed some interesting features into the new brewhouse. Currently they have two lauter tuns, one larger than the other. They also have two kettles, but one is used as a heating wort receiver. The wort receiving kettle has an external collandria, and the newer kettle has an internal "underground" collandria, which allows Bells to brew smaller batches of specialty beers.

Another neat thing that Bells has been doing for the last three years, is they've put Oberon, their summer strong wheat seasonal ale, into 5-liter custom-painted aluminum cans. You heard me right: five liters or 1.32 gallons. Each year they change the label design, and each year they sell out. Some folks have taken to collecting the cans. The big can acts like a growler with a longer cold-shelf life; once opened the beer should be consumed the same day or it goes flat. Photo at left is of the 2005 can.

John and Brewhouse Manager Ken Belau drove back to the Eccentric Cafe for lunch where we ran into Bell's brewer Tom Bohs enjoying a pint on his day off. (Photo at top of page, L to R: John, Teri, Ken and Tom.) Tom remembered me from the 2000 Excentric Day brew and party. That night I played card games with Anna and Linus while John made dinner.

The next day (July 26) I was scheduled to drive to Dexter, Michigan to meet with Ron Jeffries, Owner/Brewmaster of Jolly Pumpkin Brewing Company, but I was getting worn down with the pace of the trip. Therefore I elected to stay another day with John and his lovely family, sleep in (a lot!), do laundry and blog. So that's what I did. The Mallett household in Kalamazoo was a nice relaxing stop for me and I needed it.
Thank you to John Mallet for gifting me a mixed 12-pack of Bell's beers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love Bell's beers. The 5 liter cans of Oberon would be a big hit at a summer BBQ party!

Ted in Fort Collins