Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Brews Brothers: Bell’s tolling in the metro area

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Chicago’s loss is the Washington area’s gain. After a dispute about distribution in Illinois, Larry Bell, owner of Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery, opted instead to start shipping beers to the metro area in November.

Bell’s has been brewing since 1983. The business began in his homebrewing supply shop, with a 15-gallon soup kettle and plastic trashcans for fermenters and a first-year production of 135 barrels.

‘‘I was doing so much homebrewing that I decided to get a license,” Bell says.

By 2006, the brewery produced almost 80,000 barrels and was shipping to 13 states.

Bell’s makes 20 different beers, seven of them brewed year ’round. The beers tend to be more complex than others in their styles. Most unusual, Bell’s brews a porter and five different stouts. When asked why, since most breweries make one or two, Bell confides, ‘‘I’m too busy to brew the 10 stouts I used to make.”

Oberon (5.8 percent alcohol by volume-ABV), a summer wheat beer and Bell’s best seller, is surprisingly full flavored and substantial. It has a fruity and floral nose with a hint of peach. The sweet front quickly moves into a middle of growing sweetness and some fruitiness. The sweetness ebbs in the finish where there is a touch of rye and floral hops. In the aftertaste, the sweetness continues to fade and is replaced by a moderate dryness and hints of citrus and spices, perhaps nutmeg. Medium bodied with a pleasing mouthfeel, Oberon is complex for a summer beer. Ratings: 8.5⁄8.5 (on a scale of 1 to 10)

Two Hearted Ale (7 percent ABV) is Bell’s version of an India Pale Ale (IPA). It begins with an unusually fragrant nose, including notes of rose hips and grapefruit. Hops and the malt underbody are evident throughout. The muted sweet malt front with some floral hop character continues into the middle, with growing malt flavor and an apricot fruitiness. The complex finish adds some cocoa, and initiates a battle between the moderate malt and floral and bitter hops. The hops comes to the forefront and in the aftertaste and lingers, joined by a light dryness. While it’s not a classic IPA, it is very tasty and drinkable. Ratings: 7.5⁄8

Third Coast Old Ale (TCOA) (10.2 percent ABV) has a complicated mixture of aromas including deep malt, some alcohol, caramel, port wine, bourbon cask and chocolate. Full-bodied TCOA has a medium sweet caramel malt beginning that moves into a restrained dried plum middle with hints of roast and port wine. In the finish, the wine continues and the dried plum increases, joined by mild alcohol. An alcoholic warmth adds to the port wine and caramel malt in the aftertaste. This extremely smooth sipping beer is best served in a snifter. Ratings: 9 ⁄9.5

Expedition Stout (10.5 percent ABV) is a roasty and robust imperial stout with alcohol, port wine, raisin and some roast in the nose. The restrained roast and wine front grows in the middle and remains in the medium dry finish, along with touches of port wine and bitter hops. The roast and bitterness continue to grow in the somewhat dry aftertaste where the alcohol, while now obvious, is well blended. Ratings: 8.5⁄9