Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford: Bell’s Best Brown Ale keeps you coming back for more

By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers

Greetings, fellow craft beer lovers!

Mother Nature continues to dazzle our visual senses with her creative paint brush of autumn. I drive Newburg Road to and from work near Belvidere, and the color contrast of the trees is nothing short of spectacular. It is an excellent way to prepare for and wind down from work, along with some good blues music. Speaking of winding down, this week I would like to talk about a beer I have enjoyed for a number of years that is an autumn seasonal. The beer is Bell’s Best Brown, and the brewery is Bell’s Brewery.

The Kalamazoo Brewing Co. (later to become Bell’s Brewery, Inc.) was founded by Larry Bell as a home brewing supply shop in 1983. In late 1985, he began to sell his own beer, producing 135 barrels in its first year. These first batches of beer were brewed in 15-gallon soup kettles and fermented in open fermenters covered with plastic wrap. Originally self-distributed, Larry and his staff of nine employees bottled and delivered the beer. In 1993, Bell’s became the first Michigan brewery to open an on-site pub. The brewery today consists of two separate brewing facilities — the original Kalamazoo Avenue facility, and the Krum Avenue Plant, in Comstock, Michigan, which opened in 2003. In 2013, they produced more than 248,000 barrels.

The brewery operations are state-of-the-art sustainable, defined by the company as practicing environmental stewardship, economic robustness and social integrity. For details about their sustainability, go to Bell’s website.

Their lineup of beers is quite extensive to include eight year-round, 14 seasonal and a constant varied rotation of special and limited releases. Best Brown American Brown Ale is one of the seasonal offerings and a mainstay in the fall lineup.

For this tasting, I will use an American shaker pint glass, as this is an American-style beer. Bell’s recommends this to be served at 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The pour is a slightly hazy chestnut brown color, with some coppery highlights with a two-finger dense tan head. The head retention has good staying power with a ring of lacing that hugs the receding dense froth. The carbonation bubbles are pronounced, despite the haziness.

Aroma is not overly strong, but has a dominant nuttiness with some chocolate and roast. There is a hint of earthy aroma and fruit. Hop aroma is not perceived, reminding me of a Robust Porter.

The taste begins with toasty/bready malt flavor, mingled with a mild nutty flavor, some chocolate and toffee. The finish has a touch of fruitiness and earth hop flavor that is slightly bitter, which balances this beer quite nicely for a mild, satisfying finish.

The mouth feel is medium in body with a perceived softness; the active carbonation creates a smoothness that makes this beer difficult to not just chug down.

Overall, this is a smooth and toasty brown ale with excellent body that has enough depth to stand up to the cool autumn weather, but does not come across as heavy because of the nice balance of hops that invite me to take another drink. At a modest 5.8 percent alcohol by volume, it is VERY drinkable and worthy of a few in a session. I have really started liking this style, and Bell’s Best Brown Ale is one I’ll be coming back to.


Michael Sears is the president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a home-brewing club dedicated to the art of finely-crafted beer. The club meets on the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Street. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at

From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue

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