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Bell’s Brewery founder crafts support fund for Broad beverage course

By Chelsea Stein
Monday, March 20, 2023

A household favorite for many Michiganders, Bell’s Brewery is the oldest brewery in the state. And its founder and former owner is on a mission to give Broad Spartans a taste of high-quality beverage education.

Larry Bell has given $200,000 to the Broad College’s School of Hospitality Business to craft the Larry J. Bell Support Fund for Beverage Education. His gift will directly support the Hospitality Business undergraduate course HB 411: Hospitality Beverages, taught by associate professor Carl Borchgrevink. Bell has an unshakable passion for beverage education, and he’s been speaking in the course for more than 25 years.

“To me, selling craft beer was always about educating the public about the product, and I have been more than happy to have an opportunity to get in front of students that would become managers and influencers in the industry,” Bell said.

The course, designed for students over 21 years old, offers sensory assessments where they experience wine, beer, spirits and other beverages. Borchgrevink said tours of local breweries and distilleries happen occasionally, but more often, he likes to bring the brewers, winemakers, distillers and coffeehouse founders to the classroom.

“In class, the speakers tell the students about their career, vision, business and beverages,” he said. “In addition to product knowledge, the students are exposed to history, social responsibility, health concerns as it relates to alcohol and proper service.”

Borchgrevink first floated the idea of speaking in class to Bell in the 1990s, and they’ve enjoyed working together ever since. “I knew that he brewed a quality craft beverage and asked him to speak to his craft in class. Students always love hearing from Larry,” Borchgrevink said.

Bell, now retired from running the Kalamazoo-based brewery, has come a long way since he first started homebrewing in the 1980s. He described incorporating, starting a homebrew supply shop and eventually opening Bell’s Brewery “on a shoestring and a prayer,” and how it really took flight over the years.

“I am proud to partner with such an exalted program, and I hope to encourage others to donate to the fund so that we may strengthen the resources available to the hospitality business school.”

As Bell dreamed up and created Third Coast Beer, Porter, Cherry Stout and more in the early days, his brand became known for award-winning frothy favorites, with a focus on Michigan ingredients and traditions. One of its icons, Oberon, was first brewed in 1992 as SolSun, and it has bubbled up to become a seasonal celebration of the approach of warmer weather and the start of baseball season. Bell also paved the way for breweries to have on-site pubs when he worked with the Michigan Legislature in 1993 to change state law and first open Bell’s Eccentric Café.

Through it all, Bell has shared his expertise at Michigan State, where he has enjoyed meeting Spartans and encouraging their futures in hospitality business.

“I have run into former students at a number of restaurants that I have dined at, and it is always a joy to have them say hello and recall my visiting their class,” he said. “And now and then a free dessert comes my way!”

Bell also spoke to the impact he hopes his gift will have: “As we all know, the hospitality industry has had a tough time coming through the pandemic, and I think that it is more important than ever that we continue to supply the points of knowledge that they will need in their chosen careers.

“I am proud to partner with such an exalted program, and I hope to encourage others to donate to the fund so that we may strengthen the resources available to the hospitality business school.”

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