Bell’s is Back in Chicago

Despite a warning of a lengthy and costly lawsuit, Bell’s Brewery owner Larry Bell will start sending beer to Illinois early next week for the first time since last October.

Bell pulled his beer from Illinois after a dispute with National Wine and Spirits. Bell said NWS knows about his plans and that the distributor told him in October it would be willing to wage a lengthy and costly lawsuit. Bell said he’s not sure if NWS will sue, but he thinks he’s on solid ground legally.

The dispute came last fall when NWS planned to sell the distribution rights for Bell’s beer to a large wholesaler, and Bell was worried his beer wouldn’t receive the same amount of attention, Bell said. Because of Illinois’ Beer Industry Fair Dealing Act, a 1982 franchise law, Bell was not able to stop the deal. Instead of going along with the sale, Bell pulled his product.

Bell will be attempting to “loophole” the Illinois franchise law by sending a “new” brand to the state. The beer will be called Kalamazoo, instead of Bell’s. Kalamazoo Royal Amber Ale, Kalamazoo Porter and Kalamazoo IPA are the first brands to head back into Illinois. The change in brand will allow his company to sell beer in Illinois again.

“I am fairly confident, but anybody can sue anybody about anything,” Bell said. “We’ve got a couple opinions that say we are right, and that’s what I’m going with.”

Bell said the Kalamazoo recipes are different from the Bell’s recipes. Two other wholesalers will distribute the beer.

“Illinois law says you can come in as a different brand. We believe the law is on our side,” Bell said.