Q&A with Craft Beer Lovers: Chelsea Lasson of Bell’s

Chelsea Lassen Bell's Brewery Kzoo Beer Blog pic

Chelsea Lassen of Bell’s Brewery, Inc. drinks her favorite brew: Bell’s Wild One. Photo courtesy of Rhino Media.

Featuring: Chelsea Lassen
Marketing Coordinator, Bell’s Brewery, Inc.

• Where is the strangest place you’ve ever drank a craft beer? An ICU waiting room

What is your favorite beer label? The 2014 Oberon mini keg

What is your favorite brewery? Well, I suppose I’m a little biased, but Bell’s – we make great beer, and Larry and Laura Bell make Bell’s a really happy place to be. Bell’s aside, I really love Crooked Stave, Russian River, and Jolly Pumpkin (can you tell I have a thing for sour beers??)

Do you remember your first craft beer? Back in my college days when I developed a taste for beer, I was a huge fan of any beer that was put in my hand. To me, that consisted of nothing but yellow fizzy beers and I thought I was really cool. Then one day, a good friend of mine had a six-pack of Bell’s Java Stout, and I insisted on giving it a try. He was sure I would hate it. However, after that first taste, my world changed. The flavor and complexities of that beer blew my mind; I had no clue that beer could be anything but yellow and fizzy. I immediately became a huge fan of craft beer, thus leading me to where I am today (despite the fact that I graduated with a double major in Exercise Science and Community Health).

Have you ever mixed craft beer with something else to make it entirely different? If so, what’s been successful for you? I’m a huge fan of Bell’s Oarsman, ginger beer, and a splash of lime juice. Perfect light & low alcohol beer for a hot summer day. Don’t ever mix a shot of gin with an IPA. Bad things will happen.

Is there a style of craft beer you don’t like at all? Not really. So far, I’ve found there’s at least one beer within every style that I enjoy. And as long as it’s a well made beer, I can certainly appreciate it.

Do you homebrew? I’ve homebrewed a couple times with groups of friends and co-workers, but it’s extremely time consuming so I’ve never really been serious about it.

If you were stranded on an island and you could only take one IPA and one Stout, which would they be? Hmm.. Stouts are one of my favorite styles of beer, but that’s the last thing I’d want to drink on a hot desert island. But, to answer the question – Bell’s Two Hearted and Bell’s Black Note Stout.

If you were to take a Michigan craft beer to another country as a representative of our great beer state, what would it be? That’s tough… Do I have to pick one? I can’t do it. There are too many good beers out there. It’s have to be Bell’s Two Hearted, Hopslam, or Expedition Stout. They’re all so delicious. Bell’s aside, it would have to be something from Jolly Pumpkin.

How far have you traveled for craft beer? All over the world. My experiences have taught me that the American craft beer scene is one of the best, and Michigan craft beer rocks.

If you were to open a craft brewery, what would you call it? This is the least fun answer ever, but I have no idea.

What one ingredient should never be added to beer? Vanilla. I HATE vanilla beers. Too sweet. Typically, I prefer beers that are balanced and stick to the basic ingredients (water, malt, hops, yeast). However, there are plenty of good beers out there that have spices and fruits added to them. As long as they’re balanced, all is good in my world (minus the vanilla. no thank you.)

Are you Elvis or Beatles? Dogs or cats? Hops or malts? Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure? Milli or Vanilli? Beatles. Cats. Malts. I’m not familiar with either Twin Peaks or Northern Exposure so that’s a toss up. Of Milli Vanilli, which one is Fab Morvan? I choose him for his big beautiful eyes.

If Wonder Woman were to drink a craft beer, what one would she drink? And honestly, do you think it would help her find the invisible jet? First of all, if Wonder Woman drank a lot of craft beer, there’s no way she could maintain those abs of steel. Despite that, I see her as a drink of big and bold stouts. Bell’s Expedition Stout perhaps? Or maybe Bourbon Barrel Batch 9000? Sometimes having a beer or two can relax you and open up your mind – maybe that’s all she needs in order to find the invisible jet?

How many kinds of beer glasses do you own? 6.

If Red Bull gives you wings, what does craft beer give you? 100% awesomeness.

If you were a craft beer, what would you be and why? Bell’s Raspberry Wild One. I think I love that beer more than life itself. The picture I’ve included is of me drinking that beer at the 2013 MBG Winter Beer Festival (photo credit Rhino Media).

What is on your list of must visit breweries? All of them.

Favorite craft beer name? Hmmm.. probably Hopslam. You know exactly what you’re getting with that one. I’m all for creativity, but if I’m at a restaurant looking at a beer list that I’m not familiar with I want to have some idea of what the beer is just based on the name.

What is your favorite craft beer memory (PG-13 or not; I’m no prude)? I have two: Drinking lots of craft beer at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe’s Prom in 2011; it was just days before I started my career at Bell’s, and I was so excited about it. It was a perfect night. The other one is drinking craft beer with Larry Bell on various occasions. I respect the hell out of him and everything he’s done for the craft beer industry, and time with him is invaluable.

How do you get rid of head (foam)? I don’t.

What is the coolest bottle opener you own/have seen? There are hooded sweatshirts now that have beer koozies attached to the front pocket, and a bottle opener on the end of the sleeve.

When Chuck Norris drinks a beer …? When Chuck Norris orders a beer, the beer pays him.

If you got to name a craft beer, what would it be? Again, this is the least fun answer ever, but I don’t know. I got nothin.

If you got to have a beer with one person, who would it be and why? Anthony Bourdain. He’s my idol; I’ve seen him speak twice in recent years, and the first time I saw him he was drinking a Bell’s beer on stage!

What is your theme song? Currently, Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen”

What do you think about when you are alone in your car? Work. Life. Long car drives are good thinking time.

Pick two celebrities to be your parents? Anthony Bourdain and Meryl Streep.

Would you rather be a thief or a liar? If I’m going to do one, I might as well go all out and be both a thief and a liar.

Is it “Nobody doesn’t like Sarah Lee” or “Nobody does it like Sarah Lee?” Nobody does it like Sarah Lee.

Why is it always about you?? Why not?

A porter to help Santa’s helpers with ‘assembly required’ gifts

By:  Brian Steele
Co-Brewer and Owner of Boatyard Brewing Company

KALAMAZOO, MICH — One of the first things you figure out as a brewer is that commercial brewing is all about the numbers.  I have always been a left-brained person, so this stark fact gave me great comfort.

kalamazoo brewery

My left hemisphere was always happy thinking about strike temperatures, attenuation curves, IBUs, and oxygen concentrations.  Keep the numbers where the numbers should be and the Boatyard Brewing Co. (BBC) brewing world would be great.  Then, as I found consistency in the production of our ales, something happened.  The right side of my brain woke up and started knocking on my daily thoughts.  I would hear a little voice say, “Get out there, use those creative juices and let’s make something grand.”

At some point those voices made their point, and I began to view our brewing more as a form of art and less as a expression of scientific practicality. Brewing had become a way to express myself in a collaboration of wort and yeast.  The question was now, “Do I have anything worthy to express?”  I began this creative quest by digging out an old recipe that I had been working on for a few years.  It was to be a unique porter that I originally started crafting at the Saugatuck Brewing Company (SBC) with Barry Johnson.  The idea was to create a porter that was poured and consumed on Christmas Eve.  A porter that would help celebrate the friendship and family bonds that made Christmas special in my family.

While working on the recipe at the SBC, my first thought was vanilla.  It seemed that everything in our house had vanilla in it, as my parents created cookies, cakes, and fudge.  So with our first try we added just enough vanilla to fill the nose, but not enough to overwhelm the palate.  It was a nice porter, but not worthy enough for Christmas Eve.

The development of my special porter was stalled as we began the preparation for Christmas in December of 2010.  We had the big family Christmas at our house and I was still whining about the vanilla porter I made for Christmas Eve.  In the middle of one of my whines my father said, “Son, you should make a shoo-fly beer for Christmas.”  For those of you who didn’t grow up in central Pennsylvania, shoo-fly usually refers to a pie made from black-strap molasses.  My first reaction was a hardy chuckle, but my father’s comment set into motion a series of ideas that energized my artistic flair.  I set off on a journey to use all of the flavors of my Christmases past infused into that vanilla porter. I laid in bed that night and thought of the Christmas Eves I had been lucky enough to enjoy.  I thought of the food and drink that had been fussed over by four generations of my family.  The food and drink that brought joy to those beautiful nights.

I took that same vanilla infused porter recipe from a few years earlier and began some pretty unique tweaking.  First I needed that lovely molasses.  You just can’t celebrate Christmas in Pennsylvania without molasses.  I think it is even a state law that you must consume a few ounces every December or they will cancel Groundhog’s Day.  So I tossed out a little of the base malt and replaced the sugars with a wee bit of molasses.  For those who have never used molasses, it is heavenly in dark beer, but a little goes a long way.

I also remembered the smell of rum and raisins each Christmas as rum cakes baked in the kitchen.  To capture those flavors in the beer, I caramelized plump raisins in the oven and then deglazed the pan with a generous portion of dark rum.  That pan sat all night, melding the flavors from the dried fruit and rum.  I added that mixture towards the end of the boil and let the magic begin.  When sampling the wort, I knew this brew was really close to what I wanted.   An amazing vanilla extract from Chicago was added after fermentation and our Christmas Eve Porter was born.  Last Christmas Eve, we enjoyed this porter for the first time and created a tradition we hope to carry on.  On Christmas Eve, Dan and I took our bottles and delivered them to friends and family.  No note or card, just a little gift left by the front door from friends who wanted the flavors of Christmases past to come alive again.  A porter that would help all of Santa’s helpers with those “some assembly required” gifts.

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Tim Surprise, Owner Arcadia Ales

Whitsun or Sky High Rye? Decisions, decisions…

Tim Surprise is the owner of Battle Creek’s Arcadia Ales. He will be quite the busy man during Kalamazoo Beer Week as Arcadia has over 8 events going on!

We will be brewing 15 years this year.  The concept for Arcadia developed in 1994 while on a family vacation along the southern coast of Maine.  I wandered into Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub in the Old Port area of Portland, Maine and our future in craft brewing was illuminated. My family and I were living in Michigan at the time and at the time, just as it is today, there was an appreciation for local, sustainable and high quality artisinal products.  Until Arcadia was established, the last brewery in Battle Creek closed its door in the 1940’s.  We were filling a need…

Our senior leadership team, together with our sales and production team, all come together regularly and reach consensus on new product development.  We sample a number of beers that fit into the style or general category that we’re considering, stack those characteristics that we are targeting along with our “quality & value” approach, and the result is typically a distinctive product.

We’re in the planning and development stages to increase our capacity and build a new brewing facility that may combine a very special location with a sustainable approach that is consistent with our mission of distinctive
and quality focused production.

My favorite beer is the Arcadia in my hand at the time I’m answering, but more specifically, my personal tastes lean more toward the maltier side of the beer spectrum, and during this time of beer, I find myself with an Arcadia London Porter quite often.

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Owner of O’Duffy’s Pub

This is Mack, the official O’Duffy’s mascot. If you’ve ever been there, you’ve definitely seen Mack.

Jamie Kavanaugh is the Owner of O’Duffy’s Pub and Cosmo’s Cucina located in the Vine neighborhood. Known for their beer selection in the Kalamazoo community for years, O’Duffy’s offers Irish favorites and cask-conditioned ales for thirsty bar-goers. 

O’Duffy’s has always been a place where great craft beer is available. Why has it been important to your location’s concept/design?
Our interest in craft beer started with the desire to support local and regional breweries. When I tasted my first cask conditioned ale, we’ve served cask or “real” beer ever since. Occasionally, we’ll have a cask and a keg of the same product on at the same time. It’s exciting to share the two side by side when introducing the cask ales to customers.

My favorite [beer] would be a moving target. Other than the obvious beer of choice at O‘Duffy‘s, Guinness Stout, my current favorites are Arcadia’s Nut Brown on cask, as well as their IPA. I’m also excited to have Greenbush “Anger” Black IPA on tap soon! Out east, Pemaquid Ale from Sheepscot Valley Brewing Company.

It’s great to see be part of the expanding appreciation of craft beer, converting those big brand beer drinkers is a great pleasure!

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Beer Royalty

Pour! Pour! Pour!

Laura Bell is the Marketing Director for Kalamazoo’s very own Bell’s Brewery (and yes, her last name is Bell, as in Larry’s daughter, she is Beer Royalty).

My history with beer begins about two months after I was born in the summer of 1985. My Father, Larry Bell opened Bell’s in September of 1985 and I’ve grown up around a brewery ever since. One of my favorite beer memories from childhood was when my brother and I would go help my Dad pick hops on various farms in Michigan. We’d spend a late summer afternoon cutting down hop vines that would be later used for brewing different Bell’s beers. After we returned home from the farm, the brewing staff would come over to our house and spend the evening (and I’m sure well into the night) picking hops off the vine. The next morning, I would open the door to our garage and find hops drying on large screens and the scent of freshly picked hops was so pungent and wonderful. I often associate aromas on some of our beers with that particular memory.

Now, as an adult and working for the brewery I have had some incredible beer experiences and continue to fall in love with beer and our industry a little more every day. One of my favorite things to do is to tour other breweries. While we are all making beer, the amount of creativity not only in flavors but in the processes by which beer is created is outstanding.  I feel fortunate to be a part of an industry that is creating such cutting edge products and processes and challenging the beer status quo in the Country.

[of her favorite style of beer] This is too hard. I really enjoy a wide variety of styles, especially as my beer cravings change seasonally. So, this winter, I’m looking forward to drinking porters, sours, and am going to force myself to try to get into barleywines (my least favorite style). If it doesn’t happen this winter for me and barleywines, I’m afraid it never will.

[of her favorite breweries] This is also a hard one as there is so much awesome beer being brewed in the country (especially Michigan). Because I am having a hard time picking, here are some beers I’ve enjoyed for the first time this year that are not brewed in our fine state. Lagunitas’ A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale, Green Flash Silva Stout, Crooked Stave’s Pure Guava Petite Sour, and Dry Dock’s Hefewiezen.

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Manager, Server

Patti during her month-long trip through Europe. And yes, you should be jealous.

Patti Scarff is a server/manager at downtown Kalamazoo’s Central City Tap House. She has earned title of being the ultimate trivia queen, knowing everything from beer to geography (seriously, just ask her).

I started drinking beer for the only reason anyone  in a new town starts doing anything—to impress the cool kids.  Admittedly, I’d had my share of Natural Light (which is gross) and Yuengling (not gross) going to college and its requisite frat parties in Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until my summer in Maine that I realized not only that I liked beer, but that there was more to it than bubbles and a faint bread-like flavor.  It helps that the people I wanted to befriend were avid microbrew consumers.

The first beer I truly liked was the Atlantic Brewing Company’s Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale.  In my nostalgia-hazed memory the beer is sweet without being cloying, refreshingly effervescent, has a strong fresh blueberry aroma, and yet still tastes like beer.  Of course, I haven’t had any Blueberry Ale in the intervening years, but I did segue from there to other, equally sugar-ridden concoctions like Long Trail Blackberry Wheat and Magic Hat #9. I have since realized that, similar to pies and breakfast cereals, fruity beers are not the only good beers. A combination of reading about beer, listening to people who know more than me talk about beer, and of course tasting beer have allowed my preferences to expand beyond stereotypically “chick beers.”

My favorites these days, based on rigorous sampling and many pompous sounding conversations in bars, are tripels (and their similarly malty siblings dubbels, and the rarer quadrupels) and anything smoked, whether an actual German rauchbier or an American smoked stout (Darkhorse Fore Smoked Stout being a prime example).  Working as a server in a beer-focused restaurant, I get to taste new things almost daily and occasionally get to meet the brewers, thus furthering my knowledge and conviction that I’m an excellent judge of any pint placed before me.  The other neat thing about my job now is that I get to help my guests find new beers and new styles that they enjoy, especially the patrons who want to impress the cool (but not necessarily older) waitress.

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocate: Writer, Beer Lover

John Liberty: Experiencing beer one phone call at a time

John Liberty is a staff writer at the Kalamazoo Gazette (you may know him from the popular weekly insert The Ticket) as well as the main contributor for KalamaBrew, a blog connected to the Kalamazoo Gazette, focused on beer, brewing and everything in between in Southwest Michigan.

KalamaBrew launched in February, 2008. It was started by Gazette staffers Alex Nixon, Josh Smith, Anne Holcomb and myself. As craft beer fans, we saw a rapidly growing industry filled with great product, passionate followers and hard-working, generous brewers. We set out to document, as best we could, the Michigan beer scene — everything from previewing events, brewer bio videos, video tours, photo galleries, trend pieces and more. My colleagues have since moved on to greener pastures, but the intention to capture the beauty of Michigan beer is still there.

Like many Kalamazoo residents, I was introduced to the world of craft beer via Bell’s Brewery Inc. I was enticed by the hand-crafted, local nature of craft beers, as well as the artistry. Short’s, The Livery, Arcadia Ales and Dark Horse are at the top of my list of favorite breweries.

I liked the idea of meeting the people behind the brew and learning all that goes into a pint, bottle, keg or can. I tend to lean toward IPAs, but enjoy sampling beers as they change with the seasons. Hands down, the greatest beer moment of my life was brewing a batch of “Liberty’s Ale” with Steve Berthel at The Livery. Berthel, one of the kindest men in the state, offered to have myself, my wife, Beth, as well as Josh Smith and Anne Holcomb, come down his Benton Harbor brewery and make a special batch of beer for our wedding in the summer of 2009. We spent an entire day sweating away in the brewhouse making the small batch. We served it in a keg at the reception and had several 22-ounce bottles, featuring our own label by Kalamazoo artist Heidi Weiss. We gave the bottles to members of our wedding party as a gift. We took a group shot with the bottles as a gift to Berthel for all his generosity.

John taps the second Firkin during The Livery’s Freakin’ Firkin Sunday at their Benton Harbor brewery

Label for “Liberty’s Ale”

John’s Wedding party and their custom beers

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events. Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!

Kalamazoo Beer Advocates: Owner of Craft Beer Friendly Party Store

The Whole Drake’s Family

Gregg Kuthe is the owner Drake’s Party Center on the corner of Drake and KL Ave. Many have noticed in the past few years Drake’s vast offering of craft beers and microbrews (and their mix’n’match 6 pack!). This has put them at the top of any Kalamazoo beer lover’s list of  places to shop.

Craft Beer allows us to reach a wider customer audience.  It’s a very fun and dynamic industry.  There is always something new to try.  Let’s face it – variety is the spice of life! I think customers have realized that the quality [of craft beer] has become much more consistent.  They also understand that since many craft beers have a higher alcohol content, that they can drink fewer beers.  In the end, they really are not spending much more than they would have on large quantities of inexpensive domestic beers.

My drinking buddy has an admirable goal in life – try to drink every beer ever made!  Of course, I had to sample them with him.  In the early years, we tasted some nasty stuff.  Now, with the more consistent quality of domestic craft beers (and the fabulous selection at Drake Party Center), we are rarely disappointed. Overall, I have gravitated to darker beers.  Stouts are probably my favorite style to experiment with.  As far as a “go-to” beer, I’d have to go with  Paulaner’s Salvator – it always tastes great!

Do you have a specific memory of craft beer’s impact on you?  Hmm, 2011 Store Party, keg of Old Rasputin and a chain saw.  Funny, looking back on it, but definitely not a combination I would recomend.  Stick with just the Old Rasputin.

Watch Kalamazoo Beer Week‘s calendar of events Click here for more info about what to do in Kalamazoo!  Cheers!