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Bell's Brewery releases first beer brewed in former Stroh Brewery tanks

As a Michigander, it was not uncommon to enjoy Stroh’s Beer on occasion during the 1980s and 90s, especially at Lake Michigan beaches.  

I also remember as a kid getting ice cream at the Stroh Ice Cream parlor in Petoskey, Mich. The Stroh family brought their brewing expertise from Germany and established a brewery in Detroit in the 1850s. It remained a major force in the brewing industry through the early 1980s, but then went through a series of acquisitions and buyouts. Today, the Stroh brand is owned and brewed by Pabst Brewing Co.

While the idea of drinking Stroh’s is probably a bit more nostalgic in my memory than in my taste buds, I was quite happy to hear about some former Stroh Brewing Company fermenters relocating to Bell’s Brewery. I first heard about this possibility a few years ago after Bell’s operations manager John Mallett and John Stroh III, the great-great-grandson of the founder of Stroh Brewing Co., met for lunch. These 100-year-old tanks were deconstructed, moved in pieces and then reconstructed on site at Bell’s Brewery. They are about 12 feet in diameter and stand about eight feet tall.

The first Bell’s ale from these 100-year-old cypress tanks, Andrews’ Ale (5 percent ABV), is now on tap at the Eccentric Cafe, and according to the brewery, it is toasty and biscuity with notes of caramel and a grassy, hoppy flavor.

The beer is inspired by the traditional English style, Extra Special Bitter, and Bell’s version is brewed with Chevallier, a now rare malt variety that was popular in England during the 19th century.

Chevallier became the most widely grown malt in England at its height in the 1880s, but today is rarely grown. In 2012, a test plot was harvested in England and Bell’s was one of the few breweries offered the opportunity to brew with it. Mallett’s idea for this ale was to brew a style that was popular when wood was the main material used for fermenters and use a heritage barley malt.

The name “Andrews’ Ale” is a nod to one of the laborers of the Reverend John Chevallier, whose surname was Andrews. In “Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse,” John Mallet writes this strain of malt originated from the actions of that laborer, Andrews. One day, he picked some of the barley while walking through a field and threw it to his chickens when he returned to his cottage. Some of the seeds took to the soil and did so well that Chevallier decided to cultivate it.

I am not sure how long this beer will last on tap at The Eccentric Cafe, but I hope to get there before it’s gone. For those who miss out, there will be plenty more beers brewed in these tanks and I look forward to seeing the creativity from John Mallett and his crew.

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