August 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bell's Upper Hand Brewery set to be toast of Escanaba

Grand opening will be scheduled before the firearm deer season

State-of-the-art brewing equipment is ready to begin producing keg and bottled beer for the new Upper Hand Brewery. (Jenny Lancour / AP)

Escanaba —The new Upper Hand Brewery, recently constructed in Escanaba, is looking to start making beer next month, according to the president of Bell’s Brewery Inc.

“We have staff to get started. We’re finally there and everybody’s excited,” said Bell’s president, Larry Bell.

Bell explained the Michigan Liquor Control Commission has approved the brewery’s license, and the agency was expected to conduct a final inspection at the plant this week. Beer production will start soon after that, he said.

“All the licensing is in good shape,” he said. Earlier this year, federal and state licensing was taking longer than expected.

Construction began in November on the state-of-the-art, 11,550-square-foot brewing and bottling facility in Escanaba. The building was enclosed by wintertime so crews could work inside during the cold months.

The extended winter delayed outside plans such as concrete pouring, paving and landscaping. Exterior work is now complete, said Bell.

The building is ready for brewing beer, he added. He expects the production of draft beer for kegs to be in full operation by mid-September. Bottled beer production will follow.

The tasting room has some work to finish and is expected to be completed in early November. A grand opening will be scheduled before the firearm deer season, he said.

Bell said there’s a lot of excitement in the Upper Peninsula for touring the brewery, but at this time the company is working on producing beer.

“We’re planning to start with three beers and get those established and grow from there,” he said.

The three new regional beers are the Upper Hand Logger, Escanaba Black Beer and UPA, which stands for U.P. Ale.

Bell’s Brewery is headquartered in Comstock, near Kalamazoo. The company’s expansion to Escanaba — an investment of $2.5 million — is part of a companywide capital improvement project totaling $15 million.

The name for the local business — the Upper Hand Brewery — relates to how people show where the U.P. is with one hand and refer to Lower Michigan with the other hand, Bell said.

The new brewery is on property in Delta County Airport’s Renaissance Zone, which offers tax incentives to developers. The zone was created in 2002 to develop the property as a means of supporting the county airport.

Bell has been involved in brewing beer for more than three decades. What started out as a hobby for him turned into a successful company with product sales in 20 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Several local grocery stores and taverns offer a variety of Bell’s products, including draft beer in kegs and bottled beer.

The Upper Hand Brewery will manufacture and distribute beer but not sell beer directly to the public. Free beer tasting will be offered in the brewery’s sampling room by appointment.

Bell’s employs just over 200 people at a brewery and pub in Kalamazoo, a distribution center in Galesburg, and a brewery and corporate office in Comstock. The local brewery will employ five people.

Next month, Bell’s is celebrating its 29th anniversary downstate with a home brew contest and a Great Lakes Gala to promote water quality.