Bell’s Brewery beers to return to Virginia after resolving years-long distributor spat

Bell’s Brewery beer is set to be sold again in Virginia by the end of the month after legal issues were resolved with a former distributor. (Courtesy of Bell’s Brewery)

Virginia beer lovers’ thirst for a Two Hearted Ale will soon be quenched.

Bell’s Brewery, the Michigan-based beer maker known for its popular ale, has resolved a long-running spat with its previous local distributor and is bringing its products back to shelves and taps around the commonwealth with a new deal with Specialty Beverage of Virginia.

Larry Bell, founder of Bell’s Brewery, said in an interview Thursday that its beers, which also include the popular Oberon Ale, should be back on Virginia shelves in less than two weeks.

“It’s a real weight lifted off my shoulders to have this resolved,” Bell said. “I and everybody at the company are thrilled about being back in Virginia.”

Bell’s pulled its beer out of Virginia in 2018 when its local distributor Loveland Distributing Co. was sold to Premium Distributors of Virginia, a subsidiary of beer distribution giant Reyes Beer Division with whom Bell’s had previously butted heads.

With the sale, Bell’s needed to approve the transfer of its local distributing rights from Loveland to Premium, but Bell’s withheld its approval, claiming that neither distributors had provided the brewery adequate information about the deal. Short of being let out of its contract with Reyes, Bell’s halted distribution to Virginia and extensive legal wrangling ensued.

Virginia ABC eventually got involved, before the matter made its way as far as the Virginia Court of Appeals, where it’s been held up for much of 2020. The dispute looked like it was ultimately headed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, in what might have been a landmark case regarding Virginia’s beer distribution laws.

Premium Distributors of Virginia’s Richmond location at 2290 Dabney Road, formerly Loveland Distributing Co.’s headquarters. (BizSense file photo)

But all that changed in recent weeks when Bell’s and Reyes resolved the issue out of court. Bell said he could not comment on the particulars of the resolution, but it apparently involved Bell’s being allowed to sign on with Specialty Beverage. Beer distribution contracts are notoriously difficult to break in Virginia.

“It was a business solution to the issue which is what we had advocated for all along,” Bell said, adding that the ongoing lawsuit in the Virginia Court of Appeals will end soon.

Specialty Beverage is owned by Massachusetts-based Sheehan Family Cos., another distributing giant. However Bell said he’s not concerned about getting caught in a similar situation if one of their distributors ever gets sold in the future.

“Our new contract states that we will not accept Reyes as a successor wholesaler. I don’t see any issue as far as Sheehan,” Bell said. “We sent out, about one and a half years ago, a non-binding letter to all our wholesalers, stating that we will not accept, as a successor wholesaler, any wholly owned branch of Anheuser-Busch or Molson Coors or Reyes.”

The stance has already paid off for Bell’s.

“In fact, our wholesaler for Indianapolis just sold to Reyes, except for Bell’s,” Bell said. “They carved Bell’s out (of the deal) and we will go a different route there.”

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Sara Marie
Sara Marie
8 months ago

Great news. A worthy wait!