Stroh’s death knell rang in Bell’s Brewery and era of craft beer

Stroh Brewery Co. announced 30 years ago it would raze its 1 million-square-foot brewery, bottling and warehouse buildings on Gratiot Avenue at I-75. The late Peter Stroh, chairman of the iconic Detroit beer company, said no amount of investment could save the brewery in the face of a declining beer audience — which dropped from 31 million barrels to 24 million barrels annually.

That year, 1985, marked the beginning of the end of Stroh and a culture shift for Michigan beer drinkers as a small-time home brewer took his craft legal.

Larry Bell, Bell’s Brewery founder

Larry Bell founded Kalamazoo-based Bell’s Brewery Inc. the same year Stroh’s was razed and today is one of the largest local beer producers — expected to produce 410,000 barrels of craft beer in 2015.

Michigan craft beer accounted for only 6 percent of beer sold in the state in 2013, but it is growing at a clip that’s forced the industry to mature, has attracted financiers and is ripe for expansion and consolidation.

Beer giants Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC continue to dominate beer sales in the U.S., with a 75 percent market share, but craft brewers cut into that margin every year.

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