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From English to Escanaba, Brewer Takes a Leap for Kalamazoo Beer

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Sam Reese

Scores of people call themselves "home brewers;" few parlay that title into a career with Bell's Brewery. Sam Reese was one of the few.

He was recently hired as Production Manager for Upper Hand Brewery, a division of Bell's Brewery, that will brew and bottle a variety of beers for distribution across Michigan's U.P., according to a Bell's press release.

Reese's interest in brewing, specifically with the Kalamazoo-based brewery, began while he attended Western Michigan University.

"I graduated from Western Michigan University in 2007 with an English degree. I started making beer at home two years prior and, in those two years, I found that I had an academic interest in beer and brewing unlike I had ever felt toward my more traditional curriculum," he said.

"In my final semesters, I arranged to submit a somewhat unconventional Honors Thesis to Lee Honors College. My intent was to eschew material related to my degree in exchange for a springboard into the brewing industry-at the time, I was folding shirts and peddling home brewing supplies part-time at Bell's General Store, back when it was located in the rear of the parking lot.

"My thesis, which was funded in part by the university, was a beer and food pairing event with guests including friends, family, professors, and most importantly, Bell's staff. It ended up serving as an initial interview, and I began working overnights in the fermentation cellar at Bell's immediately upon graduation in April 2007."

Reese spent more than two years with Bell's before accepting a position as a Staff Brewer with Abita Brewing Company, a large regional craft brewery north of New Orleans, Louisiana. He returned to Bell's after a year-and-a-half and eventually worked up to a management position.

When Bell's began looking to staff its Escanaba counterpart, Reese applied.

"Bell's made a push inward to find a Production Manager and Lead Brewer from within our existing ranks. I think there was a motivation to bridge the distance between Kalamazoo and Escanaba with a team that understood our company's culture," he said.

"We spend a lot of time discussing and establishing who we are and what we value as a company and as a family; I wanted Upper Hand to reflect those same values from the very beginning, as procedures and habits are first being established."

The new position will require Reese to move to Escanaba eventually. He said the things he loves about Kalamazoo and what he will miss are one and the same.

"I have lived in Kalamazoo for a long time, and I will miss the feeling of knowing a place so well that you feel like you can hold it in the palm of your hand. I really don't know what I mean by that, but I find myself saying it all the time. Knowing a city is about familiarity with all of its constituent parts. I loved recognizing the proprietors of this bar or that restaurant, I loved knowing back roads and shortcuts when there was a train or a marathon running through downtown," he said.

"I'll miss friends new and old, and knowing that I'll see somebody I recognize every time I leave the house. I'll miss the ubiquity of great beer, at Bell's and elsewhere."

Whether working in Escanaba or Kalamazoo, Reese is still part of a select group.

"Bell's employs roughly 260 people, with new jobs being posted weekly. What might come as a surprise is that only about 20 of those people are actually brewers-less than 10 percent. The range of degrees and disciplines in our personnel is massive: sales, shipping, accounting, retail, maintenance, marketing, safety, sustainability, and everything in between. Craft brewing doesn't just create jobs for brewers; it creates jobs for nearly everyone," Reese said.

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