Brent Bell gets ready to open brewery and taproom in former Sun-Gazette warehouse
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Rocky Hill Brewing just outside of town, The Rock Yard Tavern on E Street and the long established Stag on Pine will all have to welcome Bell Craft, Exeter’s first brewery and tap room located in the former Exeter Sun warehouse.
Just next door to The Rock Yard Tavern, Brent Bell is taking his home brewing success to the next level and sharing his product with the community.
Like most home brewers Bell was gun shy when it came to distributing his prized beers. Nonetheless he packed up a few and set out for the 2018 Woodlake Brew Fest. Armed with his cornerstone beers—Pale Rider, Blonde-tini and Uncle Tuffy—after a couple of hours, he was tapped out, and he waited for the reviews to come in. Bell’s wife Melissa said they were raving.
“I was walking around and I told him, ‘people are talking about your beer.’ It was kind of weird but they loved it,” Melissa said.
That was when Bell realized the best aspect of his homegrown hobby was bringing people together.
“I love it. It’s community, and joy, and its all of that in a beer. That’s the fun of brewing for me,” Bell said.
Just a few months later Bell is hurdling the barriers to opening up his own taproom in the warehouse of the old Exeter Sun building. Located next door to the former Sun-Gazette offices, at 130 N. E Street.
Two weeks ago the Exeter City Council voted 5-0 to begin paving the way to rezone the property for mixed use. Bell says the City has been easy to work with, but it will be some months before they clear all of their paperwork and begin pouring pints for wanting customers.
Bell’s location isn’t just great for his to-be taproom and brewery, it is great for Rock Yard Tavern owner Landon Wilcox as well. Bell and Wilcox, who continue their day jobs working for Edison had been passive observers of the local craft beer market. Wilcox and his wife Janie made a big leap into the business when they opened the Tavern at the old Capella’s Coffee House in November 2017. Bell on the other hand was keeping his hobby hidden from the public at his home shop affectionately called Bell Craft by friends and family.
For the majority of his adult life Bell has been, well, pretty crafty when it comes to most things. When friends need a car worked on, or perhaps a table fixed, they called him. Not too long after that his shop was called Bell Craft. While the name was fitting for his handy work, it is all the more befitting of his new brewing venture.
Over the last couple of years Rock Yard Tavern has seen success while Bell continued to brew at home. And over that time, Wilcox and Bell had the idea of selling his beer exclusively to Rock Yard.
“Him and I were talking about that for quite a while…and then Landon called me and said, ‘you’re not going to believe it. The [Exeter] Sun moved out.’ Which was funny because we had joked about us moving in next door to each other,” Bell said.
Bell has taken what was once a place for an autoshop, then a newspaper warehouse, and renovated it into a small scale brewery. One of the things he is looking forward to when Bell Craft opens is giving visitors a peek behind the curtain on how his beer is made.
While the community will have to wait and see, Bell is chomping at the bit to get things started for the community. With a few hurdles left to go before he opens, Bell will be working on the finer aspects of his brown and India pale ales, in addition to his blondes, ambers and reds. He hopes to gather feedback from customers to tweak his process here and there and really give Exeter and surrounding visitors something they can remember. And he has already begun thinking of a beer list.
Bell says he’s started to fold some variation into his routine. Ideally, he wants to keep blondes and IPAs in rotation and introduce something new as a third option. Bell said he’s likely going to introduce hazies and juicies and other types of flavors that are yet to be determined.
Heading into this new venture, Bell and his wife are optimistic and excited, albeit cautiously so.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s nerve-wracking but I have faith in him, and he makes a good beer,” Melissa said.
Although, more than their excitement, Bell says it just seemed as if things are falling into place. Friends and family were wondering if there was a place they could buy his beer when he was operating out of his shop. That ultimately proved he could take a shot and produce for the public and not just for those that know him.
“A lot of things just lined up for me…I didn’t push it. I just let it go,” Bell said. “I think [this taproom] is super good for the city. I think it’s going to add some community aspects when we start collaborating with the Rock Yard.”