Bell Craft rings in Exeter’s newest taproom
Exeter gives OK for new taproom at Bell Craft Brewing, set to open soon after making some noticeable improvements to building and outside drinking area
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Bell Craft Brewing has decided they’re ready to do more than just give people a taste of what their brewing on E Street.
Exeter City Council decided last week that they would give their blessing for Bell Craft’s owners, Brent and Melissa Bell, to change their space from a small brewery to a tap room.
“I think the whole product and business is unique…I think it’s going to look really nice,” Councilman Frankie Alves said.
The Bells have made some necessary yet still aesthetic changes to the small alcove behind their building. To host a small patio area where alcohol is being consumed they needed to construct a fence around the area. Inside, they added picnic tables and chairs. Tastefully, they added budding trees that give a nice homage to Belgian beer gardens.
They have also made some improvements while using reclaimed wood from the Exeter’s Dobson Field. Instead of keeping the heavy metal warehouse door that faces the ally, Brent and Melissa went through TC Iron in Exeter and repurposed Dobson Field’s wooden bleachers to make the slats of the door. If you look closely baseball cleat marks are imprinted on the wood.
According to Brent, since they opened the brewing space at 130 N. E Street, in the former Sun-Gazette warehouse, adding a taproom was always in the plans.
“I kind of always wanted it outside if it was allowable…and to make it as inviting as possible,” Brent said. “I kind of pushed it off till the weather was to going to be better too. And now we’re close to it.”
Brent said that their plan is to open soon. As of now the are waiting on an ADA mobile bathroom to be delivered, and a final Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) inspection.
Bell Craft will soon be the third business to sell alcohol on the block since they started operating in March. And it took him a little while before taking the plunge into a commercial operation.
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 was hurdling the barriers to opening up his own taproom. This February the Exeter City Council voted unanimously to begin paving the way to rezone the property for mixed use. Bell said the City had been easy to work with, but that it would be some months before they clear all of their paperwork and begin pouring pints for wanting customers. He was right.
Bell’s location isn’t just great for his soon to-be taproom and now established 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.
Although, more than their excitement, Bell said that it 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.”