New Holland brings creative, balanced approach to brewing

HOLLAND — Sensible. Balanced. Artistic. Encouraging. Adventurous. Innovative.

All great personality traits. These qualities, too, are ways of describing one of Michigan’s pioneer breweries. But the personality of the state’s third highest producing brewery — New Holland Brewing Co. — cannot be summed up in just these words.

“We see our brand in a few different ways,” said Fred Bueltmann, one of three New Holland managing owners. “One is we are adventurous and innovative, so our customers do expect to see new things from us. But that’s paired with a real balance and sensibility.”

New Holland’s balance includes not just the brews themselves, but the entire portfolio of beers as a whole. This requires a large commitment from the brewery, but it is part of an effort to bring both connoisseurs and newcomers to the craft beer table.

“We see ourselves as a good host,” Bueltmann said. “We can lose people by being too intense and not managing the invite. It’s a responsibility that all craft producers have.”

New Holland’s portfolio is certainly broad, consisting of seven year-round brews, three seasonals and more than a dozen limited releases each year. Within these three main categories, the brewery is noted for its high-gravity, wood-aged brews and a growing number of sours.

“We like having range. We like having choice,” Bueltmann said. “We’re committed to keeping that.”

Distributed in 15 states, the brewery’s most-recognized beer is bourbon barrel stout Dragon’s Milk. A close second is Mad Hatter IPA, with several variations released annually as a seasonal and five limited releases coming this month.

“We’re not afraid of stretching our creativity in the least bit,” said co-founder Brett VanderKamp. “We’ll try anything.”

The story of New Holland is the archetype for most breweries in the ever-growing craft microbrew industry. It started with two college buddies who loved beer and got into homebrewing in college — VanderKamp, current company president, and Jason Spaulding, now owner of Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids — as they began to see perhaps this passion could translate into business.

After moving to Boulder, Colo. in 1995, the two friends saw the success of New Belgium, a high-producing microbrewery in Fort Collins, Colo. — now one of the premiere craft brewers in the nation.

“It was one of those kind of aha moments of, ‘Wow, you can really make a business out of beer,’” VanderKamp said.

And two years later, VanderKamp and Spaulding began brewing in Holland Township, growing the business gradually, including an eventual move of the brewpub into the heart of the city’s downtown on 8th Street, and, in 2006, completing a production facility in a Holland Township industrial park.

According to VanderKamp, the move downtown was necessary and “it really drew people in.” In part, he did it because he thought the New Holland brand needed greater visibility.

“The early days there was a lot of ‘what is this?’ type thing,” he said. “Now we are very much accepted and really we’re promoted and always highlighted when people come into town.”

“We’ve really become an anchor for Holland. We’ve certainly gotten more integrated with the fabric of the community over the years.”

Situated at 66 East 8th Street, the brewpub invites patrons into the New Holland experience with freshly tapped brews coupled with artisanal, causal pub grub inside a restaurant with plenty of seating, one side featuring a large main bar. Live music and various events are highlights throughout the year with its beer garden as a great setting for the warmer months. Most of all, the pub is a place of connection.

“For us, and for our customers, the craft consumer tends to really value connection,” Bueltmann said. “They want to know where it came from and who produced various products.”

And connecting with customers is just as important to New Holland’s management team.

“Our pub is a great opportunity to get the feel of our customers one-on-one — whether we’re actually talking to individual people or getting general feedback,” Bueltmann said. “Our customers just get closer and more connected to what New Holland is — we really value that opportunity.”

In addition, pub customers have a chance to try specialty beers either not readily available on store shelves or not available outside the pub at all.

Another highlight of the New Holland experience is the pioneering nature of the company and its owners. Both Bueltmann and VanderKamp have penned books on beer — Bueltmann as series of essays on food and drink and VanderKamp with a bathroom-style read with anecdotal insights.

The brewery’s wood-aging dedication is also one-of-a-kind with a sizeable refrigerated area of its brewing facility dedicated to Dragon’s Milk and other wood-aged brews. Its sour program is ever-expanding as well. The company was also an early leader in using local ingredients, including Michigan hops (a growing industry of its own).

But the company is not just limited to beer. New Holland is a pioneer in craft spirits with five varieties year-round, four limited releases this year and another four released as part of is Brewers’ Series. The mainstays are crafty spins on traditional liquors — bourbon, gin, whiskey and rum — along with its just released Clockwork Orange liqueur.

“I see us out in front,” VanderrKamp said. “We maybe have a little bit of attention issues in having such a broad scope of vision, but that’s what keeps us energized, and I see us as leaders.”

Ultimately, Bueltmann and VanderKamp see New Holland as more than just one successful brewery in the Great Beer State. For them, it is about a community of brewers and, aside from just alcohol, a whole craft industry of food and drinks.

“We’re very much tied to being part of a movement that is much larger than our individual products,” Bueltmann said, calling it a “food movement” with “connectivity aligning those who appreciate connection, sourcing, craftsmanship and art form.”

VanderKamp agrees.

“We’re about moving the conversation forward,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we have all the answers at all. There is a collection of people asking for more. The market will react if we all start making those small decisions.”

Throughout the month of June, New Holland is offering $1 off mainstay and seasonal brews when readers mention this article to their server upon ordering.

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