Road Tripping: Visiting New Holland With Paul Kahan, Part 4

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jun 18, 2009 3:20PM

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Many local beer drinkers owe their first experience with New Holland Brewing to Larry Bell. It was in October 2006 when Bell decided to pull his beers out of Illinois as a protest of the Illinois Beer Industry Fair Dealing Act. October in Illinois is premium weather for hoppy ales such as Bell’s Two-Hearted ale and Bell’s decision (which was equal parts protest, fit of pique, and masterstroke of marketing) left bars, restaurants and liquor stores throughout the city scrambling for a replacement.

I can speak from personal experience: as the bar buyer for the now-closed HotHouse at the time I suddenly found myself with an empty tap handle where a hoppy India Pale Ale should had been. A weekend trip to Simon’s in Andersonville gave me my answer. The next week I ordered two kegs of New Holland’s Mad Hatter and didn’t look back.

Having become very familiar with New Holland’s beers since then, I’m not surprised to see a chef like Paul Kahan wanting to work with New Holland Brewing, a company whose motto is “art in fermented form”. The company has come a long way since founders Jason Spaulding and Brett VanderKamp started New Holland in 1997.

Today VanderKamp remains as the company president and runs the company along with three partners, including Fred Bueltmann and John Haggerty. Indiana native Haggerty cut his teeth in brewpubs and smaller breweries along the west coast and Midwest until he decided to get his brewmasters diploma in 2001. Instead of taking the route through Siebel Institute of Technology, Haggerty instead went to Berlin. “It not that Siebel wasn’t a good school, because it is. But I did my research and found that I could get my diploma in Germany for a third of the cost of what Siebel was charging, I could live and intern in breweries in Germany for a year and wouldn’t have to worry about the high cost of living in Chicago”, Haggerty said.

When Haggerty returned Stateside he joined with New Holland. Under Haggerty’s guidance, Mad Hatter won a Gold Medal at the 2004 World Beer Cup. He also was one of the point men behind New Holland’s expansion to a 23,000 sq. ft. brewing facility in 2006. The production line is a combination of used equipment, including a bottling operation that was previously at Sierra Nevada and Summit and a pre-World War II labeling operation with German-labeled gauges and switches.

“I had to get the technical manuals and replacement parts translated to English from the local high school German instructor”, Haggerty explained.

While Haggerty and his brewers take care of making the beer, Bueltmann’s in charge of spreading the gospel of New Holland. Bueltmann came to New Holland in 2004, coincidentally, after a falling out with Bell. It’s Bueltmann who’s in charge of the marketing and distribution. Together, he and Haggerty make a very formidable team. Bueltmann is also the driving force behind the transition of New Holland’s brewpub food menu under chef Matt Millar. “It’s imperative that we serve food that matches the quality of our beers”, he said.

But Bueltmann also recognizes one of the main obstacles in Millar’s menu overhaul will be educating the brewpub’s customers. “In Chicago you have a very educated and aware consumer base. Concepts like seasonality and eating locally grown produce and meats are easier to embrace”, Bueltmann told me during some down time at the brewpub. “Here in Holland we have to take our time because the message isn’t as developed.”

Millar concurred with Bueltmann’s assessment. “I recognize that there are some things I won’t be able to do in this kitchen that I could have at the Journeyman CafĂ©. But that doesn’t mean we have to lower our overall expectations”, Millar said. In addition to the whitefish brandade and smoked pork belly sandwich, Millar’s pizzas are favorites of pub regulars and employees.

Meanwhile VanderKamp has developed a line of spirits that should be making their way onto local shelves in a few months. Knickerbocker Gin is a juniper-forward blend of 13 different botanicals with a bright lemon citrus and dry finish. Zeppelin Bend is a straight barley malt whisky aged for 3 years in new American Oak barrels with a flavor profile not unlike a good cognac. But its New Holland’s rums that bear a special mention. A line of 3 rums named after the three lakes that Michigan’s shoreline touches — Huron, Michigan and Superior — these are white and aged rums made from a combination of domestic and Brazilian cane sugar molasses.