As we continued our travels across the Great Lakes region, we knew that New Holland had to be on our list. Having tried their Dragon's Milk about a year ago we knew this brewery was putting out some special beers. We stopped in the brewpub at lunch time to have some food and grab a couple pints before we met with their head of marketing, Fred Bueltman. Instantly we were impressed with the easy drinking poet stout and the grape fruity hoppiness of the Mad Hatter IPA. After a couple pints Fred met us down at our table in the pub. Don't shrug Fred off as just another marketing guy either. This brewery is truely run by a team here and each person's passion is very clear. Read on for some of the many exciting things New Holland is working on.
DCB: So how did you get involved in the beer industry?
Fred: I'm a music school dropout and so that's important disclosure for you. I was working my way through music school in Chicago in ‘91. I started working for a beer distributor. A good friend of mine happened to land a job at an importer and even his job had me tilting my head a little bit. I'm like, "wait you sell beer?" I had always disavowed the business world as "I'll never do that, I'm a musician." I'll try to keep this story to the limit of your hard drive. So I started at this distributor and we sold Guinness, Bass, Harp, Molson, Rolling Rock. We had, like, 70 different brands from Xingu to some more normal stuff. In my route down beer I had Moosehead, Molson and Labat. So that was Canadian beer. So I cut my teeth working a downtown sales route there and quickly took a liking to the beer industry. I found a balance with that and music. It was the first industry that poked its head into my world and said hey I can do this and be artistic and have integrity and defend something I love. So my appetite started there. I moved on from there to Warsteiner and got the job of regional sales manager. I was managing 9 states for them and I was way over my head. I was supposed to have 5 years of experience and have a college degree. I was 23 with no degree and 2 years of experience. While I liked my job there I wasn't a huge fan of their approach to brewing. I met Larry Bell at a golf outing and made fast friends. A year and a half later I became the sales manager for Bell’s. At that time Bell's was about 6000 barrels. I got a quick baptism into craft brewing. I spent 10 years at Kalamazoo brewing and left there in September of 2004. I learned a lot there and realized at the end it was time for me to go. I knew these guys from the Michigan brewer’s guild and I came here.
DCB: We hear so much about New Holland, there's a buzz about it in New England. A lot of stuff that makes it to Pennsylvania we feel like, well… Pennsylvania isn't that far away...why don't we get it?
Fred: That's good to hear; you know that's the way it works. I like to build our market contiguously, so that we're kind of stretched together. I like to sell next door to somewhere for a while so we have that kind of neighbor marketing going on. So by the time you get some place people have heard of you and it makes that conversation a lot easier.
DCB: So you guys started as a brew pub, was there always the plan to get where you are today?
Fred: Well in Michigan there are three licenses and so brewpub and microbrewery are actual licensing terms might get used differently in other parts of the country. New Holland was started as a microbrewery and microbreweries are allowed to have tasting rooms and they are also allowed to distribute. They way they are different from a brewpub is that they don't have a class C liquor license. We can't serve any alcohol that we don't make on premise. And now we have a distillers license too, for the spirits we make here, but we can't buy anybody else’s. So, yeah the intention of the brewery was always for distribution. The original building, the pub and the distribution, were nestled together. Five years ago this building became available and the pub and the production facility broke off and separated in location. The production brewery quickly overtook the space that was freed up by the pub and the air conditioned dining room became the bottle warehouse [laughs]. This past October we completed a transition to a new production facility. We took residence in a building a few miles north from here. We moved in a new bottling line that was previously at Sierra Nevada and Rolling Rock before that. So when that acquisition came about, we knew we'd need a new space. In the last year or so we really solved some capacity issues and ramped up our focus on outside distribution. We're gaining presence in markets outside Michigan, but that's been the plan all along.
DCB: So where's the next market for you?
Fred: We have a couple of things in the pipeline. We don't have everything settled as far as which will go first. North Carolina we hope to be up and running within a month or so. Our farthest market right now is South Carolina. The guy selling down there is from Michigan and we decided we didn't want to leave him, so we decided to support that market. So North Carolina is on deck, Virginia is on deck. New Jersey has a lot of interest in us because we're already in Philly, so there's some neighborly relationship there. Missouri has a lot of interest too. There are 4-5 states that have expressed interest, but are maybe not quite as on deck. And, to be honest, I'm not sure how fast we'll get to the states I just listed. We just finished up our August barrelage report. We're happy to report we're up 37% for the year. But we did that in a time period where I thought we'd have some of those new markets on already. So I wouldn't characterize it as nervous, I'd say it's cautious and we're going to open one market at a time and make sure we know that the volume that market is going to do. We're currently sold in 9 states, mostly the Midwest and then South Carolina and Philly.
DCB: One thing that's interesting especially since you're on the sales and marketing side is the new story from Coors is that they launched an ultra premium beer division. How do you see that as it affects craft beer? Is that good or bad for craft beer when the macros enter the market?
Fred: You have to be willing to look at it as good for craft beer whether it's implemented well or not. I'm always a little uneasy and cautious when I hear about their next venture into our arena. There’s a little wolf in sheep's clothing to me. I don't always know that they have the best interest in the category at heart. If they end up in a situation that's uncomfortable are they going to do what's best for the market or are they going to cover their own losses and do something that might not be good for our image and our environment of competition. I think they have a different understanding of pricing; a different understanding of whether to or how to discount. So those things can be dangerous. The positive side of it, I think, it speaks to the credibility of the beers we're making and the credibility of our drinkers. Interesting beers with color and body and flavor are important and credible and worthwhile and they deserve attention and they deserve focus. There's a solid business idea, there's a consumers for them and they are willing to pay money for them. Whether it's the big guys taking that message to the public or not, if it's such a fad and we're this fly by night industry then our growth trends wouldn't be where they for the last 10 years. All in all I look at it with a grin of we knew it was a matter of time before they were going to join in. As long as we continue to build profitable brands and companies and have double digit growth trends somebody's going to join the party. If you ask me competitively how I feel about it, I feel like if you aren't willing to put your beer up against anybody out there, you may want to think about another career. I think there's room for the category to grow, and leaves room for anybody. I'll add one caveat, since you got me rolling. One thing I don't really like is when they disguise themselves. Blue Moon is an example. Why isn't it a story of Coors managing this craft brand through a bunch of obstacles that the other big guys couldn't do. I don't like that because it hides the truth and it's an opportunity to create distrust. I don't think there's anything wrong with story other than the fact that they aren't putting all the facts forward. Any credible contribution to our segment that's good beer is good beer. I don't care who made it and that's good for our segment. There are some other competitive threats that can get tricky and that's our job to deal with.
DCB: One of the things that jumps out at you is the number of offerings you guys have.
Fred: The pub is a great opportunity to try out new beers. I really look at the pub a as place to meet our customer, in a way that we have a little more of a hand in our environment: how the beer is poured, which beers are poured, and that's fun. As far as the number of beers, one thing that comes to mind is that an overriding theme for our brewery is balance. We look for a balance in our beer, both individually and in our line. We want our approach to brewing and our approach to marketing and the whole business we strive to find that balance. The pub gives us the opportunity to balance having our every day beers on all the time and rotate lots of fun stuff in and specialties without taking a handle of Mad Hatter off. The beautiful thing in the brewing world is you can experiment and the pub gives you a great opportunity to test that.
DCB: Does the brewpub act a test place for new beers?
Fred: I would say that's one of its roles, yeah. And sometimes it does it inadvertently. Sometimes a beer we were just doing for fun creates its own stir and gets us to sit up and take notice and then there others that we are specifically doing a pilot batch, testing an ingredient or a yeast. And it's not testing will it work, it's testing will it do what we want. An organized taste panel around a table with notes and white walls and peace and quiet is a valuable tool. There’s also something to having a beer a second and third time at the bar talking to people and I think that that's the setting we typically drink in. So there's something to examining your beer in that context. So having a pub lets you get to know your beer a little bit.
For autumn fest we have two experiments we're working on. Ichabod is our pumpkin ale we're making Ichy's triple which is a pumpkin triple. Another we're using fresh apple cider from the local orchard so it's this apple pumpkin that will be called Crane's Rye. And those are opportunities to explore and they'll be pub only offerings.
DCB: Speaking of Poet, we tried it and it's REALLY good.
Fred: Thanks, we're really happy with that. I think I just came up with a good idea and I don't know if I should say this in an interview, but I'm tempted to make a beer glass for Poet that's opaque so you can't see through it. I think it's one of the greatest beers in the world to teach people about dark beers that think they're afraid of dark beers. You pour them a Poet and it changes their tune. That's one of the joys of being a brewery is when you can change peoples perception.
Fred: Well, I think that big beers have their place and there a lot of innovation there. There's a lot of change in the American palette. IPA used to be a challenging style and now it's this bench mark. One thing is it's a barometer of where our drinkers are. So that's a sign of where our drinkers are. We have some new things coming out next year in our big beer series, one in February and one in July. It's a great place to explore and great place to have fun. The gem in our portfolio is Dragon's Milk. And it's not so much about how much you can sell. I think there are instances of imbalance in our industry, and I think that's part of our industry growing up. What I think is appropriate might be different from somebody else and both those opinions are valid. But our idea is to challenge our concept of creativity and do it within this balanced approach. Our idea is not about shocking our consumers and seeing whether we can surpass this statistical framework of our beer, and that's our approach.
DCB: Before we go, anything new coming out our readers should look for?
Fred: We're coming out with a beer called Cabin Fever, it's an old name for us, but we're renovating it as a beer. It's going to be a robust rich brown ale that will be a fall/winter seasonal. It has nice rich malt tones, sort of nutty. Pilgrim’s Dole will be out in November which is a wheat wine. And then next year our year round and our seasonal beers will essentially stay the same which is good, over the last two years we've introduced a lot of beers, made Poet year round.