New Holland: Unsung Beer Heroes of Michigan
...it was the dawning of a “New Holland” age.
May 1, 2003
Written by Zach Diesel
<P>Ahhh I remember the days early in my beer drinking career browsing the beer aisle at the Cascade Meijer. This was way back when the seed of good beer had just recently been planted in my brain and Kaya161 spearheaded the good beer revolution in Grand Rapids. Greg always picked out everyone’s beer back then, and his knowledge and quickly developing palate rubbed off easily on the likes of Ptor, myself, and countless others. In those days Bell’s wasn’t the only Michigan micro Meijer stocked and one day the Rasta striped, dreadlocked New Holland Island label instantly caught my eye. Most people would’ve been skeptical of the shady looking, brown cardboard, top-carrying six pack with a partially transparent “Island” sticker written in neon green letters, yet it intrigued me. Naturally I came home from Meijer’s that night with a 6-pack of Island and the full-bodied amber ale tantalized my young palate.
<P>From then on the age of experimentation began and all the New Holland beers became highly sought after. I vividly remember discovering Olde Poet at the Forest Hills Food Store (which I was later banned from) and relishing in its stoutiness. Alas though, I grew older and so did New Holland - no longer were their bottles capped with plain bronze caps; you could tell it was the dawning of a “New Holland” age. The recognizable white cap with the full color New Holland logo not only meant that we couldn’t use New Holland in variety packs anymore, it was a clear sign of New Holland’s newfound success and growth.
<P>With the onset of spring, Olde Poet and Kourage gave way to Zoomer Wit and Paleooza. Zoomer Wit, a soft and delicious witbier, seems to be in constant battle with Bell’s Oberon for state bragging rights and during the spring and summer of 2001 the glory truly belonged to Zoomer. Ptor and I during that fateful summer discovered that there were three different labels for Zoomer, sunglasses, half sunglasses, and no sunglasses, each with a distinct taste, each a variation on the basic Zoomer theme. The sunglasses conspiracy was never confirmed but to this day, I still believe. Zoomer’s intrigue did not end there, in the lot at the Trey Anastasio show at Deer Creek I was able to make numerous trades using pints off of the Zoomer sixth barrel that accompanied me and some friends on the six hour drive. That may have been the longest I’ve ever driven with a New Holland barrel but it definitely was not the only time.
<P>I forget who it was exactly who had the brilliant idea to trek the mere forty minutes to Holland to pick up a keg but that’s beside the point, either way that ingenious plan sparked a new revolution in parties and a new kind of appreciation for New Holland’s “Art in Fermented Form.” Fittingly, the inaugural New Holland kegger was at none other than Ptor’s house. People had no idea how to handle that much Paleooza and went around saying how thick and dark it was. That was the first step up a steep ladder, it was only a matter of time before the masses saw the light. Soon trips to Holland became a weekly event and everyone wanted to be a part of “Team Holland.” Kids would call me and I would rally the team who like minutemen sat waiting to go at a moments notice. Randy’s fake ID and Ptor’s foreign friends have to receive some recognition because without them this dream would never have been possible.
<P>On occasion “Team Holland” would set out on personal missions and come back with twenty-five dollar out the door cases of whatever was on special. Holiday sampler cases and Cabin Fever cases were the best score and on one particular evening I recall kicking back with six of my friends, four pizzas, and three New Holland cases. The New Holland trips served as a catalyst for beer appreciation in my town. Mad Hatter became the keg of choice and introduced legions of unsuspecting innocents to the wonderful world of hops. To this day Mad Hatter is legendary, rumours abound of its psychedelic qualities, and even members of the band Queens of the Stone Age appreciate its citrus hop bite.
<P> However, this tale is not a sobbing love story absent of disappointment and disenchantment. Having had become so familiar with all things New Holland, slight changes in their operation stood out like a sore thumb and worried me. It all began with the aforementioned bottle cap switch, which shortly after led to the abandonment of the quirky top carrying six packs and the introduction of full color standard six packs. Though trivial, this change worried me that New Holland would abandon its roots. Signs such as Zoomer Wit twelve packs and keg price inflation (from $75 to $85) were more signs of things to come. The next indication of their growth was the emergence of small batch limited release beers such as their Dragon’s Milk, Cherry Ale, and annual Black Tulip Ale brewed for the Holland Tulip Festival. These beers were experimental and bold, though they weren’t fantastic, the effort was there and I gladly applauded. My uneasiness about the bottle caps, and the six packs, and even the keg prices ($85 is still a solid deal) finally subsided and my faith in New Holland had fully returned, but only for a little while. The straw that broke the camel’s back was New Holland’s retirement of the much loved Island and introduction of Sundog, easily their worst beer. Sundog not only lacks in body compared to Island it also lacks in soul. Tie-dyed Island shirts were once the uniform of choice at the brewery but tie-dyes have now been abandoned in favor of polo shirts. The beer that first drew me to New Holland will never be brewed again, all memory of it has been erased and the saddest part, I will never get to rate it. Not only was Island retired but Olde Poet’s name was changed to The Poet in an effort to homogenize their labels. It seemed to me like New Holland had finally made the switch from “Art in Fermented Form” to “Money in Fermented Form.”
<P>Alas, shortly after the emergence of Sundog I moved westward to Oregon and all the wonderful breweries that come with it, but I made sure to include a few Mad Hatters in my stash of Michigan beer that accompanied me. Mad Hatter stood up well to the IPA powerhouses of the West coast and at night I would dream of New Holland kegs. Finally the holidays rolled around and my return to Michigan was met with a keg of Killian’s Irish Red. It was great to see all my friends and it was a great to come home to a party, but one thing that became clear was that in my absence the wonders of New Holland had been forgotten.
<P>After that night a New Holland barrel became a top priority of my return home. Luckily Ptor had an outstanding warrant to clear up in Norton Shores giving us an excuse to go to Holland. We pulled into the all too familiar parking lot at 205 Fairbanks late in the afternoon in high spirits but something seemed oddly different. I walked up to the door, walked in and to my astonishment found the bar to be torn out and the place stacked floor to ceiling with cases. One of the walls had been torn down and the bottling line now spilled into the section where the pinball machine once stood. Through the hole in the wall I saw three of the brewers hard at work and I walked up to ask them what had happened to the place. It seems that living on the other side of the country had kept me a little out of the loop, and the brewers kindly caught me up to speed and informed me that the pub had moved to a new location right in the heart of downtown Holland. I walked back to the car in a daze and then set out to find the pub. The note on the door of the brewery gave perfect directions and in moments we were at the new pub. I walked in and the vibes coming from the place were very strange. The set up reminded me of a chain brew pub; cold exterior, framed pictures and awards all over, staff uniforms, yuppies and even token brewing equipment on display. I bellied up to the bar and after waiting for awhile finally said I needed to pick up a keg. The bartender told me to hold on and pulled me off a pint of The Poet for the wait. I enjoyed my pint, paid for a Paleooza barrel and loaded it in the back of the strategically placed, illegally parked Subaru across the street. Needless to say Paleooza blew everyone away once again and soon people were buying Rogue Chocolate Stout and Bell’s Expedition to appease their tastes. The combination of a great beer and great friends really can’t be beat and after all isn’t that what drinking beer is all about? Beer has always been and always will be a social phenomenon, so it makes sense that you can love a beer so much because it represents more than just what’s in the bottle, it represents good times with good friends. I have memories of friends associated with Pabst, Big Bear and pretty much any beer I’ve had but the best ones are from New Holland.
<P>At the end of this story despite seeing New Holland skyrocket from humble beginnings to unimaginable success, I still have to love it, so many memories and so much great beer really makes New Holland Brewing Company, in my opinion, Michigan’s most underrated brewery.
Z-Bro. Haven’t spoken to you in awhile. I was pleased to find you on another unmentionable cyber social website. I have the same feelings about New Hollands new image. Let me add that since you wrote this in 2003 it has not gotten any better. I look forward to reading your other articles.65 months ago
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