For a man who drinks beer every day, Tim Faith has an incredibly low alcohol tolerance. That’s because his beer tasting is for work, not play. Faith is a microbiologist turned beer-maker at New Holland Brewing in Holland, MI, whose day-to-day work includes tasting hundreds of barrels of beer. Faith, 25, started working at New Holland in 2012 as a brewer. Today he’s the woodmaster, the man in charge of all the brewery’s barrel-aged beers.
His desk is littered with bottles, labels, jars of honey cultivated from their own hives, and binders filled with spreadsheets. The pages are crowded with slanted, squished script devoted to different beers, different barrels, different taste tests. Smiley or frowny faces offer his opinions about a drink at a glance.
With dozens of beers and artisanal spirits to choose from, there’s something for everyone at New Holland. A tour of the brewery’s facilities offers beer buffs and beginners alike a rundown of what exactly it takes to make art in fermented form — NH’s tagline.
“You want a beer?” are his first words to me as I walk into the massive production facility.
Yes, yes I do want a beer. With taps and kegerators littered around the building, there’s plenty of options. Selection made (I chose the Poet, an oatmeal stout), he walks me to the back of the warehouse where the grains are stored.
“Here, taste this!” He opens the lid of a storage bin. Grabbing a handful of grains, he shoves them into his mouth and starts crunching. I follow suit and the grains start popping and fizzing, like gluten-filled Pop Rocks. They leave the taste of lemon on my tongue.
Next, Faith shows me the brew house, where the malts (grains that have been dried) are mixed and milled. The malts are mashed with specific mixtures at different temperatures, according to each beer. Then the mash goes into the kettle where it is boiled and hops are added. At this point, the mash is known as wort: beer that hasn’t fermented. After a trip through the whirlpool, the wort is cooled and put into fermentation tanks where different strains are added to get the beer bubbling and producing alcohol. The beer (because yes, now it’s beer; there’s alcohol in there!) is then filtered and moved to bright tanks, where the beer matures, clarifies and is naturally carbonated through secondary fermentation.
Now the freshly-made booze either goes into barrels to be aged, or bottled and packaged for sale, depending on the beer. The barrel-aged beer concept is growing at New Holland, with different varieties being blended and made on the regular, or aging for months or years at a time before being mixed to create a unique new brew.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Faith says. “I’m putting stuff to wood that, while it was produced this year, won’t be ready for another three.”
We sample four coffee and chocolate variations of NH’s Dragon’s Milk stout, discussing the positives and negatives of each incarnation. From the Dragon’s Milk Cellar we move onto the House of Funk, the brewery’s sour cellar. The room is chilly (better for the beer) and lined with barrels on three sides. Six gigantic fouters (think wine barrels on steroids) stand at attention along the right wall, each named after great funk musicians.
I think I just sampled beer from James Brown.
Tasting and testing the whole way (he even let me try his Root Bootch, a root beer-inspired Kombucha), I’ve been shown the works of New Holland. Bottling and packaging equipment with more levers, handles and knobs than the USS Enterprise, bottles and kegs stacked up to the ceiling, Faith has shown me the entire facility.
“There are plenty of people sitting behind a desk wearing Chuck Taylor’s and black-rimmed glasses who can push a button to brew beer, but that’s not what we do here,” Faith says. “We’re very hands-on; we’re far from automated.”
And it shows. New Holland is continually improving and innovating in every area of beer and brewing. From sustainable reuse of bourbon barrels, the garden at their brewpub and the celebration of local and seasonal flavors in all their products, New Holland is going above and beyond.
Check out these other brewery tours in the Chicagoland area:
New Holland Brewery, Production Campus (Tours every Saturday)
684 Commerce Court
Holland, MI 49424
Goose Island Brewery
1800 West Fulton
Chicago, IL 60612
4564 North Elston
Chicago, IL 60630
Metropolitan Brewing (Tours are rare, but worth it)
5121 North Ravenswood
Chicago, IL 60660
Half Acre Beer Company
4257 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
2323 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Atlas Brewing Company
2747 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
Temperance Beer Company
2000 Dempster St
Evanston, IL 60202