New Holland Brewing Company – Brewer – Chris Costic
New Holland Brewing was founded back in 1996 by a couple of college friends. These humble beginnings seem to play out time and time again throughout the country as new breweries seem to pop up daily. A story not so common is that of Chris Costic. Chris almost worked for the CIA beforefinding his true calling as a brewer. Chris learned the art of brewing from some of the best in the business and he is now a proud brewer for New Holland Brewing.
The Brewery: How did you get into brewing?
Chris Costic: Well, like a lot of people I actually got started homebrewing. When I was in college, two of my buddies and I were pretty big into homebrewing, in two years the three of us brewed 125 gallons. I kind of always just held onto that love of brewing. After I graduated from college, I tried for two years to find a job in my field. And the phone just never really rang. So I decided to give beer a shot instead, and I moved from Ohio to Vermont to take a spot on Magic Hat’s bottling line. I tried to work my way up. After two years at Magic Hat I was offered a job by Steve Parkes as his assistant brewer at Drop-In Brewing, which is the home of the American Brewers Guild. In my time there I was put through the Guild’s intensive brewing science and engineering program. I was doing a lot of the brewing for Drop-In. That was kind of my first real brewing job. From there, I moved to Michigan to brew for New Holland.
How long have you been with New Holland?
I’ve been here at New Holland since the end of January.
You said you tried for two years in a separate field, so if you weren’t a brewer, what would you have been?
I actually got my degree in security and intelligence. I was really interested in the CIA. Of all of the different organizations, and all the different government institutions, that degree would have made me a good fit for, the CIA was the one that always appealed to me the most. I would like to say that if I weren’t a brewer, I would be doing something with my degree. But it’s really hard to say, I have just embraced brewing and the beer industry so completely that if something happened, and I couldn’t do it anymore, I’m not really sure what I’d want to do instead. I’m a beer guy through and through at this point.
Take me through a typical day at New Holland for you.
Well, a typical day at New Holland for a brewer is a pretty busy thing. We have a 50 barrel brew house that operates around the clock from the time that we start up Monday morning until our weekly schedule is finished- usually some time on Friday. We have a three vessel system, plus we have a fourth vessel that we use as kind of a wort holding vessel for some of our recipes. So, at any given time I’ve got arguably three batches in the works. A lot of times I am milling in one batch while I’m running off another batch to the kettle, and a third one is knocking out to the fermenter. So it’s a pretty crazy amount of multi-tasking. A lot of our beers require a lot of specialty malts, so there’s a lot of heavy lifting milling in those 50 pound bags. It’s just kind of crazy. It’s very busy, which I like. It makes the day go by really fast. It’s just a lot of multi-tasking trying to make sure everything is done properly
You sound busy. Does New Holland give you any time to experiment and think up new beers?
At current, we’re largely producing a pretty set schedule of beers. Certainly anytime that we are working on a new beer there is a little bit of collaboration among brewers. We have a little bit of say with recipe changes and that sort of thing. At the same time though, we are in the early stages of putting in a pilot system. Somewhere down the road once that’s finally done and in place, that’ll be where we brewers will kind of take turns coming up with new and interesting and wild things. We’ll have a draft line specifically at our pub for those creations. It’s down the road, but I’ve already got a few ideas.
Is there a style of beer that you hate to brew?
Well, truth be told since I am doing the brewing it’s all pretty much the same. I can’t really say that there is a style of beer that I hate to brew. Brewing is all pretty much milling grain, mixing it into the mash tun. Certainly the lighter beers that we brew, lighter in color, lighter in body are a little bit less work for me. There isn’t as much specialty malt that needs to be milled. But I really can’t say that there’s any style of beer I hate to brew. I just love to brewing beer.
What is your favorite New Holland beer and why?
My favorite New Holland beer is actually a pretty tough question to answer. I have a great appreciation for most styles of beer. There are a lot that we do really well. If I were forced to pick one, I would actually probably have to say “The Poet”, which is our Oatmeal Stout. I have a great love of dark beer and I think “The Poet” is a really solid example of an Oatmeal Stout. But at the same time we do a great Kolsch, we do a great Amber, we re-released our IPA “Mad Hatter” earlier in the year. The new version is fantastic and very popular. And we do some pretty interesting sour beers as well. Sour beer being another one of my more recent favorite styles- it’s awesome that we do a couple really good ones.
Sour beers are a big style right now.
Yeah, sour beer. You know the really interesting thing- it’s something that I feel is gaining popularity especially as people learn more about it. I know out west there are a few breweries that are making some really fantastic ones, and it’s something that I’m looking forward to seeing more of.
The Carhartt Woodsman seems odd, did Carhartt approach you about their 125th anniversary and brewing a special beer for it?
That’s actually one of those things that I had to ask about myself. I agree with you, it’s an interesting partnership. But, it turns out that Carhartt did approach New Holland about brewing the beer. Carhartt’s headquarters is located here in Michigan. When everybody thinks Carhartt they think, you know, outdoors wear. They think the heavy canvas coats and that sort of thing. But over the years Carhartt has massively diversified in what they offer to a lot of different industries. Actually, all of our uniforms at New Holland are Carhartt. They have a separate line of the company just devoted to making workwear for breweries.
That’s amazing. I need a pair of taste testing pants.
Yeah, they were the ones that contacted us about wanting a beer Carhartt-branded. The idea was that they wanted a beer that was for the hard-working people, when the work was done. A barrel-aged pale is an awesome idea for that, I think.
I was surprised the Carhartt Woodsman only had an ABV of 4.4%.
I think one of the biggest things when people think “barrel-aged beer” they think “bourbon barrel-aged”. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Aging beer in new oak barrels would give the beer a nice oaky flavor. You get a lot of vanilla and some tannin and stuff. If the barrel didn’t have anything in it previously, it wouldn’t contribute alcohol-wise like a bourbon barrel would.
That makes sense. Speaking of Oak Aged, you have the Oak Aged Hatter, Mad Hatter, White Hatter, Rye Hatter, Michigan Awesome Hatter, what’s the next Hatter we can expect from New Holland?
Well you know, the Hatter’s are something we do once a year. We make Mad Hatter all year round, and White Hatter is one of our seasonal beers. But the other Hatter’s we tend to make specifically for Hatter Days, which is in June every year. It’s something that we really haven’t though much about yet. Even we don’t necessarily know what’s next.
Maybe the Procrastinating Hatter.
We’re busy enough, especially as much as we’re growing, as much as our volume is expanding, it’s almost one of those things where we don’t really have the time to think about it too far ahead. It’s kind of fun to keep it a little bit more spontaneous. Planning is great and very, very necessary in breweries, but every now and then if you get the opportunity to fly by the seat of your pants, it’s kind of a nice, pleasant change of pace.
What exactly is Hatter Days?
Mad Hatter is our company flagship IPA, and was first release on June 10th of 1998. It’s the inspiration behind our “Hatter Series”- that’s why we produce so many different versions of it for the big event that we have at our brewpub in downtown Holland every June.
There literally seems to be new breweries popping up daily, from a brewer’s standpoint, is that a good thing?
I think at this point in the beer industry, more breweries, they’re never really going to be a bad thing. I think craft beer just finally overtook the 10% mark of the US beer market. Which is a huge number, but it still leaves a lot of room to grow. Coming from the standpoint of an educated brewer it does make me wonder sometimes, what sort of a background do some of these people have? I hope that with all these breweries popping up that people are at least doing what they can to make sure that they have a solid understanding of the process, and what sort of things can go wrong. I’d love for everybody to be making and drinking the best possible beer that they can. With that in mind, yeah, I certainly think that more breweries are never a bad thing. Some of these small breweries are coming up with really interesting and innovative new beers.
Can, Bottle, or Draft?
Well, I would have to say, knowing the science behind it all, my vote would be draft first. That certainly is the most stable way of packaging beer. After that, cans. Canned beer is something that has always had sort of had a bias against it. I don’t really know why. It’s definitely a more stable way of packaging beer than bottles. Given that cans are totally and completely impervious to light. You don’t have any risk of beer going skunky in cans like you do it bottles. Cans are easier to change temperature, cans are lighter weight. It’s an easier process in general it’s an interesting thing for me to see craft beers starting to embrace cans. I think it’s a good thing.
What do you think of the Anheuser/InBEV purchase of SABMiller?
I’ve been watching all of that really closely and reading up on it a lot. If that merger goes through and that buy-out gets approval it will be one company brewing over 30% of all of the world’s beer. Any kind of change tends to make people a little nervous. A change this monumental, I would imagine, everybody’s is paying a lot of attention to. It’s really hard to say what it would mean for me. What it would mean for craft beer. But it’s definitely something we’ll all be on the edge of our seats to find out.
What’s next for New Holland?
Well, we have a few pretty cool new things coming up for next year. We are kind of keeping quiet about some of it. I will say that we have some new beer coming down the pike, and we also have a pretty significant change coming to our packaging coming up next year as well. Beyond that we are continuing to grow, we’re continuing to produce more beer, and we’re doing what we can to get it the hands of everybody that wants it.
We here at The Brewery would like to thanks Chris for his time. We look forward to the new arrivals from New Holland. Make sure you keep an eye out for the new Hatter beer coming out this June. Cheers!