Holland, MI — A tricked out beer trailer? An eight foot tall metal dragon that will be looming over you as you sip deliciousness? A crazy ambitious series from New Holland that provides 16 variations of Dragon’s Milk? Um, yes. Count me in New Holland Brewing. Your presence at the 11th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival is worth squealing with excitement about.

It’s no secret that Dragon’s Milk, a bourbon barrel aged stout, has stolen the hearts of many, and for good reason! It’s a solid, damn good product. So, how can New Holland Brewing up their game with the beer? By making it an “Unlimited Release” of course. The company has announced that, “We are all in on Dragon’s Milk this year and truly view it as an “Unlimited Release”. We strive to make it “unlimited” by being available year round (no easy feat), everywhere (working towards contiguous US), available to everyone (not just the “geeks”) and now with unlimited variants and flavor possibilities.”

New Holland BrewingBefore I go any further, let’s check out what exactly the selection from New Holland Brewing will be at Winter Beer Fest 2016…

Dragon’s Milk
Dragon’s Milk Coconut Rum Barrel
Dragon’s Milk Mexican Spice Cake
Dragon’s Milk Peanut Butter
Dragon’s Milk Mint Chocolate
Dragon’s Milk Maple Coffee
Dragon’s Milk Brandy Barrel Apple Pie
Dragon’s Milk Bacon
Dragon’s Milk Chocolate & Orange
Dragon’s Milk Sarsaparilla
Dragon’s Milk Black Cherry
Dragon’s Milk Hazelnut
Dragon’s Milk Vanilla Chai
2015 Dragon’s Milk Reserve Triple Mash
2014 Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Raspberries
2015 Dragon’s Milk Reserve with Toasted Chilies

I know I know. A pretty robust list, right? After taking a peek I had a few questions for Fred Bueltmann,  Vice President of Brand and Lifestyle and Partner of New Holland, and Joel Petersen, Vice President of Marketing of New Holland Brewing about these new brews.

AS: It appears that the Dragon’s Milk variants have several options that mesh together beer (of course) with other beverage types (root beer, apple pie brandy, etc). Have you found that creating these new flavor relationships resulted from organic curiosity in production or have you found that listening to and observing the consumer trends (Not Your Father’s Root Beer comes to mind immediately) inspired these variants? Or possibly both?

FB & JP: In this particular case, they were dreamed up by our team of brewers in a very explorative, freestyle manner. Creating variants for the festival, removes some of the common barriers that come with our normal obligation to volume, and commitment to recreate flavors consistently. In this instance, they were charged with creating fun, one-off flavors in small, festival-sized batches, that may never exist again.

AS: Which ingredient(s) in the group of Dragon’s Milk variants was the most difficult to brew with? Anything that gummed up or got stuck in the mash tun or proved to be too powerful of a flavor in too little quantities? Essentially, which variant provided the most challenging brewing experience?

FB & JP: Bacon and peanut butter are currently the big question marks in terms of methodology, as well as cleanup.

AS: Acquiring barrels is never easy nowadays. How do you stay ahead of the pack in terms of collecting barrels for flavor and aging, especially less common ones in the beer scene such as rum and brandy barrels?

FB & JP: We have been barrel-aging beer since 2001, so we have learned a lot and developed many relationships. We have a great relationship with our cooper, who also serves as a bourbon-barrel broker, and we project our needs well ahead of time.  Our barrel cellar also produces a large amount of second-use barrels, so the relationship is reciprocal at times.  Our barrel sourcing efforts are as important and serious to us as our grain and hops.  

AS: Speaking of rum and brandy, could you give us an idea of the flavor differences you noticed between using rum or using the brandy barrels for the Dragon’s Milk?

FB & JP: This is the first brandy barrel we’ve used for Dragon’s Milk, so time will tell.  Rum is made from molasses and cane sugar, and typically expresses the darker flavors of it’s distillate and sugars.  Caramel, molasses and toffee are common to the flavor profile, which is a delicious connection to the dark and roasty malts, as well as the vanilla component found in Dragon’s Milk.  We expect the barrel that held brandy, which is fruit-based distillate, to have more fruit-like sweetness and play a bit brighter, accenting more of the toasty notes from the oak.

AS: What was the method used for including the bacon characteristics in the beer? Allowing full pieces of cooked bacon to hang out in the fermentation tanks? Were they included during boiling? Or was it some sort of steeping method towards the end? I bet the facilities smelled amazing that day…

FB & JP: We are conditioning the beer with bacon, post-brew and post-barrel.  Finished Dragon’s Milk will be transferred to a tank where crispy cooked bacon will be added. This allows us to manage the ingredients well and gauge conditioning time. Bacon brings lots of flavor as well as mouthfeel, so this should be velvety smooth, with tremendous porcine flavors.

AS: What advice would you give enthusiasts out there who are looking to pair these new variants with food? There are numerous pairing options, but perhaps some stood out in particular during your trial period?

FB & JP: Our advice is always to Stop & Taste.  Trust your intuition and think about what flavor you’re picking up, more than any given technique.  Also, since these are Winter Beer Festival only, we suggest, they should be paired with giant turkey legs and whatever chocolate you can get your hands on while enjoying the fest.

AS: You’ve created a purpose-driven program for the Dragon’s Milk series. Allowing the beer to be available year round in all your distribution networks and launching the “Unlimited Release” idea is incredibly difficult and I think will be received very well by your fans. What is the most challenging aspect of this idea? Do you think it’ll push other breweries to attempt this line of thinking with their rare or specialty items?

FB & JP: Our decision to go year round several years ago has definitely changed the face and footprint of the brewery. The need for dedicated blending tanks, refrigerated barrel storage, re-orienting how our barrels are stored, projecting the cash flow for all of those barrels to hang out for three months and having a robust quality control program to make shelf-stable barrel-aged beer, are all challenges that have been discovered and met at one point or another. Who knows whether other breweries will follow suit, but you have to look at it two different ways. Making rare or specialty items more widely available is one thing, and it should be in concert with demand.  Dragon’s Milk has grown in response to our customers demonstrating that they want more and will buy more. The second point is that taking barrel aged beers to market has significant technical challenges to assure that the bottles will be shelf stable and will age gracefully. Once beer is in contact with wood, it has met potential souring and/or staling agents, and we go to great pains to protect our barrel aged beer from preventable negative consequences to that exposure. Both of these points should be considered before breweries expand specialty lines, and are challenges that may keep some rare or specialty beer closer to home and in more limited contexts and volume. 

#unlimitedrelease

Photography: Steph Harding