Interview and portrait by Kyle Bice
Fred Bueltmann embodies the spirit of craft beer and its growing appeal, not just to a small number of aficionados, but to the general public as well. He is deeply entrenched in the worlds of beer, food, and art. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with Fred over the years and developed a friendship outside of our collaborations.
Fred wears many hats, both figuratively and literally. He is a farmer, a bartender, a brewer, a chef, a musician and an author. He is the Vice President of Brand and Lifestyle for New Holland Brewing, a company he helped to guide from infancy to its current, and continually growing, success.
I recently went on a fourteen day tour across the Midwest with Fred and a crew from New Holland, along with representatives of the clothing brand Carhartt and a documentary team that goes by the name of Pride of Gypsies. On that tour Fred and I spent a lot of time talking about craftsmanship, and it led me to this project you see before you, “Beer Portraits."
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Fred.
KB: I’m sure a few have wondered, what is a Beervangelist?
FB: You’re not supposed to give yourself nicknames, but luckily this started as a self imposed job title in 2004, so I think I'm legal. I wanted something more grounded and connected to what I felt I did, beyond sales and marketing. While my technical title was needed at times, it rang hollow at others. As I thought about it, I believed my mission was to bring beer to the people. My role was to share the story and help people better understand what potential exists, and "Beervangelist" was born.
My role and job has developed since then, including a much more robust role in food and pairing, as well as digging into craft spirits. Still, my mission remains pretty simple - I do my best to help people craft enjoyable experiences with all the beautiful choices out there in food and drink.
KB: Most creative people tend to be creative in several aspects of their life. Where does your inspiration come from? When and where did it start?
FB: It feels like I've indulged in creativity and embraced an active imagination as long as I can remember. From the third grade on, I wanted to be a professional musician, a post I've held for times in my life. In the teenage years, these flames were fanned mostly through music, but I also enjoyed writing and acting. I was committed to music though, so when choices had to be made, it was always music that won. I was deeply involved with school music programs, as well as starting a rock band with my friends at the age of thirteen. Over the years, I've come to understand how much my many different pursuits have to do with creatively communicating ideas, and crafting collaborative conversations, either with my partners in crime, or an audience, seen or unseen.
I have many different passions and really enjoy the curiosity and discovery that seem to be part of the creative DNA. I think that's the best way to describe my inspiration, is that I love seeing ideas come into reality, and I love questions like, "What if?" and "How could we?"
KB: Your title recently changed to VP of Brand and Lifestyle for New Holland Brewing. What does that title mean and what are your goals at New Holland?
FB: As VP of Brand and Lifestyle, I can dedicate time to understanding and shaping the vision and mission that make up our brand. I will work to strengthen it internally, and then share it with the world as an educator, spokesperson and “brand evangelist.” We have added very talented people to our team, who will focus directly on the execution side of our growing sales and marketing departments, so Brett, Dave and I felt we really strengthened on all fronts by giving me a path to pursue our brand and lifestyle with focus and purpose.
One of the hardest things about growing a company is that you become so busy, it is challenging to tap into your creative side. After twenty some years heading up sales and marketing departments, including the last ten with New Holland, it was a strange feeling to imagine letting go, but also very freeing to trust our people, our teams, and know that part of my job was to imagine; creatively communicate ideas, and foster new thoughts. All of a sudden, I realized that it felt like what I'd unconsciously been steering myself towards my entire life.
My goals at and for New Holland are for us to foster creative growth, while continuing to build a connected, thriving company that can be successful into perpetuity. I want our people to feel supported, empowered and creatively rewarded, while our customers feel like their experiences with our brand are enjoyable, remarkable and part of an enriched life.
KB: How does your commitment to creativity and innovation show itself at the brewery, pub and events?
FB: I think any artist has to value the process and the result. We have to challenge ourselves to improve and to keep things fresh with new ideas. However, we also have to keep a balance, and hold ourselves accountable to the fact that the customer experience is our ultimate responsibility.
We're proud to have shaped a lot of new and adventurous experiences for people, but we're also happy to get out of the way, and let them relax into a cold beer, or tasty cocktail and just take it all in.
I'm very proud of our Stop and Taste campaign, which is our reminder and pledge to honor what all of this is about; our moments of slowing down and connecting with simple pleasures like indulging in the unhurried meal.
KB: Outside of your role at New Holland you’re also a chef who is passionate about farm-to-table style cooking. What brought you to this way of cooking?
FB: It was hanging out with chef friends and getting to know some of the pioneering restaurants around my home in Michigan that turned my philosophy around. As a beginning cook, I always looked at dishes or recipes I wanted to make, and then looked for ingredients. Eating food at The Food Dance in Kalamazoo, and Journeyman Cafe in Fennville, I began to see and taste that their food was grounded in a different way. I started to realize that "farm to table' wasn't a catchphrase solely about supporting local farms - it was a shift in philosophy and methodology that started by looking around you, curating the beautiful ingredients when they're at their best and then using your skills to create dishes to showcase this beauty.
Seasonal eating and drinking is a tradition that goes back thousands of years, but it's something we got away from in the last generation or two, as the industrialization of food and drink created some distance and disconnection from harvest. I feel like the craft renaissance is about bringing back that connectedness, but harvesting from both worlds. We have modern technology, which we can and should embrace, but alongside cultural and seasonal traditions that connect us to the harmony found in nature.
KB: You ran a Kickstarter campaign to publish your book, The Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy. What was that process like? What did you learn from it and would you do it again?
FB: The process was remarkable and inspiring. I felt the work I needed to do to explain the project ultimately helped me define the book in a way I might not have in a more private process. The feedback and support I received was immensely helpful, and the reality of a promised deadline was pretty intense motivation as well.
KB: You are constantly surrounded by art and the artists who make it. What does art mean to you and how much does it impact you in your work life?
FB: Art is hard to define, because artists see it everywhere. To me, art is both precious and completely ubiquitous. It can feel like something elusive, or something seeping from every pore of you.
I feel like artistry is the simple effort of attempting to put something beautiful forward. I don't mean beautiful like it always has to be pretty, but that your intentions are for it to be compelling, rewarding - thoughtful or thought provoking. It doesn't need to be complex or simple, difficult or easy.
It ends up being a "you know it when you see it" sort of deal. We have all heard a musician playing remarkably difficult passages, but are playing for themselves in a way that it just feels mechanical and lies flat. We've also heard someone lay down a simple phrase that reaches into our gut and makes us curse with feeling.
I think art is giving something from yourself so that others can feel it. However they do.
You can find out more about Fred at
and check out New Holland Brewing