It might be hard to imagine, but when New Holland Brewing Co. released its flagship IPA in 1998, the style was not the ubiquitous beer it is today.
New Holland founder Brett VanderKamp recalls fondly those who thought the brewery was crazy for adding a pound of hops to the fermenting product. VanderKamp looked at the beer as a beefed up version of the brewery’s early pale ale, Paleooza, a Cascade-forward pale ale.
The first batch was three barrels – 93 gallons – and included three pounds of hops.
“At the time it was ridiculous,” VanderKamp said. “Very few were doing it that much, the most you were talking was a couple of ounces.”
Early on, Mad Hatter immediately jumped to the front of New Holland’s sales as they produced four beers on a large scale. The name was an easy find as one of VanderKamp’s English professors from nearby Hope College was hosting a poetry class at the brewery on June 10, or Mad Hatter Day, when the brewery was first tinkering with the beer.
From there on, Mad Hatter and its variations — including Tasmanian Hatter and White Hatter — were extremely popular for New Holland.
“It was an immediate success,” he said. “It became the flagship brand for the brewery."
Mad Hatter has made its way back to the front of the pack for the Holland, Michigan-based brewery.”
For nearly 10 years, Mad Hatter led the way for New Holland, eventually and slowly Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout overtook the honor as the brewery’s top-selling beer, where it still sits today.
Despite being among the early oddities of the style, Mad Hatter fell behind the rest of the industry as IPAs continued to evolve and heavy dry hopping became more common.
To catch up to where the modern IPA is today, New Holland drastically changed the recipe for Mad Hatter in 2015 and increased the amount of malt used in the recipe to boost the alcohol level and switched to more citrusy hops. The beer now uses Michigan-grown Citra, Cascade, and Centennial hops.
“Over the years we had a bit of flavor creep in the hops, I don’t believe it was the same profile we had 10 years prior, so we made some adjustments,” VanderKamp said. “I think now, Mad Hatter is more stylistically representative to the original Mad Hatter than the last two or three years we were making the old recipe. It’s going back to the original hop profile.”
To paraphrase VanderKamp, he’s recognized when New Holland has fallen behind and will take another step this year as they begin to can several beers, starting in August with Extra Time, a session ale, and Hoptronix, the brewery’s double IPA. Mad Hatters in cans are not far behind according to VanderKamp.
“We are intentionally moving into cans and Mad Hatter will be one of the first for us, one of the first beers we start looking at in larger pack canned variety,” he said.
With the recipe change, Mad Hatter has made its way back to the front of the pack for the Holland, Michigan-based brewery.
“It’s still doing very well, just over 10% growth on that brand this year,” VanderKamp said. “It’s a beer people are still attracted to.”