Fred Bueltmann does a lot of different things. He and his wife Ulla keep a couple pigs, a coop of chickens, and a herd of seven horses on their farm in Fennville. He teaches horseback riding lessons, mends fences, grows and harvests hay, plays music, conducts business, and cooks some good food. He's done even more things when it comes to beer. Fred has consumed, sold, judged, made, composed and performed songs about, written about, and cooked with beer. And, he's fed beer to his pigs.
The youngest of six kids, Bueltmann acquired survival skills, like making sandwiches and standing up to his older siblings, early in life as a latch-key kid.
“By the time I was in middle school," he says, "I could not be intimidated by my peers because I’d been dealing with siblings who were eight years older than me. I looked at the clowns in my class and thought, this is nothin'."
Bueltmann is a passionate guy, and he pursues those things about which he is passionate. This earned him a music scholarship to DePaul University to play the tuba and bass guitar with the idea that he'd go into film scoring. College was a natural venue for Bueltmann's talents as a host to emerge. When he got his first apartment, he was determined to take on the very adult task of entertaining guests.
Unfortunately, passion carried him only so far. It was a big awakening to find his desire to entertain didn’t match up with his cooking skills. It was mom to the rescue with some guidance on roasting chicken legs. Sadly, this was not a crowning culinary achievement. Mom followed up by sending a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and thus began Bueltmann’s journey into flavor.
Bueltmann stumbled into the beer industry as a means to support his music performance lifestyle. He was working for a beer distributor by day and doing music gigs by night. His moxie and talent for analogy made selling beer more about conversations and less about sales -- an important distinction for a guy who was hell-bent on not selling out to the corporate world.
After a couple years, he talked his way into more responsibilities at a bigger beer supplier. Eventually, his creativity and resourcefulness landed him in the middle of the micro-brew revolution. He pioneered in the craft beer market as sales manager at Kalamazoo Brewing for nine years. In 2004, he joined New Holland Brewing as sales and distribution partner. Over time, his title evolved to "Beervanglist." When asked what a beervangelist does, his answer is, "I bring beer to the people. Who wouldn’t love that job?"
Immersed in the micro-brew scene and serving as president of the Michigan Brewers Guild for eight years provided Bueltmann tons of opportunities to present on the topic of beer and beer with food.
“My method for teaching about beer is self-evolved," he says. "I believe it's all about flavor. You don't need to know if it's a top fermenting or bottom fermenting beer, [or] an ale or a lager. What you need to know is what flavor brings you a pleasant experience and how to repeat that experience."
This is the Flavor First Philosphy, a concept that depends on using common language.
"If you say something is hoppy to someone that has never had hops before, you may as well be speaking Greek. If we talk about the flavors that hops remind us of, like grapefruit, and tie into thoughts, flavors, and memories people's palates have experienced before, then our language becomes universal -- and much more useful.”
Bueltmann talks about four flavor families:
Malt flavors: toasty, caramel, coffee, chocolate
Hop-centric flavors: bitter, citrus, pine, grassy
The flavor of fermentation: tangy, fruity, apple, plum
Wood-aged and fruit = Freestyle: oakiness, vanilla, coconut, and the various flavors of added fruit
"Listen to your palate," Bueltmann says. "Your brain is a liar."
In Bueltmann's new book, The Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy, (released June 19 at New Holland Brewery in Holland and June 20 at Salt of the Earth in Fennville) he leads the reader through a common sense approach to pairing beer and food.
"How we learn about beer and food pairing is personal. It’s subjective. You have to learn for yourself," he says.
Bueltmann breaks down the mystery of a good pairing by suggesting it should include at least one of the four Cs: Complement, use the flavor of the beer to bring out the flavor already in the food; Contrast, pair a floral flavor with an aged cheese; Cleanse, use the bitterness of hops or the tartness of a sour ale to refresh the palate; and Create, a positive change resulting from putting two flavors together.
In The Beervangelist’s Guide to the Galaxy, Bueltmann urges the reader/eater/drinker to take a mindful approach to consumption. He provides guidance on seasonal eating and helps to demystify buying a "side" of meat and a share from a CSA (community supported agriculture). The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs and filled with tantalizing recipes like Dragon's Milk Doughnuts, Boilermaker's Ribs, and IPA - Honey Blue Rotisserie Chicken -- a far cry from those college chicken legs. For more information on the book release events or to order a copy, see the Beervangelist’s website.
The Beervangelist’s Guide is equally relevant for both the seasoned craft beer connoisseur and the beer beginner. It's about beer, and beer makes everything better.
"Bringing beer to the people is more than a job to me," Bueltmann says. "It's a cultural mission that makes planet Earth a better place to hang out."
Pam Landes is the Chief Thinker at Think Again, a company that supplies creativity in many forms. Check out www.beyondthebrainstorm.com.
Photography by Adam Bird