Little Swiss There, New Glarus Brewing Co.
Sitting at the bar of your choice enjoying a cold beverage, another couple of merry drinkers belly-up while the bar tender asks “What’ll have?” An “Uh…” follows a pause, then with confidence you hear “I’ll have a Spotted Cow,” and “Same here.” If you’re in a Wisconsin drinking establishment, New Glarus Brewery’s signature flavor most likely flows as certainly as water from kitchen taps.
Labor of Love
Achieving this level of ubiquitousness, reaching par with Miller’s “Lite” craze of the 1970’s and 80’s, no doubt explains New Glarus Brewery’s expansion. On a hill just outside of the half-mile drag through downtown stands the new brewing facility, a grand Swiss-style chalet with gift shop, outdoor beer garden, and layout geared toward self-guided tour. A fitting tribute to founder Deb Carey and her husband, brew meister Dan Carey, the two together lead a fearless craft brew juggernaut. Deb Carey also holds the distinction of first American woman to found a brewery, now grown into Wisconsin largest craft brewer.
A leader in the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, Deb Carey openly voices her support of fellow craft brewers in opposition to Scott Walker’s latest idea to “help” business. Essentially, Walker wants to prevent craft breweries from selling directly to retailers. Wisconsin’s craft brewers fermenting more than 50,000 barrels per year (possibly amended up to 300,000 barrels/yr) would by default face a requirement to distribute the beer through licensed whole sellers.
The Taste of Joy
In the gift shop, availability of vast amounts of New Glarus swag and other products distract only momentarily from the check-out counter with 5 taps for dispensing New Glarus’s latest brews. For $7, beer-tasters can have a pint of their choice and keep the glass, or for $3.50 have three sample drafts and keep the taster. In addition to beer, mugs, pints, growlers, sweatshirts, games, maps, inflatable cows, local cheese curds and countless other chotchkies wait for purchase. The most unlikely item, New Glarus Brewery’s line of personal hygiene products, reveals the lesser known fact that hops have antiseptic qualities crafty people can harness for beer soaps.
Pretty straight forward, the tour allows visitors to walk through a small hallway displaying master brewer and other awards before entering the brewery proper. With early stage beer inside, four large brassy lauter tuns hold watch like British Royal Guards in the main foyer. Pipes and vessels wind down the hall leading the way to the relatively small but highly efficient bottling area. Bottles of the brew de jour filled, capped and labeled with speed that dizzies the mind, receive care from a few guys holding watch for flubs like bottles tipping over on the rollers in the holding area.
Can’t forget the Swiss
As local folklore has it, New Glarus even charmed John Dilliger. A quaint town with tons of personality, New Glarus keeps its heritage foremost with small touches like the town’s chiropractor displaying its sign in large swiss letters spelled “Chiroprakter”. Countless other buildings in town maintain traditional Swiss architectural aesthetic. The Brewery offers a lunch coupon booklet to encourage tour goers to explore town. The participating restaurants have a New Glarus brew deal, most pour a free pint with lunch.
Puempel’s Olde Tavern holds the coveted first page of the coupon book. Their lunch fare is simple enough, bar tender/cooks whip up pizza, brats, hot dogs, cold cuts or salad sandwiches on rye bread. However, for those seeking an authentic experience, Local Trolley suggests Puemple’s liverwurst and Green County Limburger cheese sandwich on rye with horseradish. Luckily you eat with your mouth and not with you nose, this sandwich has the stinky lines wafting that Loony Tunes used to joke about, but it is awfully good.
The Next New Glarus Gerenation
New Glarus’s current brews for tasting while you tour include Two Women (a classic country lager, a can’t lose choice), Cabin Fever (Honey Bock, aka Blatz-on-tap but way better), and Local Trolley’s favorite Moon Man (“No Coast” Pale Ale). Among other qualities that make New Glarus Brewery Tour great, if you like one of the beers you taste you can ask for a New Glarus Brew request card (not to be confused with Quest Card) scribble your favorite brew and pass it on to your favorite drinking establishment. This practice is a great courtesy available to New Glarus fans only possible under the current beer distribution system.
Many who have taken the New Glarus tour before June 2009 probably remember the old brewery on the front edge of town. Still operational, the original Riverside facility offers in-depth guided “hard-hat” tours Fridays at 1:00pm. Here smaller special batches of unplugged, thumbprint, seasonal and oak barrel brews ferment.
Beer Enthusiasts may shop or tour the new brewing facility Monday through Sunday 10:00am to 4:00pm. The New Glarus Brewery location is approximately 2 hours from Milwaukee just west of Madison off of HWY 39. A trip to New Glarus may sound a little strenuous, so if a pilgrimage is not in the cards you can use the New Glarus beer finder to start a beer treasure hunt.
(If you have interest in supporting Wisconsin’s Craft Brewers do your home work, then find and contact your State representative here)