One of the best things about moving and living in Chicago was the availability of New Glarus beers. During my time of working in southeast Wisconsin, all I kept hearing about was this thing called the “Spotted Cow.” Everyone in Wisconsin seemed to be so proud of New Glarus and love their beers (a gross generalization I’m sure). New Glarus seems to truly be the official beer of Wisconsin. So, of course being a craft beer lover, I had to try a New Glarus; I started with the Spotted Cow and immediately fell in love with the flavors and I tried other options and still enjoyed almost every one of their beers.
When Rachel planned our trip to Madison I got really excited because I hoped we would have time to stop by my new favorite brewery. When she told me we were going there, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t contain myself. The whole way there I was just looking forward to it. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t too sure what it was going to be like, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to get to one of my “Bucket List” breweries.
New Glarus Brewing Co. has been a pioneer in the craft beer industry and has been named one of the ten best breweries in the world on a couple of occasions. And now I was getting to visit them!
So let’s take a look at them according to our Brewery Grading Scale.
Logistics: 3 New Glarus offers free self-guided tours Monday through Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM. They also offer a “hard hat” tour that is available if you are lucky enough to get a ticket. The hard hat tours are virtually impossible to do because they are only offered on Friday’s at 1 PM and there is a limit of fifteen people allowed on the tour. The benefits are that it is a three hour tour, you can go behind the scenes of both breweries (The Riverside and the Hilltop), and there is a beer and cheese pairing available. The self-guided tour is essentially walking in the hallways of the brewery and observing the different processes through big glass walls. The hard hat tour allows you into those sections and onto the manufacturing floor.
Atmosphere: 4 Most of the people there were from around the area and fairly young. We visited the Hilltop location and upon pulling into the parking lot, I thought we were in the wrong place because it looked like a Swiss chalet. Most breweries are in an industrial park or more rugged looking, so this really turned my world upside down. Everything was new and looked to be celebrating the Swiss culture. The brewery was clean and immaculate. The gift shop was average and celebrated Wisconsin and beer; because of the way it is laid out, if there are a lot of people, the space can get small and tight very quickly. The brewery is easy to navigate, but the best thing about the location is outside with a huge open space outdoors and “ruins” scattered about. The old looking partial buildings were well done and made you feel like you were somewhere else, except for the fact that if you look down from the hill you see the highway but that is beside the point. On a nice day, you don’t want to leave. It would be a great place to have a reception or wedding.
Value: 2 This one is hard because of several factors: if you can do the hard hat tour, it will cost $30, but you must plan accordingly, and I do mean plan! If you just want to go hang out at a brewery and look at some tanks, you can’t beat a free tour. You won’t learn anything unless you have a friend in the business, but that is what you get for the free pricetag. There are a couple of options for actually tasting the beer. You can pay $8 and get 3 samples and a commemorative NG glass. The samples are decent size and will allow you to taste the various beer options. The other option is to pay $8 (for year round and seasonal beers OR $9.50 for fruit beers) and just get a pint of beer, but you get to keep the glass. If you do this, then refills are only $5.50 ($7.50 for fruit beer refills). I do suggest the sample route as you will get to have a wider variety of beers to try.
Beer – Taste: 4 I will not hide anything from you, I love New Glarus and am a fanboy of it. But there are some beers that they brew that are just ok for me. If you’re there at the right time, a great seasonal beer called “Totally Naked” is a must–it is crisp, golden, and delicious with two variety of hops from Germany and Czech Republic. Obviously, the “Spotted Cow” is the flagship beer of New Glarus that is cask conditioned . It sports Wisconsin malts and even a hint of corn. It does have a bit of fruitiness to it and is light and easy to drink.
Beer – Variety: 3 The brewery itself offers the six year-round beers, plus maybe a seasonal and a fruit beer or two. You will find something that you like but if you are looking to try a bunch of different offerings, you may be out of luck. New Glarus does a good job of cycling through beers to keep things fresh while maintaining a standard selection. Sometimes it is just hard to find the other offerings and not many, if any, are offered in the brewery. It just depends on the day you go.
Tour: 3 The self-guided tour is ok. You can see the whole operation but it really isn’t engaging or entertaining. The hard hat tour will require some planning and a lot of help. In order to get on the tour, you pretty much need to schedule it 6 months in advance (At the time of this writing, the earliest available tour is in November and December!). The hard-hat tour is worth it but the price is very steep especially for a group larger than 2. The bartenders/cashiers are really friendly and helpful if you don’t know what to get. They explain things well about the process and different options. If you are just passing by, in the area, or not really a beer enthusiast, save your money and do the free tour.
Other Noteworthy Items: New Glarus does a great job of supporting the local community and the farmers of Wisconsin.
New Glarus is definitely worth visiting for any craft beer enthusiast. The atmosphere is great and the people are friendly. As a side note, on one occasion I was chaperoning a couple of colleagues from England, Belgium, and France and each one fell in love with Spotted Cow. They could not get enough of New Glarus and wanted to take some back. I was disappointed overall in my experience with this brewery because of the tour setup but with them being open and allowing self-guided tours almost all day, that was a huge bonus. If you are looking for a taste of Wisconsin, visit New Glarus and try a Spotted Cow.