New Glarus Brewing Co.'s new Hilltop Brewery
brings tourism boost to Wisconsin
Spotted Cow, one of the best selling craft beers made and sold exclusively in Wisconsin, has a new home.
Carved into the hill of a former dairy farm, and built to look like a Bavarian village surrounding a gigantic red barn (replete with grain silos), the New Glarus Brewing Co.'s Hilltop Brewery is both a tourism destination and a beautiful brewery that will eventually double production.
Founders Deb and Dan Carey began the brewery expansion three years ago with a ground-breaking ceremony in May 2006 - giving away t-shirts with Deb's sketch of the finished building, captioned with a cheery, "I Dig It!" as well as samples of their award-winning brews. And in June 2009, the Careys hosted a grand opening bash for the completed brewery, with commemorative pints and live music.
But the Hilltop is more than just a 75,000 square-foot brewery. It's an expression of Deb Carey's artistic vision, too. Across the ravine, the Careys are building a home with a studio space for Deb's painting. The large field between the house and brewery will pasture the brewery's Friesian draft horses, now being trained for wagon delivery of craft beer in the village of New Glarus.
For years, the New Glarus brewery has sported a logo of a horse and beer wagon - now the logo has come to life.
The brewery has had an immense impact on tourism for the town. Dubbed "Little Switzerland," the village of New Glarus has the folksy appeal of towns such as Solvang, California, Leavenworth, Washington, or New Braunfels, Texas. Think "old world heritage" meets "small town Wisconsin."
With the increased space of the visitor's center at the Hilltop Brewery, the facility can host tours and other special events. Design elements include paths, fountains, waterfall and a formal terraced garden.
All of the special event spaces feature stone floors in hues that reflect the burnished copper brew kettles.
"It's one of those coincidences," says Deb Carey, "We went to look for stone brewery flooring at the Ann Sacks company store in Kohler, and found these tiles had been specially ordered for another job and returned that day - so they were on sale - and the color of the slate matched the color of the brew kettles - and I got that goosebump feeling that says, 'it was meant to be.'" The brewers' dog, Murphy, has copper glints in his fur and seems to blend in quite happily.
The old brew kettles were imported from Germany, and restored to production with stainless-steel linings and energy efficient heating elements.
The regional Alliant Energy utility gave the New Glarus Brewing Co. an award for its significant savings in energy use. Implementing green building practices and equipment into the brewhouse construction saved about 2 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. "When we planned our brewery building and wastewater treatment facility, we worked to incorporate energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly design," adds Deb Carey.
Besides the energy-efficient design, the brewery features special touches, such as hand-crafted iron railings and a traditional "stairway to heaven." The steps lead to the top of the brewhouse, where the open fermentation tanks are hidden behind glass.
Visitors can peer in and see the yeast used to make Spotted Cow, flocculating and cascading into yeast collection vessels. The brewhouse's initial capacity is 100,000 barrels, with room for expansion. Downstairs, beyond another hallway, a large glassed-in observation area showcases the gleaming Krones bottling line, one of the brewery's largest investments.
The original brewery built in 1993 is now called the Riverside Brewery, and there, visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, enjoy the tasting room, and get a coupon which can be redeemed for a pint at participating restaurants in New Glarus. At the Glarner Stube restaurant, the proprietor makes his own cured deli meats and sausages, a perfect pairing for the Fat Squirrel brown ale. And at the Chalet Landhaus across the road, chef Tim Nevil makes potato rosti and cheese fondue, served with Spotted Cow.
At a brewer's dinner at Milwaukee's Bacchus Restaurant, Dan Carey chatted about plans for both the breweries. The Hilltop Brewery focuses on production of Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel, so that the Riverside Brewery can be used for Dan Carey's special releases, called the Unplugged Series, as well as the wood-aged Wisconsin Belgian Red Cherry and Raspberry Tart ales.
"I like to experiment with wild yeasts for souring fermentation," says Carey, "and the Riverside Brewery is the perfect small brewhouse for those special batches of beer." Randy Thiel, the former brewmaster of Brewery Ommegang, is now the quality control director at New Glarus Brewing Co., and also involved in producing limited releases such as the Imperial Saison.
A favorite quote from Louis Pasteur is painted on the wall of the brewhouse of the Riverside Brewery: "Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity." Dan Carey is quick to give credit to his wife, Deb, "who does all of the hard work of running the business so I get to have fun and make beer."
The three years of hard and often exhausting work that led to the Hilltop Brewery's opening was captured in a special ale added to year-round production, the abbey single known as Stone Soup.
The photo that accompanied the release of Stone Soup showed a brown bottle perched in a slushy puddle of limestone mud, taken right outside the trailers that were housing the construction team's offices.
Deb Carey says the beer draws its name from the fable about a special soup made to feed the hungry, with donated ingredients, starting with stones.
As the label says, "the beer in your hand is a living testament to the value of many working together to create something bigger than the individual parts. Moving a mountain begins with a single stone."
Here are a few photos from the original ground breaking in 2006:
The result is a pinnacle for the New Glarus Brewing Co, which has become one of the success stories for Wisconsin's regional economic development and tourism.
Among the first tourism events to be held at the Hilltop Brewery was a locavore's dream, a festival and tasting of specialty foods and cheeses, called the Bounty of Green County, followed by Oktoberfest celebrations.
For more information about brewery tours and events, visit www.newglarusbrewing.com.
Portions of this article first appeared in Celebrator Beer News, 2009