Feb 23, 2020

In search of the sacred Spotted Cow at the New Glarus Brewing Co.

If you’re from the Midwest and you love craft beer, chances are you’re at least a little familiar with the New Glarus Brewing Co. and its benchmark brew, Spotted Cow.  From my own personal experience, whenever I travel to Wisconsin, I inevitably wind up taking requests to purchase some Spotted Cow or another highly sought New Glarus product.  And for my personal tastes, most of them happen to be quite tasty. 

But what makes Spotted Cow so … ahem … sacred among area beer aficionados?  First, New Glarus and its line of beers are somewhat notorious for their scarcity outside of the state of Wisconsin.  In fact, if you see any of them in any bar or store outside of the state, call the authorities because they’re breaking the law.  So, there’s that whole “Smokey and the Bandit” feeling of bringing a few cases across the state line for your friends.

Then there’s the quality and craft of the beer.  New Glarus is not new to the scene.  The company was founded almost 30 years ago by a master brewer and its signature Spotted Cow, a truly tasty farmhouse ale I happen to love for its maltiness and fresh flavor, has been around since 1997.  With a handful of year-round offerings and an ever-changing line-up of seasonal and specialty brews, New Glarus could be a large-scale … ahem … cash cow … but it seems content to focus on quality over growth.     

With such a demand and with so many fans, it’s no wonder then that the brewery – and the small town of New Glarus nearby – has become somewhat of a tourist destination.  So, on one of my work trips to Madison, I decided to make a little extra time to plot a course through the rolling hills of the Wisconsin countryside and check it out. 

You’ll find the road leading to the brewery just south of town on State Highway 69, and you’ll be forgiven if due to the Swiss immigrant influence in the area, you feel a little like you’re in the alpine valley instead of the farm meadows if Wisconsin. 

You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction when you see the brewery’s hops garden to the side of the road.

By the time you reach the end of the road, the New Glarus Brewing Co. complex, including its “Beer Depot,”come into full view, appropriately designed like a Swiss chalet. 

With not much time to explore, I took the flight of stone steps straight to the gift shop and visitor’s center to get my bearings and, hopefully, some samples. 

I didn’t spend much time in the gift shop, though, once I found the ticket booth in front of the brewery’s large outdoor beer garden set atop the hill.  Given the scenic views from all sides, the setup made perfect sense.   I purchased a sampler tasting of three brews, went to the closest tasting booth in front of the gift shop and ordered a Spotted Cow to take with me while I roamed the grounds. 

This looked like a good direction to head, especially considering the beers they were promoting at the ruins tap were largely unknown to me and/or not for sale to the general public. 

The Ruins Taps Booth was easy to locate, just down a few steps the trail and off to the left.   I finished the last of my Spotted Cow and ordered up a sample of the Mistral, a specialty pilsner that New Glarus only offers occasionally.  I found it to be lighter and slightly “hoppier” than Spotted Cow but my natural trepidation toward hoppy beers was offset by the beer’s nice, light citrus notes.  I immediately wished I had a six pack of it to save for summer.      

While I sipped my sample, I continued to explore the brewery’s walking trails.  The ruins may be fake, but they do afford a lot of solitude and scenery for the tasting experience.

Still, I imagine once in a while you’ll run into someone you weren’t expecting along the trail.  These guys seemed particularly amused by my presence. 

The end of the trail took my back to the edge of the outdoor beer garden which seems quite capable of accommodating even the largest summer crowds without a problem. I crossed under the pergolas and back down the trail to cash in my last sample ticket on the New Glarus 25th Anniversary Ale.  Its rich flavor and alcohol content were enough to tell me it was time to move on. 

I left New Glarus Brewing Co. satisfied with my discovery and confident I’d be back someday.  One surely doesn’t have to be a beer lover to enjoy the atmosphere, especially when you combine a tour with other activities in the town that likes to be called “America’s Little Switzerland.” But don’t pass on sampling the Spotted Cow or the other beers they offer; you’re likely to find one worth taking a four- or six-pack home with you.

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