New Glarus, Wisconsin: export your cheese, but we’ll keep our beer

I’m fairly sure I swooned when I was welcomed to the home of dear friends, in the dark of night, smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, by a fridge of personally curated, excellent local beers.  The unfamiliar label of New Glarus Brewing Company, in various styles, lined the long shelves of the fridge door.  Dave had outdone himself.

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Dave explained that New Glarus has big plans to avoid world domination, by focusing intently on its own backyard.  The commitment to the Wisconsin community stems from native Deborah Carey, President of New Glarus, and the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States.  Carey raised the start-up capital as a gift to her husband Dan, establishing the Brewery in 1993.  By then, Dan had already become valedictorian of the 1987 Siebel Institute Course in Brewing Technology and worked his way up the ladder to become a Master Brewer.

The local focus of the brewery allows it to keep close tabs on quality control of its creations, and to continue to invest in its specialty brews, including those “fresh” from its Wild Fruit Cave.  The 5000 square foot Cave features a 100-bbl koelschip, a piece of equipment that cools beer wort while exposing it to wild yeasts that float in the air, thus creating lambic-style beers.  Other residents of the cave include some of the first foeders (large oak casks for aging sour ales) in the United States, which produce New Glarus’ delicious sour red and brown ales, and the grasses on its roof that naturally keep the area cool.

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Dave introduced me to my inaugural New Glarus beer within minutes of arrival.  It was the Raspberry Tart, gold medal winner of the 2011 Great American Beer Fest.  Marketed as a “Wisconsin Framboise Ale,” it pours a dark ruby red color, with a tart raspberry aroma.  The taste is very sweet, with some earthy, funky undertones.  A touch of Wisconsin-farmed wheat and Hallertau hops round out the flavor.  This is not a beer to drink in large volumes, but I found it to be the perfect dessert sipper.

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The next day Dave opened the seasonal Pumpkin Pie Lust, a brown weiss beer made with German Munich malt, Wisconsin wheat, and Idaho Celeia hops.  This brownish-coppery beer smells just like pumpkin pie, with the requisite nutmeg, cinnamon, and vegetable notes.  The dunkelweizen taste comes through underneath the spices, but there is only a faint pumpkin background.  The brew provides a solid German twist on the American fall obsession with pumpkin beers.

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My final taste of New Glarus was a 2012 Great American Beer Fest gold medal winner, the Hometown Blonde.  The combination of Tettnanger, Saaz, Styrian Golding and Strisselpalt hops bestow that decidedly German character on this Old World style pilsner.  The brew shines a clear light yellow in the glass and smells of grains and grass.  The taste features a crisp malt backbone, surrounded by herbal, grassy flavors and a very slight lemon zest.  While on the light side of craft beers, this Blonde stands as a paradigm of its style, and certainly introduces more complexity than most domestic lagers.

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Even though my Wisconsin beer education remained in its infancy, it came time to leave my friends and their fridge.  I left with promises from Dave of a new collection of unattainable-in-Boston beers to be curated for my next visit.  Of course, I’ll need all that time between visits to identify a somewhat even trade.

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