JANESVILLE — Joe Mattes of Arlington Heights, Ill., makes the 50-mile run across the border to Wisconsin every month to pick up three or four cases of Spotted Cow, his favorite beer.
On a recent tour of New Glarus Brewing, the faithful gathered around brew master Daniel Carey, and Mattes jumped in with the first question.
“Why don’t you deliver to Illinois?” he asked.
“And Minnesota,” someone else shouted.
“We have a vision, a way to market our beer,” Daniel Carey said.
“It’s a Wisconsin brewery, a Wisconsin sensibility, a Wisconsin way of thinking.”
And the farther one gets from Wisconsin, the more difficult it is to explain, he said.
“We’d have to market and teach people who we are,” he said. “That is expensive. We are a manufacturing company.”
“We’re not interested in being a big brewery. The idea that bigger is better is not necessarily true. Our idea is to be successful in our own backyard.”
That they are.
New Glarus Brewing, founded in 1993, has grown from two employees—Daniel and Deb Carey—to almost 70.
Sales of New Glarus handcrafted beer grew more than 1,000 percent from 2000 through 2011, and sales to retailers are up 23 percent so far this year alone. Spotted Cow, the brewery’s signature beer, has been the best-selling draft beer in the state for at least five years.
The brewery will produce 120,000 barrels of beer this year, an unusual amount for a small brewery that sells only in one state. In 2007, the brewery sold 64,930 barrels.
A love of Wisconsin is at the heart of the couple’s business plan.
The brewery has engendered a cult-like following, and more than 100,000 people visited last year. This year, the Careys expect more than 150,000.
The brewery is a huge draw to New Glarus, said Susie Weiss, director of the community’s chamber of commerce. Along with being a generous supporter of city events, the brewery sponsors a trolley that runs from downtown to the Hilltop Brewery. She figures the brewery can bring up to 600 tourists downtown on a single Saturday.
“It’s very important to our downtown survival,” Weiss said.
The business began in a 10,000-square foot abandoned warehouse in New Glarus. Today, the brewery runs in several facilities totaling more than 100,000 square feet. Plans are to expand even more.
In the beginning, the brewery produced six or so beers, including seasonal offerings. That number today is 17 to 20, Deb Carey said.
Through the years, brew master Daniel has racked up awards, including the Brewer's Association Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing in 2006, Mid-Size Brewer of the Year Award in 2005 and 2006 and Draft Magazine Top 10 Brewers To Watch in 2007.
Yeast in the veins
Deb and Daniel met in Montana.
Deb, who had dropped out of college because of the expense, was cleaning bathrooms for the state and had a small graphics business on the side.
Daniel had a degree in food science and was working for a Helena brewery and an uncertain paycheck.
Daniel has yeast in his veins, Deb said. His grandfather was a baker, and his parents took the family on vacations to breweries and wineries.
The couple married, and Daniel eventually got a job at Anheuser-Busch in Fort Collins, Colo. He earned his master brewer diploma after a strenuous three days of seated examination. He is the first American to pass the test since 1987 and nobody’s done it since, his wife said with pride.
The corporate world at Anheuser-Busch left a bitter taste. Deb, a Wisconsin girl, wanted to return home. After her immersion in the beer industry, she believed she could help her husband start his brewery.
On a trip back to Wisconsin, she bid on equipment from a brewery going out of business. She negotiated a loan. She drew a 30-mile radius around Madison and found an abandoned warehouse in New Glarus, a city that already had a tourism base.
Daniel visited in February. Deb figured if he liked Wisconsin then, he’d like it anytime.
When asked how scared he was when they risked everything to open the brewery, Daniel replied: “I live in fear. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’m a scientist, a technician.”
The idea of signing a loan scares him to death, he acknowledged.
But the result is the same if you fall out of an airplane at 100 feet or 1,000 feet, he said. It’s just a difference in zeros.
“Fear is a great motivator,” he said.
Lucky for him, he married a businesswoman.
The couple brewed their first beer in 1993.
Deb became well known in the brewing world as the first woman to found a brewery. She has a creative streak and does the brewery’s marketing. She also designed the new Hilltop facility.
Deb has learned to appreciate beer, despite a childhood with an unstable father who drank too much.
“I did not want to repeat alcoholism in my life,” she said. “I also started to realize that not everybody drank too much and tried to kill their family.”
Deb wants to change the way people think about drinking and elevate beer back to its rightful place in history. Beer is a food and was used as a drinking source when safe water wasn’t available, she said.
It is full of good stuff such as carbohydrates, protein, potassium and Vitamin B and has a place in a healthy lifestyle, she said.
The history is in contrast to today’s concept, with beer as the “drug of choice.”
Beer is in a renaissance, she said.
“It is way more interesting than wine … There are such a huge range of flavors.”
In the early years, the couple’s Edel Pils pilsener beer won silver medals at the World Beer Championships, but it wasn’t selling well. The couple had envisioned themselves as a German brewer, but Deb understood the ethnic background of Wisconsin and thought to embrace it, she said.
“I realized if people want an imported beer, they’re going to buy an imported beer,” she said.
Daniel, meanwhile, had been kicking around the idea of a farmhouse ale—not filtered, a pre-Prohibition beer full of potassium and, because the brewery is in Wisconsin, a bit of corn.
Deb named it Spotted Cow, playing on the state’s dairy background. It was first brewed in 1997.
Business took off, and they were forced to expand with the multi-million dollar Hilltop Brewery.
It was with pleasure that they later—twice—turned down offers from Anheuser-Busch to buy their brewery.
The New Glarus Brewing website urges people to “drink indigenous,” and Daniel tells people that many beers have an ounce of diesel attached. He is working with Wisconsin farmers to grow hops and barley so the brewery can have raw materials closer at hand.
Deb started to relax a bit a few years ago, after they settled into their Hilltop Brewery. But she said she never forgets living in a trailer scraping by to buy baby formula.
“There’s always a lot of angst what’s going to happen next,” Deb said, noting the competition of the brewery industry. “Certainly, the industry has changed so much.
“We’re always on our toes. That just pushes me to play my game,” she said.
She is passionately proud of Wisconsin and likens their beers to the down-to-earth people of the Dairy State. Deb, who said she still likes to get a bargain at the Salvation Army, finds other places pretentious.
“You just have to embrace who you are and not pretend,” Deb said.
Cows and squirrels
New Glarus Brewing is known for its whimsical marketing.
Here are explanations for some of the inspirations of owners Deb and Daniel Carey:
Q: Why is it called New Glarus Brewing?
A: It’s named after a brewery that operated in New Glarus before Prohibition.
Q: Whose thumbprint is on the products?
A: It belongs to owner Deb Carey. She originally was thinking about using a hand to signify Wisconsin and tell the story about handcrafted beers. Inspiration hit while she was leading a tour. Her thumbprint looked like a topographical map.
Q: How did Spotted Cow get its name?
A: It might have been a product of jet lag.
The couple were in England to accept a brewing award. It was lambing season, and Deb recalls frolicking and jumping lambs everywhere. She thought of the cows of Wisconsin. Do people visiting Wisconsin think, “What’s up with the funny spotted cows?” she wondered.
She told Daniel she was going to name a beer Spotted Cow. He told her they were finding a hotel to get some sleep.
At the time, nobody used funky names. The wholesalers disapproved.
Now, it seems so right.
Q: A beer named Fat Squirrel?
A: Not to be outdone by his wife’s jet lag, Daniel one February noticed a bunch of fat and rambunctious squirrels enjoying a warm day. A perfect fit for a dark, nutty beer.
Q: Moon Man?
A: The beer is named after one of their brewer’s cats.
Moon Man has all kinds of cat adventures, and the Careys always are hearing Moon Man stories. The brewer always ends his stories with a lilting: “Moon Man, he’s such a cool cat. He’s just comfortable in his own skin.”
Deb Carey described Moon Man beer and its seven varieties of hops as being “aromatic, bitter, nothing pretentious. When I was trying to think how to name this beer … I kept thinking about this cat.”
That really is Moon Man’s paw prints all over the product. Made with non-toxic paint, of course.
Q: The name for Two Women beer?
A: It’s a country lager named after the collaboration of two craft beer companies—New Glarus Brewing and Weyermann Malting—both led by women.
IF YOU GO
What: New Glarus Brewing, 2400 Highway 69, New Glarus. It’s less than an hour from Janesville.
When: The facility is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Tasting room samples are $3.50 and include three, 3-ounce samples and a tasting glass. People can sign up for the new Hard Hat Tours at 1 p.m. Fridays, billed as an “insiders view” of the brewery. Tours begin at the company’s Riverside Brewery, which is closed to the general public. Cost is $20. The tours are sold out through October. Reservations can be made on the website.
What to do: Visitors can take self-guided tours in the new Hilltop Brewery, built in the style of a German farmhouse. A beer tasting room, courtyard, gift shop and beer depot are available.
For more information: Go online to newglarusbrewing.com or call (608) 527-5850
Other highlights: Hop on the trolley sponsored by the New Glarus Brewing Co. Visitors can park downtown and take the trolley to the Hilltop Brewery. New Glarus, known for its Swiss ethnicity, has gift shops and ethnic restaurants.