WisBiz In-Depth: New Glarus Brewing Overflowing the Kegs
By Gregg Hoffmann
NEW GLARUS - Spotted Cow, the top selling beer from New Glarus Brewing Co., was born among fields of sheep.
“We were traveling in Europe on business, and I was struck how many sheep there were,” said Deborah Carey, who along with her husband, Dan, run the rapidly expanding micro-brewery.
“I wondered if people thought that about Wisconsin with all the spotted cows. Then I thought, ‘that’s a great name for a beer.’ Not everybody agreed at first, but it’s our biggest seller now.”
Led by Spotted Cow, New Glarus Brewery has grown from 3,000 barrels per year in 1993, its initial year, to 40,000 barrels. “We just wanted to make enough beer to pay the bills, but it’s already gone well beyond that,” Deborah now says.
New Glarus Brewery will expand to a new plant in 2006. Some of the specialty beers will still be brewed in the present facility, a converted plastics munitions plant. But, the brewery is overflowing its present kegs and needs a new facility. It will remain in New Glarus.
Deborah attributed the growth of the brewery to three main factors. First, Dan, a master diploma brewer, knows what he is doing. “Dan constantly is thinking and learning about beer,” she said. “He studies the traditions of it, and experiments with different combinations of hops, barley and yeasts.”
“To me, brewing is a marriage of art and science,” Dan says. “It requires the sensibilities of both a chef and an engineer. This blend suits my temperament well. I am equally happy talking about the velocity of liquids through pipes as I am discussing the flavors of barley varieties.
“Also, brewing is romantic - it is an old world art full of secrets and challenges. Breweries are beautiful places (or they should be) - copper vessels, wooded vats, tile floors and the aroma of cooking beer. The pursuit of a perfect glass of beer is a life-long work.”
A second factor has been marketing, done on what would be considered a very slim budget by most brewers. “Branding is very important,” said Deborah, an artist and entrepreneur since her teens who handles much of the marketing. “We constantly talk with our customers, to find out what they like and don’t like.
“We’ve tried to come up with things that will work in this area, in Wisconsin. Spotted Cow is an example.”
Some of their other brand names that make you take notice are Fat Squirrel, Uff Da and, of course, Totally Naked.
“Totally Naked comes from the fact that it is not easy for a micro-brewery to come up with a lighter, fine beer,” Deborah said. “To do so, the beer is out there on its own, sort of naked.”
Deborah also writes brief histories of the beers and key ingredients, which are included on the labels. A slogan on New Glarus Brewery’s web site reads, “Drink Indigenous.” Many of New Glarus Brewery’s beers do include barleys and other ingredients from the Midwest. Some of the hops come from elsewhere in the world.
Distribution and targeting to certain markets also have worked for New Glarus Brewery. New Glarus Brewery beers have proven to be very popular with boomer generation members who once drank in quantity, but now look for quality. College students also have embraced Spotted Cow. New Glarus Brewery also does a great job of distributing in rural and small towns, not just in large cities.
“We’ve tried to get our customers to ask for the beer around the state,” Deborah said. “If the demand is there, the taverns and restaurants want to sell it, and the distributors are willing to get them the product.”
All 40,000 barrels of beer this year will be sold exclusively in Wisconsin. Deborah said New Glarus Brewery has no plans at this time to expand distribution beyond the state borders.
A Family Business
Deborah started designing and selling cards when she was a teenager in Milwaukee. After living in Brew City, and later Chippewa Falls, where Leinie’s was legendary, she was well aware of beer, but never really thought she would end up in the business until she meet Dan.
Dan earned his bachelor of science degree in Brewing Science from the University of California at Davis. He was valedictorian of the Siebel Institute Course in Brewing Science and Technology.
He passed the Institute of Brewing Diploma Master Brewer Examination in 1993, having served his apprenticeship at a small Bavarian brewery. He helped construct and operate numerous small brewers throughout the U.S. In fact, the couple met when he was consulting for a brewery in Montana.
Dan went to work with Anheuser-Busch as a production supervisor. The couple lived in Oregon and Colorado, but the corporate climate of Anheuser-Busch didn’t quite fit Dan’s desire to brew beer in an “old world” way or Deborah’s entrepreneurial spirit.
They looked at a lot of locations when they decided to start their own brewery, but New Glarus ended up the best place. “I wanted to get back to my home state,” Deborah said. “I love Wisconsin and think it is a great place to do business.”
Deborah wrote up a business plan, obtained the necessary financing, worked out a stock for occupation agreement with the owner of the former plastics plant and within 10 months New Glarus Brewery was brewing beer. In some ways, it was Deborah’s gift to Dan, who now could really become that master brewer.
A graduate of Carroll College in Helena, Montana, Deborah has earned the reputation as the first woman to found and operate a brewery. “The emphasis should be on founding. Others have run existing breweries,” she modestly says.
Edel-Pils was New Glarus Brewery’s first beer and won silver medals at the World Beer Championships. It is still brewed, and will undergo a facelift next year, according to Deborah.
New Glarus Brewery quickly outgrew its original equipment, so the Careys went to Germany to buy equipment from a brewery that was going out of business. The stars of the German show – and the New Glarus Brewery tours that attract thousands annually -- are two big copper kettles that gave New Glarus Brewery adequate capacity.
The Careys have consistently added technology and automated equipment, but none that have compromised the “old world” quality of their beer. “We still want to make quality premium beer, but I wouldn’t be much of an employer if I still insisted our employees carry around bags of barley and other ingredients by hand,” Deborah said.
New Glarus Brewery has around 30 workers and will add more once it expands. New Glarus Brewery has averaged 30 percent growth through its history and 60 percent in more recent years.
New Glarus Brewery has won too many awards to list here. In 2003, it was picked the Best Small Brewery in America at the Great American Beer Festival. It recently won the Best Moderate Brewery award from the same group.
Dan Carey was picked the Best American Brewmaster by the Great American Beer Festival in 2003.
New Glarus Brewery’s beers have won medals ranging from bronze to platinum from All About Beer Magazine’s World Beer Championships, Brewing Industry International Awards, The Guildhall of London, Malt Advocate Magazine and numerous other associations and publications.
It has won the Best of Wisconsin designation from Wisconsin Trails Magazine and Wisconsin’s Favorite Microbrewery three straight years from that same publication.
New Glarus Brewery’s fruit beers, truly unique beverages, have won numerous awards. Wisconsin Belgian Red has become known throughout the world after winning more than 20 awards.
When WisBusiness.com did this story, Dan was meeting with brewers from Belgium and elsewhere on developing additional beers and other brewing techniques.
New Glarus Brewery listed eight beers that are brewed year around, four seasonals and a “number of surprises to keep it interesting.” Dan is fond of saying, “Some people paint, some sing, others write ... I brew."
Customer satisfaction is the prime goal at New Glarus Brewery and will determine in the long run how the company grows.
“It is absolutely the most important thing that people enjoy the beers I make,” Dan said. “Our company exists solely by the support of our generous customers. So I am very pleased when people are happy drinking my beers. Good beer is one of those simple pleasures, like a sunny day, that can be enjoyed by all people.
“I consider my business important and I take it very seriously. I remember something a monk in a French brewery said. ‘We make a point of doing our best in all areas. That’s because we think that working in a creative way is a form of prayer. Working with the things of the earth is working with the things of God. We make no distinction between the two.’”
One of the most frequently asked questions of the couple is, “how big do you want to get?”
“We never know how to answer that,” Deborah said. “It’s a little like asking how much to you want to weigh or how tall do you want to be? Our main goal is to continue to make quality beer for our customers. I think the market will determine what happens.”