New Glarus Brewery Tour

So this is the first installment of our “On the Road” series, which will showcase some of the breweries and The Duluth Experience team gets to visit during our… research trips. Luckily for us, Tim had an opportunity to visit the New Glarus Brewing Company on his way to the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival in Madison, Wisconsin. As part of the trip, Tim and a group of brewers from Fitger’s Brewhouse stopped in to tour the impressive home of such beers as Spotted Cow, Two Women, Moon Man, Serendipity… you get the picture. If you’re a craft beer lover and you’re in the Midwest… you know these beers. If not… you should. What follows is Tim’s narrative of his New Glarus experience.

We head out of Madison for a pleasant drive through the Wisconsin countryside and after about 30 minutes we arrive in the town of New Glarus. This town is really cool and has a very German/Bavarian-inspired feel to it. It’s also the home of the New Glarus Brewing Company whose original brewery – now called the Riverside facility – was built by husband and wife team Dan and Deb Carey. This facility still operates and it’s where Dan concocts his specialty beers. This is where all the sours happen. This is where all the fruit beers happen. Dan actually keeps parts of the Riverside facility on lock-down. Even some of his brewers don’t know anything about what’s going on in there because Dan is the only guy that touches the fruit beers and sours.

New Glarus Brewery Tour

Copper-clad kettles at New Glarus.

There’s a cool story about the founding of the brewery. As the story goes, Deb basically drew a circle on a map and told her husband that he could pick a spot for a brewery within the circle. Dan picked New Glarus and the brewery was established in 1993. An interesting tid-bit about Dan is that he was valedictorian of his Siebel Institute class back in the late 1980’s.

We head out of town for about a mile when the New Glarus Hilltop Brewing Facility appears – an impending castle-like brewery perched (as the name would suggest) atop a hill. This facility was built in 2008 and covers nearly 80,000 square feet! In fact, during our tour we noticed that they were in the process of adding additional cellar space – so this brewery is definitely growing. I’m totally in awe at this point – by the Bavarian-inspired architecture, the brewery’s commanding placement on the hilltop, its size… I’m also excited by the delicious beers I’m about to sample. Yes!

We turn in and begin our ascent to the brewery. To the left is a really cool hop farm – modest in size but impressive and well-placed to give you that feel of an agrarian countryside somewhere in Germany. The road wraps around the hill as it climbs to the brewery – the grounds are immaculately landscaped – I mean, they put a lot of work into the whole brewery experience. Every little detail seems deliberate. Everything about this place is there for a reason.

When I hop out of the truck I feel like I’ve been transported to a Bavarian village. We walk into the brewery and enter the gift shop on the parking lot level. But before I even have a chance to browse the merch, I notice this unique stone staircase leading up to another level. Later in the tour I find out that when Dan and Deb were prepping the footprint of the brewery foundation, they blasted some rock to flatten the area and exposed this segment of rock which formed a natural staircase.

I head up the stairs and pass through an impressive portico into the brewery courtyard where I buy a 20 oz. sampling glass and get my first samples. With a beer in hand, I stroll around the courtyard. Quite literally, this is a beer garden – hanging baskets of flowers and manicured grounds with trails leading you through a scene from post-World War II Europe. There are ruins created to create this bombed-out feel to the place. It’s really interesting and I meander through the ruins until the official start of the brewery tour.

New Glarus Brewery Tour

European-esque ruins are scattered throughout the New Glarus courtyard.

We gather back at the gift shop and meet our tour guide and Brewery Team Lead. Basically this guy’s job is to go around to the different departments in the brewery and make sure everything is going smoothly, production is on schedule, and the teams have what they need to keep the brewery running. He’s been with New Glarus for about 9 years and he knows the brewery very intimately.

Right away, our guide tells us the story of the stone staircase that I mentioned earlier – cool story. Then he goes into the history of the brewery and launches us into one of the most impressive breweries I’ve ever seen. We begin in what I can only describe as the research and development department – it’s where they have their labs and associated tasting rooms. Then you walk around the corner and into this awesome room housing the multiple medals that the brewery has won over the years. They have Great American Beer Festival medals. They have World Beer Cup medals. They have just about every medal you can possibly imagine – these guys are absolutely killing it.

New Glarus Brewery Tour

New Glarus – quite literally award-winning beer.

The next space we enter is the brew room with 4 large copper clad vessels. This is a 100-barrel system, totally automated, and in action when we get there. Another interesting piece of New Glarus trivia – these copper kettles were salvaged from a brewery in Germany that was slated for decommissioning. We then move into the fermentation room – walking underneath these huge fermenters hanging from the girders high above us. What’s really cool about this is that everything is hard-lined – there are no brewery hoses. They have all this hard piping and these things called jumpers that you can stick between 2 lines as your cleaning or transferring. It’s sweet.

Next we get to see the New Glarus pilot system. This system is so advanced that if they create a recipe that they want to produce for distribution, the system’s computers will take the recipe inputs and automatically scale it up to production volume. It blew me away. On to the bottling and kegging line which is impressive but the real treat is our visit to the weiss room. Basically, this is a giant open-fermentation room. What’s cool about it is that they have these open fermentation tanks that extend about 3 feet above the platform we’re standing on. Then on one side of the tank is a little opening where yeast can blow off during fermentation and gets collected in a giant hole below us.

I could go into a thousand more details about the tour but you get the picture… what you really need to do is get over to New Glarus and take a tour for yourself. It’s a phenomenal experience and highly recommended.

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Pat September 10, 2013

Is it always a guided tour? I went a handful of years ago, and it was a self-guided your with a speaker headset thing. I was actually really disappointed. But that was probably in 2006 or 2007.

Dave Grandmaison September 11, 2013

Every Friday at 1pm New Glarus offers a guided tour led by a Brewery Ambassador. It’s called the “Hard Hat” Tour and it is very awesome.