As soon as you drive into the village of New Glarus, WI you will notice two things - they are proud of their Swiss Heritage and they are proud of their hometown brewery.
The history of the town itself is interesting. It was founded in 1845 by two gentlemen, Nicolas Duerst and Fridolin Streiff, who were sent by Swiss magistrates from Glarus, Switzerland. At that time, the town of Glarus was struggling. Poverty and agricultural turmoil was forcing residents to either endure the suffering or take a loan from the Glarus Emigration Society and take their chances on moving to America to start their lives again. With the promise of free/cheap land, many took the offer and headed to the shores of America. Their travels took them to America and through the Midwest (including Indiana) and finally up to Wisconsin where they found the suitable, though not ideal accommodations, set up by Duerst and Streiff.
Today, the Village of New Glarus boasts Swiss culture and benefits from several tourist destinations, including the New Glarus Brewing Company The original brewing facility opened in 1993, making Deborah Carey the first female in the country to own and operate a brewery. She and her husband, Dan, grew the facility until they broke ground on a new hilltop facility in 2004. The $20-some million dollar facility finally opened in June of 2009 and offers a brewing capacity of 90,000 barrels. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about those 90,000 barrels is that it is ONLY distributed in Wisconsin. Just to put that into perspective, Indiana's second largest brewery is Upland and they are on track to do about 8000 barrels this year (with distribution to three states). In addition to all of that, nearly half of those 90,000 barrels are of their flagship beer, Spotted Cow.
If there was anywhere apart from the Great Taste we had to visit while in Wisconsin, it was New Glarus Brewing. While New Glarus isn't all that far from Indy, the beer is just as desired in our house as anything else we can't easily get our hands on. We've been lucky to know a few folks who were willing to bring some back for us here and there, but we were long overdue to see the place for ourselves.
Entering New Glarus from the north, we thought we had immediately stumbled onto the brewery - a collection of old buildings on the side of the road, and a sign labeled "New Glarus Brewing Company". It looked like a little craft brewery along the lines of those we already know. But after looking around we realized that we were at the wrong end of town.
On the south end of New Glarus, up on a hill, sits a beautiful new facility. This wasn't a craft brewery like we knew it - more so a Utopian vision of craft brewing at its best. The brewery is a collection of buildings, with a self-guided tour that revealed that the inside of New Glarus Brewing Co. looks a lot more like Budweiser than Bee Creek. That's not a bad thing, by any means - the proof is in the product, and New Glarus' lineup is hard to beat.
We all settled in for a round of samples, checked out the extensive giftshop, took the brewery tour, and then made our way downstairs to buy a trunk full of beer for ourselves and those who had been so generous with their New Glarus hauls before.
If you find yourself in Madison - don't miss New Glarus.