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Beer Here: Unplugged: Wisconsin Cran-bic from New Glarus Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

New Glarus Brewing has just released a distinctive new beer that's well suited for the holiday season. Wisconsin Cran-bic was inspired by the centuries-old Belgian Lambic tradition, with a modern fruity twist of cranberries. As Wisconsin is the nation's leading cranberry producer, perhaps it was only a matter of time until the brewery that gives us Spotted Cow would create a new brew based on another leading agricultural commodity and state symbol.

What is it? Wisconsin Cran-bic from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus.

Style: This beer most closely fits into a subcategory of Belgian lambics that are made with fruit. They commonly go by names like framboise (raspberry), kriek (cherry), peche (peach), and cassis (black currant), with the flavor and color reflecting the type of fruit used. Lambics usually feature a medium- to full-bodied mouth feel, with a distinctive fruitiness that leaves a crisp, bubbly, even sharp flavor impression. While brewers have evolved specific yeast strains and meticulous controls to insure the purity of the yeast being used, the lambic beer style reflects spontaneous fermentation where wild yeasts like Brettaqnomyces and bacteria are introduced to the wort. Belgian lambic brewers point to such yeasts that are native to the Senne Valley surrounding Brussels. These wild yeasts add the tart and coarse flavors to the beer. Lambics commonly fall between 4.0 and 5.5 % ABV.

Background: Cran-bic is a new seasonal brew for New Glarus and it just started appearing on Wisconsin shelves. It's part of the brewery's special "Unplugged" line of beers sold in four-packs, for which brewmaster Dan Carey lets loose with unique recipes.

New Glarus says this latest addition to its family is a marriage of wine and beer. The brew's distinctive taste comes not only from the fruit, but also from wild Wisconsin yeasts. Carey allows the beer to initially ferment on a bed of cranberries before transferring it to oak tanks for a final fermentation, where it rests for five months. He used about 1,200 pounds of cranberries to make a 160-barrel batch. Wisconsin Cran-bic finishes at 6 % ABV and is sold in four-packs for about $10.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Very berry; you can smell the cranberries
  • Appearance: Clear, brilliant reddish amber, with a soft marble white to pinkish head
  • Texture: Medium and crisp
  • Taste: Strong cranberry flavor that is clean and sharp
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Coarse, gritty, dry cranberry

Glassware: Wisconsin Cran-bic deserves a glass to celebrate its bold reddish-amber color. A wine flute or tall stemmed goblet will do nicely to show off the beer's beautiful body while focusing its assertive cranberry nose.

Pairs well with: This is a beer to wrap around a big meal. Since it's a fall release arriving just in time for the holidays, it makes a wonderful pre-meal appetizer on its own, with a fruity tartness that will stimulate the appetite. But it also isn't a bad dessert beer. Try it next to apple crisp or cobber-type desserts and you'll be surprised how well it blends the fruits.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: A (outstanding) at Beer Advocate and a 96 at Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Wisconsin Cran-bic will appeal to both wine and beer drinkers. It is bubbly, refreshing, and fruity, with its cranberry tartness well-suited for holiday meals and the festivities that surround them. Don't mistake this for anything like a wine cooler, though, as it's very different from mainstream beers and flavored malt drinks. The assertive coarse and earthy flavors of the wild yeast and real cranberries blend wonderfully well with its basic beer character, making it distinctive even among craft beers.

Wisconsin Cran-bic is a great addition to the New Glarus lineup of Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart brews, which are sold in wax-sealed 750 ml. bottles. Perhaps future renditions of Cran-bic will also be in these large single bottles? While it should be around early in the holiday season, it'll likely be gone before all of the feasts, parties, and get-togethers are over. Those who really like this beer should stock up now.

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