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The Daily
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New Glarus Brewing marks its 20th anniversary with expansion, special Belgian Dubbel ale
Dan Carey: "This is a strong beer, one you'll want to share."
Credit:Robin Shepard

New Glarus Brewing Company produced its first batch of beer in 1993. "We made 99 barrels in just a small brewery with a warehouse, while Deb and I lived in this little house with no air conditioning, no dishwasher, where the bathtub was even in the bedroom," remembers brewmaster Dan Carey.

Now 20 years later, Dan and Deb Carey are living well. New Glarus Brewing has produced iconic beers with whimsical names like Fat Squirrel, Totally Naked, Laughing Fox, Cabin Fever, Black Top, and Moon Man. And, of course, there's Spotted Cow. A light-golden bubbly farmhouse ale, it makes up more than half of the brewery's total output and has become one of the most widely known Wisconsin beers. But over the past two decades, Dan has developed a startling number of different beers. By his count, he's designed well over 100 different brews.

Back when they set up their initial brewhouse, the Careys sold their Colorado home, using the funds to purchase mostly used brewery equipment that would become the heart of the New Glarus operation. In an interview not long after launching, Deb, the brewery founder and president and a Wisconsin native, joked about how she brought husband Dan from Colorado to Wisconsin. "We sold nearly everything we owned, and then packed up what remained in a truck like The Beverly Hillbillies, before heading to New Glarus."

Dan's take is a little different. He got his start as a brewmaster in the mid-1980s in Montana, where he met Deb. The couple later moved to Fort Collins, where he worked as a supervisor for Anheuser-Busch. "Deb eventually said to me, 'I want to go home to Wisconsin, I don't want to be a corporate wife, how about we go start a brewery?,'" recalls Dan, "and I thought she was crazy but I tagged along."

The Careys became an integral part of Wisconsin's renaissance of small breweries at the end of the century. In the early 1990s, they joined a handful of upstart brewers like Capital, Sprecher and Lakefront to become part of what now defines the current generation of Badger State beermakers.

New Glarus Brewing broke ground on July 4, 1993. Three months later, Carey was making beer, with Edel Pils becoming the brewery's first release in November of that year. Its original location, now called the Riverside Brewery, still makes limited-release brews for, including the Thumbprint series and many of highly sought after New Glarus fruit beers that have captured international honors.

The 1990s were not easy years for any emerging small brewery in Wisconsin. Only about half of them are still in business today. "When you start up a business, they always tell you that a certain percent go out of business in the first three years, so just to survive is an accomplishment," says Dan.

With degrees from University of California-Davis and the Chicago-based Siebel Institute of Technology, Dan initially saw himself as following the lager brewing traditions of immigrant German brewers who started Wisconsin's early brewing industry. At first, New Glarus was known mostly as a lager brewery, but Dan eventually added ales to the lineup and interest grew.

Then along came Spotted Cow. The beer quickly became the brewery's top-selling beer, and today it makes up 65% of sales. However, Dan likes to remind even the faithful that his brewery isn't just a one-trick pony. "Even if you take Spotted Cow out of the brewery's production figures, New Glarus is still Wisconsin's largest microbrewery," he says.

By 2002, the brewery made a decision to pull back from out-of-state distribution and focus on getting its beer placed throughout Wisconsin. At the time that move surprised other brewers and industry leaders. The strategy stressed the importance of meeting the needs of local beer drinkers. It allowed the brewery to keep up with a growing local demand for its beer, rather than giving up shelf space because of shortages caused by out-of-state demands.

Dan says the expanding role of automation in the brewhouse has been the biggest change since opening. The technology associated with bottling and kegging allows workers to multitask while being more faster, more efficient, and safer. And, electronic sensors lend greater consistency throughout production processes. One example? In 2004, to keep up with demand, a more modern keg filler was installed, and within two years production jumped from 19,000 to over 40,000 barrels.

In 2008, the Careys opened their new Hilltop brewery, a $21 million facility that helped New Glarus become 23rd in production among the nation's 1,406 craft breweries. By 2012, New Glarus jumped to 17th among 2,403 breweries. Since the Hilltop location opened, the workforce has also doubled. New Glarus Brewing has 75 employees. "That is one of our proudest accomplishments -- seeing the impact on the lives of our employees," says Dan. "A lot of them have gotten married, bought a house, and now they have children."

Nearly every year since opening 20 years ago, New Glarus has achieved 15%-20% growth. In 2012, the brewery turned out over 127,000 barrels of beer.

New Glarus is in the midst of another round of major construction projects totaling over $11 million. The brewery recently broke ground on a 5,000-square-foot addition for storage and cellaring beer. Within three to five years, that expansion could push New Glarus to over 250,000 barrels of beer per year, nearly doubling its current production levels.

While Spotted Cow often gets the spotlight, New Glarus fruit beers have a cult-like following. The popularity of beers like Wisconsin Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart has fueled growth at the company's older Riverside brewery. The Careys are building a new cellar there that will allow Dan to increase both the amount and number of fruit-based beers. The Careys' daughter, Katherine, who works for Potter Lawson architects in Madison, is involved in the cellar design. Over the past several months, the brewery has purchased more than a half-dozen used large wooden oak tanks from wineries in California, Washington and France, and will soon be put to use in expanded sour and fruit beer production. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

One of the more visible changes at New Glarus is a small field of hops. While on the winding blacktop road leading up to the Hilltop brewery, visitors will be able to spot the pole-and-trellis system that uses the brewery's treated wastewater for irrigation. Perhaps most significant is the expansion of the main brewing complex, which includes an expanded reception area with more outdoor seating in the courtyard, a hillside with brickwork and gardens, changes to the gift shop, and the addition of a small museum that tells the New Glarus story.

Another distinguishing characteristic of New Glarus Brewing is its commitment to a "green" footprint. In 2008, the Hilltop brewery met the challenge of wastewater reduction with a $1.7 million on-site treatment system that helped reduce the demands placed on the local community's sewer system. Now, as the brewery begins a new phase of development, Dan is looking at other ways to reduce both water and power consumption. While solar and photoelectric panels are likely years in the future, he is taking more immediate and affordable steps toward sustainability.

Carey is currently conducting a bidding process for ideas to improve energy usage by rerouting the cooling system outside during winter months. "It's an interesting and very creative solution that could save refrigeration costs for a big part of the year," he says. His ultimate goal is to be among the top 10% of the most energy-efficient breweries in the world.

Highlights of New Glarus Brewing's 20 years in business are noted in this timeline.

To mark the milestone anniversary, New Glarus is releasing its 20th Anniversary Ale, modeled after the Belgian Dubbel style. 20th Anniversary Ale is just hitting store shelves this week. It's intended to be a beer that gets better with age, a symbol that won't be lost on the New Glarus faithful. "Deb wanted something that would improve with age, a beer people could buy, store and something that gets better as the years go by," says Dan.

New Glarus 20th Anniversary Ale is a robust and flavorful beer made with a combination of American, English and Belgian malts; American and German Hops; and a touch of Belgian candi sugar. Single 20-ounce bottles go for around $9 each. "This is a strong beer, one you'll want to share," adds Dan. It's also a beer that's best served warmer than refrigerator temperatures to bring out its rich sweet plumb and chocolate-y flavors.

Dan looks back at 20 years and says that building the brewery hasn't been easy. To make good beer, you need to have a basic and solid understanding of science in disciplines that include biology, math and physics. You also need to have artistic, creative abilities like those of a chef. But no matter how well you make beer, those skills need to be coupled with understanding your customers and how the business world operates. Rarely does a single brewer, brewmaster or owner navigate effectively on his own. So, New Glarus Brewing's success can be credited the marriage of Dan's brewing expertise and Deb's savvy sense of beer marketing.

Dan drives this point home: "If beer doesn't sell, you're just a homebrewer with a lot of friends!"

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