Words by Garth Beyer. Images by Josh Haroldson.
There’s something amazing brewing in Wisconsin, USA
Something prized and praised by the people there. Spotted Cow, a wonderful farmhouse ale from New Glarus Brewing Company who are producing more than 12 million pints of the award winning beer annually. And although that makes the brewery one of America’s largest, there is a caveat: you can only buy it in Wisconsin.
Deb Carey, a Wisconsin-native, founded New Glarus Brewing Company in 1993 by raising capital as a gift to her husband Dan. However, Spotted Cow didn’t come around for a further four years.
In the early 1990s Dan had been inspired by a visit to Old World Wisconsin, an open-air museum that portrays how the early Wisconsin settlers lived in the 19th century. He was fascinated by a beer-brewing demonstration and wanted to create something similar for himself, something a farmer or small brewery would have made in the 1800s, a pre-prohibition ale. Over the next few years his tinkering and experimenting with yeasts led to the beer that has become a statewide phenomenon, Spotted Cow.
It was, however, a trip to England that inspired the now famous name. The Careys were driving through Yorkshire, Harrogate to be precise, on their way to receive a prize for another popular New Glarus beer – Dan’s Belgian Red (A popular cherry ale) and passed field after field of sheep.
“I was enthralled,” says Deb, “I thought people must come to Wisconsin and feel the same sense of wonder and awe when they turn the corner and see huge fields of cows.”
The road to success is often bumpy
With a new Wisconsin-inspired name, an old-world recipe and a recognizable label, Deb thought Spotted Cow was a sure thing. Spotted Cow took off, but not before facing criticism as she took the beer to market and wholesalers expressed their concerns.
“Many took me aside with conversations like ‘Deb think about this for a minute. Can you imagine a guy at University of Wisconsin ordering a Spotted Cow?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I actually can.” Deb continued.
There were some who refused to stock the beer, thinking it was absurd to write a name like Spotted Cow next to Budweiser on an invoice. But as the beer became more and more popular the naysayers relented, and now roughly half of New Glarus’s production is dedicated to Spotted Cow.
Keeping things simple
Deb wishes it was Wisconsin pride that led to the decision to keep the New Glarus beers in state, but the reality is they had been distributing it to Chicago and the additional meetings and deliveries were simply too exhausting to be able to continue.
She explains “I was so tired of getting up at 3 a.m. and on the road for a 4.30 meeting in Chicago only to turn around and drive back and work on the bottling line all day. That said, Spotted Cow was a big reason why we pulled out of Chicago.”
They were finding it hard to meet the increasing demand for their most popular beer, and stay true to their ethos of experimenting and investing in other products. Plus, Deb says, “It’s nice for me t
o know the customers, whether they’re retailers or visitors of the brewery.”
When people can’t have something, it makes them want it even more
It’s a cliché, but that’s exactly what happened with Spotted Cow. Just because you can’t get it outside of Wisconsin state lines, it doesn’t mean people have stopped trying. There have been two recent cases of bars outside of the state being busted for selling it illegally.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff Dan goes through for this beer,” Deb says. “He’s always doing crazy things and on a first-name basis with all the people that deal with this beer. He’ll fly to Europe to make sure he’s bringing back the best hops. He selects Old World style barleys. He’s a brewer’s brewer.”
And it’s well worth the effort. While there are numerous award winning beers from the New Glarus Brewery, only one has been named The Top Selling Craft Beer in Wisconsin, and you won’t be surprised to know it’s Spotted Cow.