Spotted Cow is the New Glarus Brewing Company’s best seller, and it’s become the go-to craft beer standard in Wisconsin taverns and restaurants. How does a brewmaster top that? Dan Carey describes this limited-release Thumbprint beer as “a super version of Spotted Cow.”
What is it? Spotted Cow Grand Cru from New Glarus Brewing Company.
Style: The “grand cru” title is common in wine as a way to note the high quality of a given vineyard and its terroir. Some breweries, too, like to use grand cru to designate a beer of highest quality, a special product, maybe even their best product. Such beers are usually flavorful, strong and limited in availability.
Background: Spotted Cow Grand Cru is a ramped-up version of Spotted Cow with malts that include Czech pilsner, pale, caramel and white wheat. An extra local touch is Wisconsin-grown barley from Buffalo County.
Wisconsin once produced a lot more barley and wheat than it does today. That was in part due to the large breweries here that needed a large and constant supply of malt nearby. Over time, as dairy and corn farming became more dominant, barley production moved northwest into North Dakota and parts of Canada — where most of it is grown today. However, more local farmers are getting into growing barley and wheat lately. In particular, a barley called Pinnacle does well in our state, and Carey wanted it for this beer. Carey worked with farmers in Buffalo County to grow his supply, and he bought as much as was available, he says.
Spotted Cow Grand Cru also has an interesting mix of hops that gives it a range of fruity, tropical and herbal qualities. Those include the Cascade and Czech Saaz that are in standard Spotted Cow, plus a relatively new hop from France called Mistral. Carey also adds a touch of coriander and orange peel. The resulting profile is a blend of smooth fruity sweetness, spice and warmth. The pear, apricot, banana, pineapple and strawberry flavors present in Spotted Cow are enhanced.
“No one component stands out more than another; I wanted there to be a marriage of flavors,” says Carey. “If you really pay attention and are a good taster you’ll taste them, but I wanted it to all meld together.”
New Glarus Spotted Cow Grand Cru is bottle-fermented to 8.5 percent ABV. It sells in the brewery’s Thumbprint line of four-packs for about $11. Thumbprint beers are Carey’s signature beers, often very limited with no guarantees they’ll ever be made again. This Grand Cru is expected to be around through December, maybe a little longer. It should age well at home. If cellared correctly, it will improve — more smooth, fruity warmth will emerge with a few additional months or more of bottle conditioning.
Aroma: A floral sweetness with just a hint of musty-yeastiness.
Appearance: Yellow-golden with a slight haziness. A bubbly, soft, off-white head.
Texture: Medium- to full-bodied and bubbly-soft. Some alcoholic warmth throughout adds to this softness and accentuates the fruity sweet tones.
Taste: A smooth blend of flavors begins with hints of apricot and pear. There’s also a very light grainy-maltiness from barley and wheat, similar to Spotted Cow. The hops lend tropical and herbal notes that eventually merge into a mild, smooth, spicy accent.
Finish/Aftertaste: A light floral fruitiness that’s sweet and warm. There’s also light lingering spicy dryness.
Glassware: This beer has saison-like qualities, so I like showing-off the brilliant golden body in a tulip glass. With its outward flare at the lip, the light tropical and fruity hoppiness will dance above the glass.
Pairs well with: A brie or camembert will bring out the sweet, fruity apricot and pear. It also goes well with pot roast or baked fish.
The Verdict: While this beer has a kinship to the well-known Spotted Cow, it is its own animal. Spotted Cow Grand Cru has the personality of an imperial saison. There’s a floral earthy yeastiness that blends with the fruity apricot and pear sweetness in an almost mead-like nectar. The hops add both tropical and herbal notes. This is a strong beer at 8.5 percent, but the alcohol isn’t solo; it lends a warmth that supports all its sweetness and spiciness, especially in the finish. Serve it cold, but not as low as refrigerator temperatures, to bring out even more of its fruity sweet hints of apricot, pear and orange.
I do like this beer, maybe even better than I like Spotted Cow, and feel it’s well worth the $11/4-pack. Its smooth blend of many flavors will remind Spotted Cow fans of whence it came. And it is among the three best of the New Glarus beers, along with its Belgian Red and its 20th Anniversary Strong Ale.