When we're enjoying a cold pint of beer, we may not think much about the next one. But lately Deb and Dan Carey, owners of the New Glarus Brewing Company, have indeed been contemplating the beer coming down the line.
Last month, after more than two years of planning and construction, the Careys started up the recently installed bottling line in the company's new $21 million brewing facility. The brewhaus has been steadily increasing its production since becoming operational last fall. Now cases of Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel and Totally Naked are lined up and heading out the door.
The wife-and-husband team started the brewery 15 years ago and have become icons in the small brewery world. Now their new, 75,000-square-foot brewery is about to take them to another level. "My biggest shock is that we actually did it," says Dan Carey of this latest milestone.
New Glarus beers have won national and international acclaim since the brewery's humble beginnings a mile from where the new brewery now stands. The Association of Brewers named Dan Carey small-sized brewmaster of the year in 2003 and mid-sized brewmaster of the year in 2005 and 2006.
In 1993, when Deb and Dan began brewing in the Green County village of New Glarus, they made 3,000 barrels of beer. (A barrel is about 31 gallons.) This year, even though their new brewery only recently cranked up production beyond test runs, output is expected to top 84,000 barrels, making New Glarus one of the largest microbreweries in the region.
However, the Careys make a point of saying they don't want New Glarus to be a truly regional brewery. Why? They only sell their beer in Wisconsin. And that's the way they like it.
It wasn't always so. But in 1998, the Careys made the shrewd business decision to pull out-of-state distribution and focus only on the Badger State. "It's funny, when we talk with other brewers around the country, they don't believe us that we sell that much beer locally," says Deb, who is the company's founder and president.
Adds Dan, "Not only do we sell locally, we try very hard to use Wisconsin materials in making our beer."
The beer that helped make this expansion possible was Spotted Cow, which at over half of sales is the brewery's cash cow. Spotted Cow, the nut-brown ale Fat Squirrel and about 18 other New Glarus beers have a new home, high on a hill on the south edge of the brewery's namesake community, the village of New Glarus, 25 miles southwest of downtown Madison.
From afar, you can't actually see much of the brewery, except for the tops of the buildings. The place resembles a typical Wisconsin dairy farm, complete with red barn.
"We tried very hard to be sensitive to neighbors," says Deb, who designed the brewery herself. "We wanted that Old World heritage and feel, like what you find in the village."
The building's touches include steeply pitched roofs, brick and stonework, and exterior wooden beams. These fit with the chalet architecture seen in New Glarus. Visiting the brewery almost feels like stepping into Bavaria, with its centuries of brewing traditions.
At the heart of the new brewery are four copper-clad kettles, each two stories high and each holding up to 100 barrels of liquid. They sit on a beautiful brown slate floor, and they sparkle in the sunlight. The kettles were made in the mid-1900s and were used in Bavaria, where Dan traveled to find ones the right condition and size. He then hired a German crew to take them apart and ship them to a company that installed stainless steel components under the copper. Everything was then brought to Wisconsin by ship.
The first batch to come from the kettles (it was, not surprisingly, Spotted Cow) was produced last Nov. 15, the same day the Careys welcomed their first grandchild, Ava Anne, into the family.
The Careys are making a strong statement not only with their beer and the historic touches at their brewery, but also with the green footprint of the new facility.
A great deal of water and energy goes into brewing beer, and brewers also must control their waste and byproducts. In meeting these challenges, the Careys decided to build a brewery that reflects their personal commitment to sustainability and a quality environment for their employees.
One big part of their conservation strategy are those big Bavarian kettles. New brewing methods mean that the kettles aren't heated and cooled as often as in the old brewery, cutting energy use by as much as a third. The brewery's design also incorporates a technology that captures and condenses steam, which is used to heat water.
Building the new facility hasn't been without difficulties. Take the brewery's struggles over a wastewater system, which had the Careys at loggerheads with the village of New Glarus over incentives created by a tax incremental district. Eventually the Careys spent $1.7 million on a Japanese-designed system, which reduces the brewery's impact on the community's sewer system. A tax subsidy, as part of the TID, did eventually help cover some of the costs.
"It's unique," says Dan of the system. "It takes our levels of effluent down to below that of what household wastewater would be."
Among 1,406 U.S. craft brewers nationwide, the Brewers Association places New Glarus at 23rd in sales. But the expanded capacity could move New Glarus up several places on that list, if the Careys make maximum use of what the facility was built to produce.
Meanwhile, the Careys will continue to use their original brewery, where they make Dan's Unplugged series of special-release beers. These unique brews include Imperial Weizen, currently available, and, later this summer, Berliner Weiss, Czech Pilsner and Apple Ale.
Dan also hopes the expanded brewing capacity will let him keep up with the growing demand for Organic Revolution, a golden colored pale ale that he introduced last summer. Carey calls this a "session" beer, drinkable over the course of an evening, or one session. It falls between Spotted Cow and Hop Hearty IPA in its bitterness.
"The organic concept is an important one," says Dan. "Not so surprisingly, people want to know their food is produced in a responsible way, but I was shocked with how well this beer has done." The requirements for the organic certification mean that Carey will, for the time being, continue to make Organic Revolution in the former brewery and not the new one.
Perhaps the best news for the village and environs is that the Careys are creating local jobs. The brewery now employs 47 people, with expectations for another dozen positions.
"We are very proud that we provide jobs, and we focus on offering a living wage," says Dan.
Adds Deb, "When I drive up to this building, I smile to think I designed it. But when I hear the employees talking about putting an offer on a house or about a new baby daughter, that is what makes me happy."