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Land of the Spotted Cow

New Glarus: Only available in America's Dairyland

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Next up in beer reviewer Kevin Gifford's beer trek across the nation: Wisconsin.

It feels, in modern-day Bend (and Portland for that matter), that Boneyard's RPM IPA is available at every establishment that has a liquor license. It's ubiquitous. And across the entire state of Wisconsin—from the college bars of Madison to the rural supper clubs up north—it's the same deal with Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing.

Founded about half an hour outside Madison in 1993, New Glarus was built by Dan Carey, who used to work for the Anheuser-Busch plant in Fort Collins, Colo., and his wife Deb, who still draws all the brewery's homespun label art. Spotted Cow, which debuted in '97, is a naturally-cloudy farmhouse ale with a refreshing, slightly fruity flavor.

Despite their size (they made over 165,000 barrels in 2014), New Glarus focuses on keeping things local. Nearly all their beer uses grain grown and malted in Wisconsin; the Scream IIPA features a selection of hops grown in the state, and the delightfully tart Wisconsin Belgian Red uses cherries grown in Door County to the north. "From my point of view," Deb Carey told the MinnPost newspaper, "when you get off a plane you don't want to see one chain store after another and everything looking just like it does at home. Like everything else, I think food should have a regionality to it."

Indeed, the effect of the Cow on the Wisconsin region's beer scene cannot be understated. In a land where German-influenced lagers are in every single restaurant, bar, liquor store, and gas station in "America's Dairyland," as the license plates put it, Spotted Cow has become the state's best-selling beer on draft. It's easily outclassing the macros in sales, and it's loved both by beer nerds and Badger football tailgaters alike.

Spotted Cow is so identified with Wisconsin in no small part because New Glarus distributes only in their home state. This was due to necessity at first—they used to sell in Chicago, but had to pull out to meet demand back home—but is now part of their identity, with every case of Cow 12-pack cans lovingly stamped with "Only in Wisconsin." "We could be worldwide, if that was the goal," Deb commented. "It's absolutely in my power and it wouldn't take very long. But there's no reason—we're committed to brewing world-class beer and taking care of the people who work for us."

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