How to Survive New Glarus Brewing Co.’s Final R&D Release

Today marked the beginning of the three-day release event of New Glarus Brewing Co’s final R&D beer for the year, Golden Ale.

We’ve had the Golden Ale, purchasing a bottle of the 2009 version in 2012 while attending the “Hilltop” New Glarus brewery (New Glarus has two locations) for Wisminbeer’s owner and head writer’s 25th birthday. It was good, but not good enough for us to make the fourth and final trek to the sacred Swissconsin town.

But it might be worth it for you.

A bronze medal winner at the Great American Beer Fest, Golden Ale is a Belgian Trappist style ale brewed with Czech and Munich malts. German Saphir and French Strisselspalt hops are used in the kettle boil. The 2015 iteration is dry hopped and naturally bottle conditioned with Ale and Brett yeast.

You can pick it up on through Oct. 10, beginning on 9 a.m. each day–and you should pick it up, but prepared for a fantastic, long adventure. Once you’ve pocketed your $20 for the two-bottle limit (get two), you’re going to want to head over on Friday night. Trust me, it’s the best day.

To understand why, I’m going to relate one of my many adventures down to the brewery from Inver Grove Heights to you, readers. If you want the highlights of how to best survive the release, skip to the bottom of the story.

New Glarus R&D Golden Ale

New Glarus R&D Adventures

We were the first to arrive to New Glarus Brewing Co., Jake and I. We had made the trek from a Twin Cities suburb, Inver Grove Heights, to pick up the brewery’s third R&D release of the year—Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel.

We arrived at 10 p.m., tired, unable to find a camping spot at the New Glarus Woods State Park just across the street from the brewery. You can see the woods surrounding the campground, as well as a buffalo statue in a field, from the brewery’s outdoor tasting area, overlooking it from the imperious hilltop that the brewery’s second location stands atop.

After meandering around town for a bit in a bid to possibly find somewhere to pitch a tent (New Glarus had told us that it couldn’t condone it, probably for legal reasons, which is fine) we took their other suggestion of sleeping in the parking lot.

So at 10:37 p.m. we did just that. Like we said, we were the first people there for the Saturday morning beer release (this was the final day of the three-day release), and this was the only plan that made sense since we couldn’t sleep anywhere else.

We parked where the line would eventually be at the halfway point as not to be first in line; we don’t much care to be the center of attention. A group of others would arrive an hour later, and then again at 1:30 a.m. Some would sleep outside in a sleeping bag on the pavement, while others would lay out a tarp and tables ahead of those who came before them so that their boisterous revelry could be seen by all at the front of the line, cooking and yelping as soon as day break. Or in other words, just before 6 a.m. 

The rapturous chatter about beer was our wake-up call. We rose to share beer only available in Minnesota (we’re Wisconsinites who live in Inver Grove Heights and Winona, so it’s our duty to provide beer that others may not be able to try), and some other rarities we’ve picked up along our beer-tasting journeys.

New Glarus Beer Release Line

Each event is always a bit different. The first release, Wild Bitter, saw New Glarus owner and business savant Deb Carey’s daughter walk around with a puppy for people to hold and play with. The puppy quivered in the bright, bitter cold morning, making it all the more rewarding to hug his tiny body.

This time we met a new drinking buddy (we’ll call him T) that we’d hang out with all morning and later in the day at the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. He secured us tickets to the sold-out event, and was a gracious host until we left Sunday morning. We also ran into the head brewer of Forager Brewing Co. located in Rochester, Minn., the crown jewel of brewing in southeast Minnesota.

From left: Wisminbeer owner Louis Garcia and Forager Brewing Co. head brewer Austin Jevne.
From left: Wisminbeer owner Louis Garcia and Forager Brewing Co. head brewer Austin Jevne.

The third release had proved to be the busiest yet. One morning the line to the brewery went around the entire parking lot, down the winding hill leading to the brewery (drive slowly and carefully; you’ll be surprised by just how windy the road really is). Around 1,000 people were served in the first hour. Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel was proving to be quite popular, even selling out on one of the days. 

And for good reason–it’s damn good. We only know because after we shared beers with others in the parking lot for three hours, Deb Carey came up from her majestic farmhouse to let us know that we could take our cooler of beer to the backyard ruins. With plenty of ice in our fancy, keep-everything-cold-for-five-days cooler, we put a bottle of that day’s release in.

Then when it cooled, we drank it.

New Glarus Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel.
New Glarus Bramble Berry Bourbon Barrel.

After letting our pours settle, we saw what looked like mud. Brown, cloudy, thick. This only made us more excited. What we tasted was unlike anything we’ve ever had (just like the brewery’s second release, Gueuze, the release we missed but then tried later that day at the Madison beer fest). A sour punch filled to the brim with sweet berry flavors.

While this probably all sounds amazing and exhausting, there is a seedy side. Some people visiting from Illinois and Indiana, clad in sports shirts, riddled in tattoos, and donning Walmart shirts adorned with skulls and other “heavy metal” designs, were cheating (not that all who look like that cheat; we just want to make you aware of the crowd). They were cheating New Glarus and fellow beer drinkers by rubbing off the permanent marker X drawn on their hands with some dutiful (painful) scrubbing in the bathroom in order to buy two more bottles of the limited release. 

An X signifies to the brewery that you’ve been accounted for. From what I saw they changed up colors at different times as not to sell more bottles to those who had already gone through. But these guys were cheating the system.

That goes against one of the most important points of beer: a sense of community. Instead, these individuals were going to hoard the bottles, trade them, or sell them for about $100, their estimate coming from the $90 Wild Bitter, the first R&D release of the year, netted them per bottle.

It was shameful, and I regret not doing something. I didn’t know if those working would want to do anything. They were busy pouring and selling beer, and were most likely much too nice to say something. Karma and all that, I suppose (and hope). 

Aside from that one downer, the event was a smashing success, as was the entire day thanks to the rare, fantastic beer at the fest in the late afternoon.

New Glarus Wild Bitter.
New Glarus Wild Bitter.

How to Survive

Keep these tips in mind if you want to survive a R&D release with your highly-coveted beer:

1. Get there the night before.

This will make it much easier to wake up and join in on the festivities.

2. Don’t be afraid to approach people.

While some visitors will brag about their homebrewing skills, or the white whale they landed at some secret brewery located in a cave in the side of a mountain, most people just want to talk and share beer in a friendly manner.

3. Bring beer.

If you’re from a state that’s not Wisconsin and you bring beer that isn’t distributed out of, say, Minnesota, you’ll be the belle of the ball.

Our friend, T (in the Packers sweater), was one of the first people to pick up New Glarus Golden Ale on Oct. 8. He said only about 40 people showed up for what has proved to be the least popular of all four releases.
Our friend, T (in the Packers sweater), was one of the first people to pick up New Glarus Golden Ale on Oct. 8. He said only about 40 people showed up for what has proved to be the least popular of all four releases.

4. Drink responsibly.

This is a duh one, but it is worth mentioning. There is going to be a lot of beer for you to drink, which means you’ll have to pace yourself–or have a designated driver. Or sit in your Packers lawn chair and sip on water and coffee. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s just no fun.

5. Check out the beer cellar.

While it hasn’t happened since the release of Wild Bitter, sometimes the R&D beers find their way into the beer cellar located just off of the parking lot. Even if you don’t find a rare treat, there’s still world-class beer to be had including Belgian Red and Serendipity. Plus, Fat Squirrel is back in season, meaning you can get it at the brewery right now.

6. Enjoy your beer.

Some people love to hoard their beer or sell it for a high price (I get it; that’s capitalism), so this is where buying your max of two bottles comes in. Drink one when you get home, or the next day, and cellar the second bottle if you’re so inclined. Some like the Bramble are meant to be put in a cellar, but you’ll want to have it right away so you can compare your tasting notes a year later.

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