08 January 2010

New Glarus Stone Soup

New Glarus Stone Soup (bottle)
New Glarus, WI
5.3% ABV

I've never had a New Glarus, since I've never been to Wisconsin. Those without a thorough knowledge of the Midwestern beer scene will be forgiven for feeling a bit left in the dust by that dependent clause -- New Glarus is a brewery that has so far limited its distribution only to the state in which it is located.

Working in even a small capacity in the beverage industry, you definitely see a great variety in the strategies that the various microbreweries take in growing their customer base. Some breweries, like Rogue, take an approach of widening their net as much as possible, increasing availability in as many areas as possible. This has the positive effect of making your products somewhat ubiquitous and making your brand recognition high, but usually means that your product seems less like a product of a particular place.

Other breweries expand more slowly, but still have a regional presence. Yuengling, for instance, is purely an East Coast phenomenon that expats from those areas tend to remember fondly. How many people just have to get that pint of Yuengling upon a return to an area where it can be found? (I'm certainly one of those.)

And some breweries just stay local. Michigan's own Short's Brewing is one of those, for now, although I'm guessing they'll start moving outside of Michigan in the near future as they expand. The problem with expansion is quality control, with making sure that the beer you produce is handled well in its journey from the fermenter to the glass, and in working with ever-wider arrays of distributors, retailers, etc.

New Glarus is a brewery that (for now) has decided to just stick with one market: Wisconsin. It's a nationally-recognized brewery that certainly doesn't have national distribution. They've been in operation since 1993 and, in the words of their website: "Sorry about the limited distribution, non-Wisconsinites. There are only so many hours in the day to make beer and we can only keep up with the local demand. If you're ever in town stop by our little gift shop and pick some up."

So, how's the beer? It's actually a pretty standard Belgian Pale Ale, which given the context is actually a pretty nice complement. A nice citrus start gives way to a sweet, yeasty finish. Healthy amounts of hops give this brew a nice bitter bite, but far from enough to make me feel like this has been Americanized in any way. Complex enough to be palatable to beer geeks, but accessible to those with a simple interest in a decent brew.

Is it the best beer ever? No way, but if it were made in my hometown I'd support this kind of thing until my dying day. Not a world-class beer, but it's a very nice brew.

My overall BA rating: 3.95/5

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