A Pint With: Dan Carey, Brewmaster of New Glarus Brewing Company
We are a true "mom and pop business."
In 1993, Dan Carey left a job with Anheuser-Busch to start his own brewing company with his wife, Deb. Since then, Carey's beers (including some unusual spontaneously-fermented fruit beers) have won countless awards and garnered attention from beer lovers around the globe. We're so glad that Dan had a minute to chat with Serious Eats.
Name: Dan Carey
Location: New Glarus, Wisconsin
Occupation: Diploma Master Brewer, New Glarus Brewing Company
Tell us about your decision to move from Anheuser-Busch to craft brewing. This question is not so easy to answer in a few words as it is really speaks to who we are, where we came from, why we do what we do and why we fight so hard to make our business work. People don't know that Deb and I are really just a couple of hard-working poor kids that fought our way up—words do not convey how hard it was.
How would you describe your brewing style? My style is eclectic yet traditional. I've worked and traveled extensively in Europe and love traditional beers. But my brewery is not in Europe and I'm not bound by their traditions. I feel inspired by the old ways but try to find my own way. I want my beers to reflect my American heritage and specifically the Wisconsin landscape. Plus, I love to try new things and surprise my customers!
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Describe for us what your days are like at New Glarus. What are you working on, and what sort of schedule do you have? We brew 5 to 6 days per week. From 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. We are not heavily staffed so we all work very hard. Everyone pulls their weight. If you call the brewery, there's a good chance Deb will answer the phone. We are a true "mom and pop business." She runs the business end of things, that is, marketing (she literally hand draws and writes ALL of our labels and POS), Sales, Lawyers, Wholesalers, Bankers (she raised 21 million dollars for the new brewery alone. When I say alone, I mean by herself. NOBODY ELSE).
We are a manufacturing-driven company. We invest a great deal of effort and money in making the best beer possible. No neons and nearly zero marketing budget. Most of my time is spent guiding our brewers, maintenance team, and quality control team. I am constantly looking, tasting, and thinking about our process. My job is to make sure our beer tastes good each and every time, is better today than yesterday, that our employees are safe and empowered, and that we use our raw materials, time, and utilities responsibly.
Do you have a favorite New Glarus beer? Do you have favorite foods to pair with your beers? Nope...That is like asking me to pick my favorite child! I love each of my brews for different reasons and in their own right, and I simply cannot pick a favorite. I am proud of them all. As far as pairing, I love Totally Naked Lager with Pizza!
How do you get inspired to make new beers? I find inspiration in what I see around me. For example, after drinking white wine in Italy, I came up with our Berliner Weiss. I also find inspiration from my customers, wholesalers, employees and Deb.
What breweries have been your inspiration? What are your favorite non-New Glarus beers? Sierra Nevada, Augustiner of Munich, Schneider of Kelheim German, Rodenbach of Belgium, Budvar of the Czech Republic.
Have you had any beers not work out as you expected? What is the worst beer you ever brewed? I have made beer that was dumped—every brewer has (or should have). Beer is temperamental and sometimes need a little coaxing to behave. Just as everyone has different tastes in music, each person's palate responds to different taste experiences in different ways. That is what I love about my job. It allows me to experiment with flavors and styles. But in the end, I can't brew beer to please everyone. I just brew the best beer I can and hopefully people enjoy it as much as I do. I made an historical recreation of the original London Style Porter called "Old English Porter". One third of customers loved it, one third thought the beer was spoiled, and one third didn't know what to make of it. I loved it!
What are your plans for the brewery this year? Is there any chance we'll see expansion (and expanded distribution?) We opened our new Hilltop brewery in November of 2007. That was a huge project—it nearly killed me. So we do not have any plans for further expansion beyond continuous improvement projects for energy conservation and beer quality. Absolutely no plans to expand our market. We want to stay small.
What is the craft beer scene like in Wisconsin? Has it changed since you started New Glarus? The market has changed greatly over the seventeen years we have been here. It used to be "Miller Lite" country. Now the national shippers are waning, especially with the recent implosion of Bud. As in the rest of the country, young people are looking for beers with character. People in Wisconsin like to support the local brewers. The future is bright!