The maker of Spotted Cow, Moon Man and dozens of other craft beers may no longer limit itself to just brewing.
New Glarus Brewing Co. is working on a plan to build a distillery.
Dan Carey, co-founder and brewmaster of the company that is nearing production of 200,000 barrels of beer a year, said they are still in the development phase of the project, haven’t determined where the facility would be built and that distilling is likely a year away. Carey confirmed the project Wednesday after the company posted a help wanted ad on its website in search of a “distiller/brewer” to support the goal of “crafting world class beer & spirits.”
“Distilling is a natural extension of brewing because you have to brew before you still, so for us it’s an interesting and creative expression,” Carey said. “It’s going to take some time to figure out all of the idiosyncrasies of the new business. We need to decide what we’re going to do, where we’re going to do it and what we’re going to make ... while we’re doing all of the other things we’re doing.”
The brewery is in the midst of an $8 million expansion project that includes the construction of a $2 million canning line, a new warehouse, new keg line and additions to the bottling line. Moon Man in 12-pack cans will likely be released by the end of the year, Carey said, followed by the flagship Spotted Cow and other beers that are now sold only on draft or in bottles.
The distillery could include two stills: a 75-liter pilot still and a 600-liter commercial still, according to the job posting. The position would also include barrel management, including cooperage maintenance; and packaging operations related to distillery products. Carey spent two weeks in 2014 learning about distilling at Moonshine University in Louisville, Kentucky, and has been working with another Wisconsin distiller, which he declined to identify, to learn more about the process and distilling test batches.
In November, New Glarus Brewing applied for a federal trademark for a New Glarus Beer Schnapps, according to a filing. The brewery does not yet have a license to distill, Carey said.
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Mark Garthwaite, executive director of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, said there are about 120 breweries in the state and another 27 under construction or in the planning phase. He would not be surprised to see more take on distilling.
“If they can do multiple products it creates more options for people to come to your establishment,” Garthwaite said. “This is not a lighthearted decision for a business to make. It takes a lot of talent and expertise and knowledge to know how to do all this stuff.”
Craft distilling has been on the rise both nationally and in Wisconsin. In 1990, there were just seven craft distilleries in the country but that number could hit 1,000 by 2018, according to estimates from the American Distilling Institute. Wisconsin had just three distillers in 2007, but today there are nearly 30 distillery operations in the state.
Most of those are stand-alone operations, such as Yahara Bay Distillers in Madison. In December, owner Nick Quint announced a $1.5 million plan to convert a former yoga studio at 6250 Nesbitt Road in Fitchburg into a 20,000-square-foot distillery, tasting room and events facility. Some distilleries, however, are affiliated with a winery. They include Aeppeltreow Winery & Distillery in Burlington, Door County Distillery next to Door Peninsula Winery near Sturgeon Bay and White Winter Winery & Distillery in Iron River. In August, Wollersheim Winery unveiled a $4 million, 25,000-square-foot distilling facility at its vineyard in northwestern Dane County.
New Glarus would become just the second brewery in the state to open a distillery. In nearby Monroe, Minhas Craft Brewery opened a distillery operation about 10 years ago and today makes a wide line of whiskey, vodka, tequila, liqueurs, rum and gin.
Carey, who founded the brewery with his wife, Deb Carey, in 1993, describes the proposed distillery at New Glarus as “boutique” but with customers determining how much and what type of products will be made.
“It’s a small thing we’re going to do for fun just to learn the business,” Carey said. “We’re still in a discovery phase. Nothing is set in stone. There’s no final blueprints, just conceptual drawings.”