Known as “America’s Little Switzerland”, New Glarus is a town of just over 2,000 in Green County, Wisconsin. Fitting that it is in Green County, as the surrounding hills are just that, brilliantly verdant even under dark storm clouds as we arrive in town.
I first visited New Glarus in 1997. A friend and I stopped in town on the way back to Chicago after a camping trip further north in Wisconsin. I remember looking around at the charming chalet-type buildings and the hills beyond and thought, “I really need to come back here when I have more time.”
It took almost twenty years but I finally made it back to New Glarus just a few weeks ago, on the way home from our awesome “camping” trip in Wisconsin Dells. We arrived right around lunchtime so we stopped at Puempel’s Olde Tavern. The lunch menu is simple but solid, and the real star at Puempel’s is the history. The establishment dates back to 1893 and originally operated as a boarding house for railroad workers. Today, it remains “an example of rare authentic taverns in the U.S.” and reminds us of a much simpler time.
Along with being known as America’s Little Switzerland, New Glarus is also known for its beer. That’s the real reason we stopped there, to visit New Glarus Brewing Company. We were (kind of) in the neighborhood and New Glarus beers are not available in Illinois, so it was almost mandatory that we pay a visit. Yes, the kids came along but, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you already know that The Working Dad and I are not afraid to bring our kids to places like breweries and wineries.
The brewery is just a short drive outside of town, situated atop a hill at the end of a beautifully twisty road. I was shocked when we reached the parking lot, for I was so not expecting the enormity of the grounds and the buildings! We ascended the stone stairway to reach the tasting room but were distracted by the expansive beer garden opposite its entrance. It’s more like a European city square, surrounded by replica buildings characteristic of Old World cities, and dotted with picnic tables and pergolas. There is no question that this is the nicest and coolest beer garden I have ever seen. (When you visit, be sure to walk to the very back of the terrace to enjoy the scenic overlook of the green valley below.) We eventually made it into the tasting room where, for $3.50, guests are able to sample three different New Glarus beers and take home the souvenir glass. Quite a steal, if you ask me. In the order of my preference, I tried Serendipity, Totally Naked, and Dancing Man Wheat. Now, I’m not one for fruit beers, but that Serendipity is out of this world! Described as “a kaleidoscope of Wisconsin fruit”, Serendipity was first made by total accident. I can also rave about New Glarus’s other fruit beers, Raspberry Tart and Wisconsin Belgian Red (made with Door County cherries). To let Lucia in on the beverage-tasting fun, we got her a root beer from the gift shop and she sipped and savored along with us.
Of course we had to stop at the Beer Depot, the brewery’s on-site retail store, before hitting the road back to Chicago. The Working Dad must really trust my will power, for he sent me in alone so he could get the kids situated in their car seats. I behaved, though, leaving with a box o’ beers retailing at just under $50. Since we’ve been home for more than two weeks, many of the beers we brought home have been consumed. On one hand, this makes me extremely sad; on the other, it gives me hope – hope that we will soon return to New Glarus, to once again hang out in Little Switzerland and also to stock up on our favorite brews.