A Tale of Two Breweries; Deschutes Brewing and New Glarus Brewing

This is a tale of two breweries.  Two breweries separated by 2000 miles and almost as far apart philosophically.  The thing that brings these two breweries together is a love of great beer and the desire to make it well, and they both do.  Seeing as they both make great beer, we can actually drop this out of the discussion, we know that Deschutes and New Glarus make top quality brews, and we are all the beneficiaries of their good work.  Here I want to focus on the differences of the breweries and some of their philosophies about operating their plants and selling beer.

I recently did something that I really don’t do too much.  I went on the tours at both breweries.  I know I said, you’ve seen one and you’ve seen them all, but I happened to be there, and had some extra time.  I was in Bend about 8 weeks ago and had a spare couple of hours, so I decided to catch the last tour of the day.  The brewery was only a couple minutes from my hotel, so I really didn’t have an excuse to not go.  This was a guided tour of the plant and while the information that the guide gave was really “Beer: 101” I did learn a couple things that I hadn’t known before, like Deschutes is the 5th largest craft brewer in the country, and that they had to close the highway to take delivery of their largest brew tank, because it was too wide to go down the road on its own.  Interesting stuff, and I appreciated the fact that I had a guide there to discuss the merits of the Deschutes beer, and brewing process.

What is even better was after the tour was over, they had a sample room with about 8 beers on tap, and you could sample all of them for free.  This included a selection from their brewmaster series Black Butte Porter XXIII.  It was fantastic, much more stouty than previous years and batches.  I love those roasty caramelly flavors you get from a dark roasted malt.  Another benefit was while they just had a college girl giving the tour  (probably a communications major since her ability to speak far outweighed her knowledge of the product) where they were pouring they had one of their head brewers.  That was great because he was able to get much more technical and gave much more insight into the brewing process for each beer.    Oh, and did I mention that the samples were “FREE”?

Contrast that with New Glarus.  I’m not going to go into detail because Jim already did that yesterday, but the self guided tour was lame.  What I did appreciate was the building and grounds.  It is a beautiful pastoral setting and the brewery itself is immaculate.  While it was a bit like walking through a hospital corridor(some pictures on the walls would really help here) I could appreciate the engineering feat of what it took to lay out and build such a high tech and sophisticated brewery.

Like Jim said, without a guide or any behind the scenes video or tour of any kind, you were basically left up to your own devices to decipher what you were looking at.  This was less than optimal and left it feeling like it was just a gift shop, like Jim described here.

This octopus contraption spun out about 100 beers a minute while I was watching it...Its AWESOME!

One other aspect I discovered during my tours and doing the mental compare and contrast, was that New Glarus Brewery isn’t that much smaller than Deschutes Brewery.  They had roughly the same amount of tanks and pipes and bottling line, etc.  The one thing that Deschutes has that I didn’t see at New Glarus was a bottling octopus.  This machine was amazing, and could be why Deschutes is the fifth largest brewer in the US.

In one rotation this machine would grab a bottle, turn it upside down, rinse it out, dry it, fill it, cap it, and crimp it.  The day I was there it was filling 22 oz bombers and it was filling them at a rate of about 100 bottles a minute.  I can see where a machine like this could really amp up capacity.
Be that as it may, even if production at New Glarus was only half that of Deschutes, why have they chosen to not distribute beyond America’s Dairyland?  Certainly they have the production capability, and God knows that they have the demand for their products, so why then are they so provincial?  Gosh, it would have been nice to have a tour guide to ask that question to.
Despite their lack of a tour, and their charging for samples, and their provincial nature, New Glarus is still a home run of a brewery.  All their beers have character and the care and craftsmanship shines in every bottle and glass.  Deschutes is big, and they thank their customers every day by offering tours and free beer for those that venture into the brewery.  Two very different breweries with two very different philosophies, both making great beer.  I feel privileged to have been able to visit them both this summer.

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11 Comments on “A Tale of Two Breweries; Deschutes Brewing and New Glarus Brewing”

  1. September 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Great post Don! I run into this all of the time when visiting breweries; you go in expecting something great and then come out feeling kind of empty; or you go in without expectations and come out impressed as hell.

    That really surprises me that a company as large as Deschutes gives away free tastes (or maybe it doesn’t since they’re doing that well). Most places I’ve been will give you all of the free tastes you want after ordering an initial pint.

    • Don
      September 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

      Yeah Will, the Deschutes place was a bit different. First there was no place to sit, thus discouraging lingering over samples. They also sold packaged beer, bottles and six packs, along with their usual gift shop swag. But anything off the tap was free. I figure they must make it up in sales of merch, and like you say, obviously they are doing well, so they can afford the freebies. The Hard Hat tour for New Glarus is supposed to be an amazing thing, but it too costs $20, but comes with “free samples” at the end of the tour. I’d love to do that, but our timing just didn’t work out. Perhaps next time.

  2. Don
    September 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    One other thing Will that I forgot to mention, I think their different attitudes can be traced back to their roots. New Glarus is modeled after a Swiss Village, very northern European and uptight. Anyone who has lived in Wisconsin understands exactly what I’m talking about, whether it is Swiss, Dutch, Norwegian, or German, they are all known for high quality and low fun. This brewery reflects that. Contrast that with Bend, and that town was settled by loggers and old hippies. Very laid back and mellow. You get that vibe there in spades. I think this might actually have something to do with the philosophies of both breweries. Lucky for us there is more than one way to skin a cat, and they both make great beer.

    • September 8, 2011 at 9:38 am #

      Well said Don! Having grown up in N. IL and S. WI, I thought the very same thing when I saw your postings. Germanics (and their get like me–German/Danish on my Mom’s side) can come off as stiff and stand-offish (not to mention very correct) by most other cultures’ standards. The up-side is that we’re also usually perceived as honest and hard-working. I suspect that some positive suggestions sent their way would not be amiss and might well be followed. You just have to nudge them out of their box a little. Also Germanics usually LOVE beer and schnapps!

    • September 8, 2011 at 11:55 am #

      Personally I think the whole stereotype on Germanic peoples is a bunch of BS. My mother’s family is all German, and you’ll never meet a more outgoing, fun loving bunch. From personal experience of living in Europe, you can find the purported traits ascribed to northern Europeans in every country, and in a good portion of the population.

      I think what you’re describing is just an upper midwest thing. 😉

      • Don
        September 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

        Could be, but don’t break our delusions! We have blamed Northern Europe for the “Stick in Ass” stereotype forever, and we can’t stand the thought that it might actually have something to do with our own personality flaws! 😉

        • September 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

          Exactly. I blame my love of drinking beer on not only my German blood, but also the Swedish, and the Irish I have in me!

        • Don
          September 8, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

          Yes Will, Bursting bubbles is the work of tyrants and Kings.

      • September 9, 2011 at 10:26 am #

        Will, I said that Germanics “can come off as stiff and stand-offish” not that they were.
        Everyone views the world through a glass colored by his/her own cultural perspectives. Thus a “Germanic” often sees a “Latin” as “pushy”. I’d be willing to bet that even your personal space is bigger than your Italian-American neighbor’s. As a matter of interest, even tho Ireland is far north, its culture has been most closely matched to Latin cultures based on just such things as perceived personal space. Also, the American experience has changed our cultural perspective from that of our European forebears. Americans– even German Americans–are said to be primarily extroverted, while Europeans are said to be primarily introverted. Of course the people who defined those terms and did the evaluations that led to those conclusions have their own cultural biases…so….

        • Don
          September 9, 2011 at 10:30 am #

          …and the wheel keeps turning…

  3. September 8, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    New Glarus was in Chicago at one time, distributed by the now defunct Global Beverage who won the contract. He then sold the business to a distributor that New Glarus wanted nothing to do with. Shortly after New Glarus pulled out of Illinois. It may be a coincidence…

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