Going Swiss in New Glarus, Wisconsin

Thirty minutes before I left the office for the airport to catch our flight to the US, I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. I always wonder how people manage to do something so ridiculous, but now I know – one second, it was in the back pocket of my jeans, the next, it was in the bowl. I rescued it within seconds, but it still wouldn’t turn back on. I panicked (it’s a work phone that doubles as a personal phone) and called Jared, hoping to catch him before he left the house to come pick me up.

“Rice,” I said. “Bring rice.”

The Internet said that immersing a wet phone in rice was a pointless endeavor, but I was willing to try anything. For nearly three hours the phone sat in a plastic tub of rice, and I tucked it into my carry on bag all the way to Chicago. When we arrived at my sister’s Lincoln Park apartment I pulled it out.

“Here goes,” I said, and pressed the power button. An image flashed up on the screen, demanding that I plug in the charger. I scrambled for the charger and stuck it in, only to meet resistance. The plug wouldn’t go into the phone.

“Something’s busted inside,” I moaned. “The interior must have swelled up from the water.”

So the phone went into my suitcase, where it lived for the entire trip. That meant no photos, no social media, and no mindless flicking through screens when I was bored. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise – I wasn’t attached to my phone and I was still able to use Jared’s little Samsung. Despite its cracked screen, it still took photographs. It is because of that Samsung that I was able to take pictures of the Jewel of Wisconsin: New Glarus.

OK, I made up that part about it being the Jewel of Wisconsin. Nobody actually calls it that, but what they do call it (or the town calls itself) is America’s Little Switzerland. Founded 25 miles south of Madison by Swiss settlers in 1845, New Glarus is now famous for its brewery and Swiss heritage. If you’re into that kind of thing, here’s the back story:

New Glarus, WI info

Sadly I did not hear anyone speaking the Swiss-German dialect.

I’ll summarize for you because if you’re lazy like me you probably stopped reading halfway down: Nicholas Duerst and Fridolin Streiff came from Switzerland to buy land, and although the first 5 years were hard, the settlers eventually established a prosperous society where everyone ate cheese and was happy.

I mention Nicholas Duerst because we rented the first floor of the Duerst Guest House, built in 1914 and still owned by descendents of the original builder. Who incidentally was not Nicholas Duerst but John Duerst, though I am pretty sure they were related.

New Glarus is small, so it’s walkable. From the center of town you can easily access the Sugar River Trail, which takes you through 24 miles of farmland from New Glarus to Brodhead. The trail starts at the local visitor’s center, which used to be a train line. I didn’t take any photos because we opted to run the trail (not the whole thing, obvs) and photography + running do not mix for me.

The town looks about as Swiss as it can:

New Glarus Wisconsin

Nothing says Switzerland like a super long impractical horn that sounds like a cow.

America's Little Switzerland

Willkomen to Little Switzerland.

Though not everything is intuitively Swiss. You’ve got to have a little Wisconsin thrown in there somewhere, right?

New Glarus pig wings

I didn’t try these, and now I regret it.

New Glarus art

The art of New Glarus

New Glarus art sign

There’s always one guy who ruins it for everyone.

I’m not a churchgoer myself, but I do find them interesting. When I Googled this one to find out some background info, I was struck by their manifesto, which reads:

Our faith leads us to affirm all persons.
We celebrate and share our common communion with all, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or national origin, physical ability, age, educational background, economic or social status, faith background, family structure or marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. 

Even a pagan like me can see the beauty in that message.

New Glarus Church

Take me to church…just kidding. It’s a good looking church though.

New Glarus Brewery

I love cheese, ice cream, and the promise of Swiss-ness, but let’s be real: the New Glarus Brewery was the draw card for us. The interesting thing about this brewery is that its beer is not sold outside of the state of Wisconsin. If you want a Spotted Cow or a Belgian Red Cherry Ale, you’ve got to make the trip to the dairy state. Turns out there are a lot of cool breweries in the Midwest (shout out to Solemn Oath in Naperville, Illinois – still sad I missed out on the ‘promiscuous apostrophe’ beer) that do this, but New Glarus is one of the best-known.

The brewery itself is just outside of town. So close, in fact, that we decided to walk there. It was an easy 30 minute walk, and quiet at 10 am on a Wednesday in July. The brewery was established in 1993, so although it *looks* old-timey, it is not. A fact that snuck by one patron, a young boy who asked his mom, “What did this used to be?” as he gazed, awestruck at the ancient-ruin-themed beergarden.

His mom’s answer? “I don’t know, honey.” *facepalm*

New Glarus Brewery outside

Not quite as authentic, perhaps, as the rest of the town

New Glarus Brewery beergarden

Sampling the cherry beer in the beergarden.

The brewery tour is self-guided, and you can buy a beer from the bar before you set off. For $8 you get a sampler of 3 small beers, and they’ll wash the tasting glass (pictured above) and send it home with you. It was early and we weren’t feeling particularly beery, so this was a great option. The brewery tour took about 15-20 minutes, and my favorite part by far was the bottling room.

New Glarus Brewery inside

Very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Except with beer.

New Glarus Brewing Co Bottling room

Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood for adults.

New Glarus Brewing tap list

The tap list – all of New Glarus’s signature beers.

Although I enjoyed the overall experience and would recommend it, I wasn’t bowled over by the beers themselves. This could be because most of the beers are lagers and ales, whereas I tend to be a pale ale/IPA/Belgian wheat drinker. It could be because it was 10 in the morning. However it must be noted that the brewery does a special ‘Thumbprint series,’ small batch beers with limited availability. We purchased some Scream IIPAs at the supermarket, and that was an excellent beer.

Ale Asylum

A guy at the Solemn Oath brewery in Illinois suggested that we go to Ale Asylum in Madision, so we made the half hour drive from New Glarus to have lunch there. This is a big, new-looking brewery near the airport with several beers on tap. We started with the Hopalicious, which was ok, but the real star of the show was the food. Since Jared was driving, I ordered a sampler of the beers…unfortunately I can now remember very little about my preferences. #bloggerfail

Ale Asylum Hopalicious

Hopalicious. I’m not just witty, that was the name of the beer.

Ale Asylum food

Fried cheese with honey, almonds, and jam and a plate of stuffed jalapenos. YESSS.

To round out our New Glarus experience, we went to the Sportsmans bar and ordered some fried cheese curds. They sounded gross to me but they were basically fried cheese, and you can’t go wrong with that. The next day we popped into a cheese shop on main street and bought some ice cream cones, muenster, jalapeno pepper jack, and a packet of peanut brittle (which later got left behind in a hotel room, unopened. Still sad about that) to round out the trip.

You’ll notice there are no images of the ice cream or cheese curds – sometimes my priorities remain with the here and now, especially when there is fried cheese waiting to be eaten.

As for my crippled phone? My first day back at work I discovered a piece of dried rice in the charger port. I picked out the rice, plugged in the charger, and it’s as good as new. I could have had a picture of those cheese curds after all, but it’s just as well that what I do have is the near-tangible memory of how good they tasted.

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