Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

R&D Golden Ale

New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, WI

Style: Golden Ale
ABV: 7.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

Xanadu …

This past weekend found Nigel, Franz, and a few other chums on an annual camping trip, moved this year to Spring Green, Wisconsin (home of Furthermore Beer, House on the Rock, and the summer home of Frank Lloyd Wright) after a couple of years in New London, Wisconsin (home of … absolutely nothing). After a couple of days of tubing, campfires, eating, and drinking, Sunday found us somehow still anxious for more leisure activities. Given the beautiful weather, an excursion some 30 miles southeast through the picturesque southwestern Wisconsin landscape seemed ideal, especially given that on the other end would be New Glarus and the new state-of-the-art brewery that none of us had yet to see. After a brief stop at the charming New Glarus Hotel for a tasty lunch and a stop at a cheese and fudge shop for another taste of Switzerland (for those of you unfamiliar, New Glarus is a Swiss village that somehow ended up in Wisconsin), it was off to see the new shrine to brewing that the Careys had recently built.

Stunning. Absolutely incredible. Top notch. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the impressive facility, with Old World architecture and New World technology combining to create some of the finest craft beer anywhere, and an atmosphere that anyone with a pulse could enjoy. Franz, who is in the brewing industry (no lie, just don’t ask where as it’s classified information) was as impressed as the rest of us. The tours were free and semi-self guided (a brewer was on hand to give everyone a short run-through, despite the fact they weren’t brewing on Sunday). Situated atop one of the many lush, green hills just south of New Glarus, the facility reminds you of an old Swiss mansion on the outside. On the inside is a facility that is perfectly kept, with all of the latest technology that churns out the wide variety of craft brews in the New Glarus lineup. A gift shop, large tasting hall, outdoor seating area overlooking the village, and beer depot rounded out the facility, which was adequately staffed with friendly, knowledgeable employees. While it may sound as though I’m on the payroll in the marketing department, trust me … I’m not (though if offered, I’d gladly accept). Facts are facts, and this is an impressive, must-see facility for anyone traveling to the area.

Though Nigel is fortunate to live in Wisconsin and thus have plenty of access to the eclectic New Glarus lineup, I did venture to the beer depot in case I could locate anything new that has yet to be released statewide, or older brews that may still be on hand. Much to my pleasure, there was one brew available that I hadn’t yet discovered: R&D Golden Ale, a 7 percent ABV brew that combines a number of unique elements to create a new taste sensation (hence the “R&D” portion of the title, which also happens to be “Randy and Dan,” for New Glarus brewmasters Randy Thiel and Dan Carey). Packaged in an unusual 500 ml. (16.9 oz.) bottle with a label that appears to be of the R&D variety (as in, it looks like notes taken in a notepad, ripped out, and pasted on the bottle), this Golden Ale was a bit pricey ($8 for a bottle at the brewery), but was something I couldn’t pass up.

The label indicates that R&D Golden Ale was brewed on March 23, bottled June 18, and checks in at 7 percent ABV, 38 IBUs, and 15° Plato. In a recent interview that I read, Dan Carey indicated that R&D was not just a one-time deal, but is meant to be a new line of powerful, experimental brews to go above and beyond the current Unplugged Series. I find that shocking, given the fact that the Unplugged line had some of the most unique, powerful brews that any of us Dorks have ever seen. Take it up another notch? Hard to fathom, buy I’m all for it and can’t wait. It would appear that the R&D line will in fact be released elsewhere in the state, though I don’t have any information on when, where, or in what capacity.

I purchased two bottles of Golden Ale, one to review right off the bat and another to store, in case it never makes its way to Milwaukee. The crack of the bottle cap gave me instant gratification: the most beautiful smell of light hops and spice that I’ve experienced in quite some time. Though registering 38 IBUs (moderate by most accounts, but high for a golden ale), the light, effervescent aroma of hoppy gold tingled the nostrils, sending Nigel into euphoria. Spicy notes of black pepper and coriander come through next, as does quite a bit of light fruitiness, making it clear that this is designed after a Belgian golden/pale ale. The pour revealed a decent white head about a finger deep that slowly dissipated, leaving a frothy lace throughout the rest of the session. Yes, the golden ale is in fact golden in color, only slightly darker than a macro lager. A touch cloudy with bubbles dancing throughout, it’s heavily carbonated and, though very light, is a nice looking brew in my New Glarus pint glass.

The flavor backs up the impressive aroma, though the hops and spice switch spots. Initial flavors of spicy black pepper, coriander, and clove innundate the tongue initially, which, when combined with the carbonation, gives it a noticeable bite. Next comes some fruity notes, mainly orange zest, green apple, and pear. A tinge of hoppiness follows, though with the spicy profile, it’s hard to pinpoint their origin. As a Belgian-style ale, one would expect a European hop to be the key player, but you can’t make assumptions when New Glarus hits the experimental button. Regardless, the hops are light and floral, with earthy undertones that play perfectly in a brew that has become quite complex as the session has progressed. The earthy undertones are aided by wheat malt that helps keep things light, while not spoiling the spicy, fruity, and hoppy notes that make it so unique. All in all a complex brew that is indeed incredibly unique and tasty and I can now see why it’s packaged as it is: while light and refreshing, it’s loaded with complex flavors and a biting spiciness that makes it a challenging, though rewarding, drink—16.9 ounces is plenty for one session.

I was extremely impressed with R&D Golden Ale, and my only suggestion would be this: it seems a bit too fresh. It’s a style that often improves with age, and I’m thinking my second bottle, which will be in storage for a while, will be much more rewarding. Some of the bite may be cut down a bit, and my tongue will thank me for that. BUT … this was plenty rewarding in itself. A wonderful blend of spice, hops, fruit, and wheat makes for a brew that is complex while remaining light, and, like the brewery itself, is an ode to both old and new world brewing styles. R&D is over … let’s get this baby on store shelves for the world to enjoy!


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on August 4, 2009.
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