Spotted Cow is a flavorful, refreshing ale that is very popular in its home state of Wisconsin. It’s made by New Glarus Brewing and is the brewery’s best-selling brand thanks to its rich, full-bodied taste.
Spotted Cow is a subtly fruity, sweet beer available exclusively in the state of Wisconsin. New Glarus classifies Spotted Cow as a farmhouse ale with a soft, almost creamy texture and a full, rich flavor. Spotted Cow enjoys enormous popularity in Wisconsin and, despite its limited reach, is one of the biggest craft breweries in the USA.
Spotted Cow, despite its core market of dedicated drinkers, is virtually impossible to get outside of Wisconsin. For those who want to know what it’s like to try a Spotted Cow but can’t make the trip, we’ve put together this article. Below, we’ll take you on a Spotted Cow tasting tour, introducing you to the beer’s distinctive flavor, smell, appearance, and colorful history.
Any seasoned beer drinker will tell you that flavor is their chief consideration when contemplating a new brew. A beer’s flavor – or lack thereof – can make a world of difference to how and when you choose to enjoy it.
Spotted Cow is a remarkably balanced beer with a full, rich flavor palate and dry finish that blatantly encourages a second sip.
As the first wave of the beer washes over the tip of the tongue, you’ll notice a distinctive sweet citrus character riding on top of the beer’s malt flavor. There’s a touch of zesty lemon, and the citrus tang is beautifully balanced by fruity, hoppy sweetness. The citrus character of this beer puts one in mind of the lemon sherbet flavor of some Belgian witbiers.
This mellow lemon flavor works very well with the beer’s natural malty sweetness, and as the beer moves toward the back end, it offers a touch of pleasant spice. The spice is very subtle and far from peppery but serves to add an extra touch of complexity to the beer. Spotted Cow has a nice dry finish with a minimal lingering aftertaste. There’s quite a lot going on with this farmhouse ale, and it’s very easy to take another pull from the glass once the first sip is over and done with.
Beneath all these complex flavors is a persistent, pleasant sweet malt. It’s close in character to the malty sweetness of European summer ales. This maltiness stubbornly refuses to give way to the tart lemon flavors, which works very well to balance this beer’s overall flavor profile. Instead of being dominated by one flavor or another, Spotted Cow offers a well-balanced, easy drinking experience. In fact, the most remarkable thing about Spotted Cow is that, despite its relative complexity, it is very drinkable, perhaps thanks to this balance and dry finish. Overall, this is an easy-drinking beer with plenty of rich, rewarding flavor in every sip.
Spotted Cow’s mouthfeel is one of its major selling points. It might seem a touch contradictory at first, but Spotted Cow’s mouthfeel is at once creamy and refreshing.
Spotted Cow, as it washes over the palate, has a soft, creamy feel with some light carbonation. This isn’t a fizzy beer, nor is it watery, with a medium-to-full level of body in each sip. Although it is quite heavy for an American beer, Spotted Cow remains very refreshing and is perfect for drinking in warm weather. It’s easy to imagine enjoying several Spotted Cows on a patio in the springtime.
Overall, the initial feeling of hefty creaminess quickly gives way, leaving you refreshed after every sip.
Judging Spotted Cow’s flavor by its smell would leave you very surprised. Despite this beer’s full, rich flavor, its smell is somewhat subdued.
Spotted Cow’s aroma offers floral, grainy notes, with some broader woodiness for good measure. Its smell feels a little removed from its taste, closer to the faint malty aromas of other American beers. While Spotted Cow definitely has some character to its nose, the beer’s aroma is nowhere near as complex or full as its flavor.
Spotted Cow looks absolutely beautiful in a glass. It pours a cloudy golden-yellow beer with a thick, foamy white head. The head dissipates slowly, sticking around long enough to give an eager drinker a snowy white foam mustache. As the head gives way, it leaves plenty of webbing on the glass, and the carbonation in the body of the beer remains lively and hazy.
This beer’s hazy appearance comes from the brewing process. As an unfiltered ale, the brewer’s yeast remains in the beer throughout the brewing and will be noticeable in your glass or bottle. This yeast can sometimes settle in the bottom of a bottle, so it’s worth gently rolling your Spotted Cow before opening it to ensure that the yeast isn’t sitting at the bottom and you get the full flavor experience.
The brewer’s yeast is left in this beer, not to cloud it but to enhance the broad fullness of flavor for which Spotted Cow is famous. It might well be the “spotty” appearance of this beer when freshly poured, which inspired its name.
Overall, Spotted Cow is a distinctive, attractive beer. It looks not unlike a hefeweizen or Belgian white, with its cloudy, yellow appearance.
Spotted Cow Alcohol Percentage and Calories
Spotted Cow has an ABV of 4.8% and 150 calories in each 12oz bottle. This is standard for a farmhouse ale, and Spotted Cow is definitely heftier and more calorific than any light beer.
Why Does Spotted Cow Taste Like This?
New Glarus Brewing claims that Spotted Cow’s distinctive flavor comes primarily from their time-honored brewing practises.
Specifically, New Glarus cites “the Reinheitsgebot purity law,” whereby they only use handpicked, natural yeast, hops, water, and malted barley. In the brewing process, they leave the yeast in the beer, enhancing the beer’s fullness of flavor and giving Spotted Cow its characteristic hazy appearance. Spotted Cow is also cask-conditioned, contributing to its robust flavor.
In contrast to the self-stated “purity law”, others claim that In Spotted Cow’s brewing process, New Glarus uses a blend of Pilsner malt, white wheat, and caramel malt. The water used is from a well at the New Glarus brewery, which is hard rather than soft. New Glarus’ choice of hops is Saaz, and they use German ale yeast to brew Spotted Cow.
Spotted Cow History
Spotted Cow is the best-selling of all New Glarus beers. The company was founded in 1993 and launched Spotted Cow in 1997. Spotted Cow came into being following brewmaster Dan Carey’s acquisition of $1 million worth of brewing equipment from a retiring German brewmaster, who sold Carey his gear for the scrap metal price of only $24,000.
The idea for Spotted Cow came from brewmaster Dan Carey’s trip to a historic Wisconsin farmhouse. Upon discovering beer bubbling away on the stove, he wondered what kind of beer early German immigrants might have made. Although lagers were very popular, many of them were making ales, likely using imported Saaz hops. To this day, Carey uses “the finest Saaz he can get during selection in Europe”.
Although Spotted Cow originally contained some corn, Carey has since removed corn from the recipe, citing GMO concerns, replacing it with a low-protein malt.
Today, Spotted Cow is the best-selling draft beer in Wisconsin. It is nearly ubiquitous across the state and very hard to try outside of Wisconsin. In fact, one New York City bar was raided in 2009 for illegally selling Spotted Cow. New Glarus’ only attempt to sell outside of Wisconsin, a move into the Illinois market, was quickly abandoned due to the brewery’s inability to produce enough product to meet demand in both states.
What Do Other People Think?
It’s always worth seeing how others view a brew. Since Spotted Cow is pretty much only available in Wisconsin (notwithstanding a short foray into Illinois), many beer enthusiasts visiting the Badger State make a point of trying it. We looked across the internet for Spotted Cow reviews, weighted them, and determined an average score in the table below.
Spotted Cow enjoys almost unanimously positive reviews across the board. Most reviews appreciated the beer’s creamy mouthfeel and complex, rewarding flavor profile. Some reviewers expressed confusion regarding the beer’s categorization, with reviewers variously evaluating it as a Saison, a pale ale, or a cream ale. Overall, however, Spotted Cow drinkers had mostly positive opinions of the beer.
Here’s what one Beeradvocate reviewer had to say about their Spotted Cow experience:
“Evaluate this beer for the style it is. If you love IPAs, you may find titweak, for instance. It is a golden/farmhouse ale. By that standard its exceptional. Much more full-bodied, with a very nice richness on the palate. This beer can “free” your neighbor from the evil grip that Miller & Bud have on them if you sell it a bit. Fairly cloudy, a hint of wheat. Perfect for warm weather. Often the first brew I drink b4 transitioning to an IPA. WELL DONE.”Source