Serving contraband New Glarus beers was fun while it lasted for one LoHi bar
Like Colorado, Wisconsin has a long beer tradition and a new breed of craft brewers. The most well-known is probably New Glarus, a brewery that has reached cult status nationwide because of unusual fruit beers like Wisconsin Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart -- and because it only distributes in Wisconsin and has no plans to change that.
Which is why beer lovers frequenting a certain hip lower highlands restaurant (which will remain nameless) thought they were in heaven for about two months at the end of 2011. The restaurant was serving 750 ml bottles of New Glarus's flagship, Wisconsin Belgian Red, for $22 each.
But the fun didn't last. It's illegal in Colorado for restaurants to buy and serve beer made by brewers who don't have a state import license - something that this restaurant's liquor attorney adamantly pointed out once he found out what was going on.
"We did it for six weeks. We even had a it printed on our menu," says Mike Henderson, bar manager at the restaurant. "But our lawyer said we needed to remove it immediately."
It's not unusual for restaurant and bars to serve beers - knowingly or unknowingly -- that don't distribute in their states. In July 2010, New York's BLT Bar & Grill announced via Twitter that it would serve New Belgium's Fat Tire - a beer that has its own cult status on the East Coast - at its upcoming opening. The news created a huge stir until BLT posted again, saying it could no longer serve the beer.
And, for New Year's Eve, a popular beer-centric Boulder restaurant served beers from Portland, Maine's Allagash Brewing, with which it has a long-standing relationship. Allagash distributed in Colorado several years ago, but no longer has accounts here and doesn't plan to return anytime soon.
Henderson, who hails from Madison, Wisconsin, explains that he has a huge love and appreciation for New Glarus beers and wanted to share them with his customers. So he had a friend and later some family send him cases of the beer.
"It got two cases at first and we sold those out right away," he says. "It was great for a while. It was the most talked about beer on our menu."
Once he got the word to take it off the menu, however, Henderson decided to give the rest of his stash away as Christmas presents. Lucky friends.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.