In Wisconsin, only cheese curds and Brett Favre are held in higher regard than Spotted Cow.
There are nearly 200 breweries in Wisconsin, including world-class ones the likes of the Brewing Projekt, Central Waters and, of course, New Glarus. New Glarus Brewing produces ten of the top 15 highest rated beers made in the Badger State. Unsurprisingly, Spotted Cow isn’t one of them.
You can only buy Spotted Cow in Wisconsin, which is both the beer’s most attractive feature and its greatest flaw. Although beloved in its home state and coveted by thirsty neighbors, Spotted Cow has faced backlash from the craft beer community for not living up to its own legend. The conversation is no longer centered around the question, “Is Spotted Cow good?” Now, the beer is at the center of an inquisition. Travelers arrive to Wisconsin, drink a bottle and ponder, “Was Spotted Cow worth it?”
Critics of Spotted Cow are quick to equate complexity with quality. Spotted Cow is not a complex beer, nor has it ever claimed to be. In the great Midwestern tradition of the canoe beer, Spotted Cow only aspired to be a cheap and easy go-to for those lucky enough to be in its distribution circle. For the past 21 years, it has accomplished exactly that.
America needs to reassess this beer’s peers, but in the meantime, it’ll continue to satisfy the splinter of the population that gets to enjoy it.”
The cornerstone of Spotted Cow’s flavor profile is its unfiltered body. There are still little bits of unflocculated of yeast in every bottle, making the beer pour a gorgeous cloudy yellow. That also smooths out the flavor, which is why Spotted Cow is so commonly mistaken for a cream ale, when in fact it’s a saison. You won’t find those earthy, pepper flavors of saison yeast though, as the classic meat-and-potatoes glory of brewer’s yeast shines through the beer.
Another utilitarian quality of the beer is the corn in the malt bill. Sweetening the bready character of the flaked barley, the corn adds a grain belt charm to Spotted Cow. It harkens back to a time—specifically, the early 2000s—when drinkers didn’t need to be beguiled or accosted to enjoy a beer. The tiny tweaks are enough to elevate this bear above the realm of macros but not enough to make it inaccessible to anyone.
You know who this beer is competing with from the first sip, and it’s not Brewing Projekt or Central Waters. America needs to reassess this beer’s peers, but in the meantime, it’ll continue to satisfy the splinter of the population that gets to enjoy it.