Deborah Carey

New Glarus Brewing Company
Deborah Carey

New Glarus Brewing Company
Founded: 1993 
Headquarters: New Glarus, Wisconsin
Revenues: Over $22 million
What it does: Brews craft beer

Craft breweries have been springing up all across the country the past several years, particularly in urban areas. Consider Deborah Carey a pioneer in the movement. She opened her company, New Glarus Brewing, nearly 20 years ago—and in the bucolic Wisconsin city of New Glarus, many miles from a major urban area.

That location hasn’t stopped Carey—whose husband, Dan, is the company’s master brewer—from building New Glarus Brewing into a $22 million firm producing 92,000 barrels of beer a year. Though that quantity of brew is dwarfed by the likes of Bud and Miller, it does make New Glarus into a sizeable regional brewer. Last year, noting New Glarus Brewing’s 64 percent growth over three years, Inc. magazine added the company to its annual listing of the USA’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies.

The Careys also have won numerous awards for the variety of their beers, which include year-round brews Moon Man and Raspberry Tart (the latter brewed with the eponymous berries) as well as stouts, smoked beers, and other seasonal specialties.

Deborah Carey has been an entrepreneur since her high school years, when she started her own card business. To start New Glarus Brewing, she sold her family’s house in 1993 to raise seed money and secured a location at an abandoned warehouse. She then successfully bid on brewing equipment from an SBA foreclosure sale of a brewpub in Appleton, Wisconsin, and rounded up more than 25 investors. Less than six months later, New Glarus was producing beer.

“I do think in hindsight that it was a little crazy,” Carey says of the decision to sell their home. “But at the time, it seemed like it made perfect sense to me.”

The brewery broke even its first year. By 1996, just three years after the brewery started, New Glarus reached maximum brewing capacity. It outgrew a series of small expansions over the next several years; in 2006, the company began construction on a new $21 million, state-of-the-art facility.

Carey is an artist as well as an entrepreneur. She handles all of the marketing of the brewery’s beers, including coming up with their distinctive names and designing the artwork for all the labels. Carey also oversees financing, contracts, sales and distribution, investor relations, and legal and legislative issues.

“The Careys are extremely well-respected in the craft beer community,” says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a Colorado-headquartered trade association for smaller breweries. Gatza cites the company’s reputation for innovative products. The brewery’s focus on its home state “has really worked for them,” he adds. This has allowed New Glarus to avoid working with out-of-state distributors, which would take control of the product’s sales out of its own hands. (Sadly for Minnesota beer fans, New Glarus isn’t yet available here.)

New Glarus Brewing now has more than 60 employees and has plans to add more in 2011. Although the company is growing rapidly, Carey doesn’t have immediate plans to expand distribution outside her home state.

“I am focused on Wisconsin,” she says. “This is what makes us profitable. The idea is to first make world-class beer, take care of the people who are working here, and then we’ll see how big we grow.”