When you drive the unglaciated, rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin, it seems like there’s an interesting and historic small town around every bend in the road. The two we visit here are worth the trip for their immersion in European heritage, not to mention some hip charm and a hallowed hall of beer.
Number of trolls, mostly wood-carved, throughout the village. To meet them all, pick up a map at the Welcome Center, 300 E. Main St.
Trolling for Cool
FIRST IT WAS THE Norwegian heritage, then antiques, then the carved trolls that popped up around town. All are still part of the draw for visitors to Mount Horeb, but these days the village west of Madison has settled in to just being what it is: a bit of a hipster Mayberry that’s fun to wander.
Local food and beverage options abound, with locally made wine, cider and beer all on tap. Even the Driftless Historium gets in on the local eats, partnering with UW-Platteville dairy science students who make ice cream sold there.
More recreational pleasures include trail or road cycling, with the Military Ridge State Trail bisecting the village on its route between Madison and Dodgeville and country roads extending in all directions into the undulating countryside.
Downtown, shops offer Norwegian goods, fancy soaps or craft sodas. Choose from 450 varieties, from Frostie Strawberry Watermelon to Werewolf Howling Ginger Beer, at The Pop Place (213 E. Main St.). It’s also the corporate headquarters – and home of the first retail store – of Duluth Trading Co., which helps explain the sight of so many people in flannel wandering Main Street over the lunch hour.
The Cow’s Cradle
SOMETIMES, A BREWERY VISIT is just that, something to do on an unspoken-for Saturday. Other times, it’s a pilgrimage. New Glarus Brewing, for a great many people in this state and out, is the latter.
Your visit will probably begin with the most ho-hum part of your experience here. New Glarus’ 10-year-old facility, built-in camouflage as a European farm village atop a hill on the edge of town, is impressive on its technical merits, with towering tank farms, a maze of plumbing and clacking packaging machinery. But the tour is self-guided and lacks the charm and personality that a fired-up guide can bring.
But there’s beer! You’re here to drink Spotted Cow – or world-class wild and fruit beers, or any other of the traditional styles New Glarus executes perfectly – from the source, which makes it all the more special. And you’ll be able to pick up bottles of exclusive brewery-only releases to save for a special occasion or curry favor with a beer-geek loved one.
But what brewery visits are really about is the immersion in everything a brewery is about, and at New Glarus the place that culture truly comes to life is in the beer garden. Pergolas and trees shade this sprawling terrace, and seemingly secret pathways lead to cloistered sets of seating from which to drain your new souvenir pint glass and take in the stunning views of the countryside. Arrive at the right time and there just might be a couple of guys blowing “Amazing Grace” on alphorns.
It’s is a slice of the old world right here in Wisconsin.
Where to Eat
Pick your poison at these two Mount Horeb spots within a block of one another. Brix (119 S. Second St.) features 11 ciders house-made from apples from area orchards, and local sourcing is a theme on the light food menu as well. At the Grumpy Troll (105 S. Second St.), there’s a full pub menu, and the Maggie imperial IPA is a standout among the dozen or so beers brewed on site.
There’s farm to table, and then there’s this. The lively, friendly New Glarus café supports local farms and offers membership as a community-supported restaurant. You might even bump into the farmer who grew the greens in your delicious salad. 407 Second St.
Don’t leave this New Glarus bar-supper club without trying traditional Swiss roesti, a hash brown pancake with onions and melty Swiss cheese in the middle. A plus: The only restroom is unisex, so women can appreciate a urinal so big it must be seen to be believed. 518 First St.
More to Explore
Opened in 2017, this ambitious cultural center tips its hat to the area’s gorgeous landscape and the people who have lived there. Kids love the immersive virtual reality tours. 100 S. Second St., Mount Horeb
A cool way to cool off in summer is to plumb the depths of this natural wonder, where you can see bizarre and even glow-in-the-dark rock formations up close. 2975 Cave of the Mounds Rd., Blue Mounds
The hillside business district boasts about six blocks of shops, all decked out in Swiss chalet-style finishes. You’ll find goods to meet your needs from chocolate to dirndl – and everything in between.