a local legend is born (not to mention a darn fine beer!): the
history of walter's brewing company
The Walter Brewing Company became a legend in the Midwest
beginning in 1874. It was lovingly tended by generations of the Walter’s
family who were dedicated to brewing a bold, refreshing beer, and
supported by a public with extraordinarily good taste.
In true you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-‘til-it’s-gone fashion,
the community mourned the loss of a century-old classic when Walter’s
closed in 1989. Fortunately for Eau Claire and surrounding communities,
there’s a second chance to get behind a winner. Walter’s
received high marks in taste comparisons in its day. Today you can
judge for yourself at Northwoods Brew Pub. There’s a reason it’s
known as The Beer that IS Beer.
Three Ingredients Not on the Label: Dedication, Innovation
Walter’s Beer was founded in Spencer, Wisconsin, where German-born
Johannes Walter brought a crisp German lager to a country accustomed
to its ales and ports. A fire forced a move to Eau Claire in 1893
and a local legend was born.
Another fire and Prohibition interrupted, but did not deter, his
efforts. He was the first to install tile floors for sanitation.
Eventually a thriving business was handed down to cousins and nephews,
spawning six breweries between Wisconsin and Colorado. The Walters
Brewing Company in Eau Claire was purchased by Martin, Charles and
Edgar Walter upon the passing of Johannes, and reopened when Prohibition
ended in 1933. Martin Walter served as president until 1967 and John
Walter, also an owner, was the brewmaster to the end.
Not nearly as well-known as Busch or Pabst, by 1950 the Walter’s
family was the largest brewer in America. John Walter graduated from
Chicago’s Siebel Brewing Institute with August Busch III. Clearly
the two paid attention in class. But the bigger marketing budgets
of the national brands were too much for the family, forcing all
but Walter’s Brewery in Eau Claire to close by the 1970s.
You Can't Keep a Good Beer Down
In 1980, Walter’s Brewing Company peaked at
80,000 barrels per year, but quickly declined in the face of increasing
competition and changing customer taste. The light beer revolution
and innovations in packaging left Walter’s far behind. An attempt
by Chicago businessman Michael Healy to revive the operation resulted
in the short-lived Hibernia Brewing Company. Members of the Walter’s
family stayed on in key positions, but despite a temporary resurgence
and the popularity of a new outdoor beer garden, the tradition was
over. The brewery closed its doors in 1989. The site has since been
razed. Brewmaster John Walter died in 2004. The pride of Eau Claire
and a precious piece of history was lost.
Steeped in tradition and passed down through the years, Walter’s
Beer is yours for the tasting. When you lift your glass, but before
the cool brew meets your lips, give a toast to John, Martin, Johannes
and all the Walters family whose passion made Walter’s a classic,
and to Jim Kelly who makes it possible to relive the glory.