You're in Lager Country

how Wisconsin and Eau Claire came to be famous world-wide for a celebrated kind of beer

Eric Larson

It’s hard to imagine life without beer. In fact, just typing those last three words makes my native Wisconsin blood boil in my skin – after all, beer is right behind brats, cheese, and a distaste for salad in the Wisconsin food pyramid, right?

A recent article on (that is your geographical duty to read) breaks down a study that suggests lager, now the most popularly consumed beer in the world, originated from South American yeast that mysteriously made its way to Germany in the 15th century – most likely through transatlantic trade.

Once overseas, the delectable microorganisms colonized Bavaria’s native Saccharomyces cerevisiae to create the luscious lager hybrid we all know and love today. Germans mastered not only the recipes for lagers, but also a cold storage system (which came to be called “lagering”) by use of caves and their naturally cooler temperatures. But enough scientific mumbo jumbo. In short, once lager was invented, it became super popular, and now it’s enjoyed by everyone with fully functioning taste buds.

Oh yeah, and it turns out Eau Claire is one of the best locales in the world to brew it.

"The chemical make-up of the water here really makes it an ideal spot to brew. The type of yeast needed works best in a cool, damp environment, which is also readily available with all the caves." – Tim Kelly, brewmaster at Northwoods“The chemical make-up of the water here really makes the city an ideal spot to brew,” says Tim Kelly, brewmaster at Northwoods. “The type of yeast needed works best in a cool, damp environment, which is also readily available here with all the caves in the city.”

Kelly, who also brews the Eau Claire-originated Walter’s lager – both premium and light – at Northwoods, says the western Wisconsin beverages have gained national attention since they opened up business.

“Every year we enter the Great American Beer Festival in Denver,” he says. “So far, we’ve gotten a silver medal in 2000. Additionally, we also enter the World Beer Championship in Chicago, where we just picked up a silver medal for one of our brews this past year.”

Dan Walter, local entrepreneur and great nephew of the founder of Walter’s Brewery, agrees that the area is well known – and rightfully so – for its selection of lagers.

“Walter’s is definitely a great lager from the region,” he says. “But I’ll have to give some credit to Leinie’s as well (laughs); they’re not doing too bad, either.”

So there you have it: Wondrous yeast carried through the rough, Atlantic waters to Germany that sparked a discovery now beloved by millions worldwide. And the fact that Eau Claire is an ideal brewing hub and award-winning spot for it makes it that much sweeter (and hoppy-er).

So cheers, South America. We owe you one.