Hibernia Brewing Ltd.
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Hibernia Brewing Ltd. was the successor firm to the Walter Brewing Company, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Under the leadership of Michael Healy, president and chief stockholder of Hibernia, the brewery introduced several specialty brews considered innovative for their time and became one of the first producers in the American Midwest of what now are considered to be craft beers and ales. At its peak Hibernia produced over 30,000 barrels of beer per year, employed about 50 workers, and had a market range that included Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, and Omaha to the west and south, and Chicago, Milwaukee, and suburban Cleveland to the east. The brewery quickly earned a reputation for quality products, aided by the receipt of a second place award for its Hibernia Dunkel Weizen in the Great American Beer Festival of 1985. However, the release of under-pasteurized beer to new markets was an economic disaster. Although the brewmaster and assistant brewmaster were fired immediately and insurance covered the recall, it was impossible to get the consumer to give them a second chance. This combined with increasing competition from companies passing themselves off as brewers, when in fact they were sales/marketing entities that out-sourced the manufacturing of their beers were becoming more numerous.
== Origins ==
The Walter brewing operation was originally established in Eau Claire in 1878 as the Henry Sommermeyer & Co. Dells Brewery, at the corner of Hobart and Elm Streets. It was acquired by Johannes (John) Walter, a German immigrant from the Wuerttemberg area, in 1890. The firm survived most of Prohibition by manufacturing wort (fermenting malt), closing in 1931 before reopening two years later upon repeal. Walter managed to survive the most intense period of consolidation of the American brewing industry, from shortly after World War II through the 1970s, producing nearly 47,000 barrels in 1979 and a high-water mark of nearly 64,000 barrels in 1980.
Changing consumer tastes and very aggressive marketing by stronger national brewers made it impossible for a brewery like Walter, already in basic survival mode, to continue operating. In 1981 Walter’s output fell to just over 50,000 barrels, distributed within a sales radius of some thirty miles, and by the end of 1984 its total production had fallen to a paltry 18,000 barrels per year. Brewing activity was down to just one day per week, and only twenty-two employees, mostly working part-time, remained on the payroll. Although brewing industry success was predicated upon active marketing, Walter's advertising budget had fallen to zero, and the company’s prospects appeared so bleak that a business class at the University of Wisconsin recommended that it be shut down. The operation was within weeks of bankruptcy when Michael Healy, a Chicago businessman, bought the brewery effective May 1, 1985. Although Healy had no previous experience working in the brewing industry, he was a stranger neither to the beverage trade nor to what motivated him to take the company in a new direction. Born and raised on the northwest side of Chicago, Healy tended bar at his father’s tavern, Mike Healy’s Public House, and while serving in the military in Germany in the mid-1960s, he developed a taste for the more flavorful, fuller-bodied lager beers that dominated there. As Healy noted in 1985 and afterward, “That spoiled me, because when I came home I just couldn’t redevelop a taste for American beer. It was as if I were asked to start using margarine after tasting butter.”
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