West Bend resident reintroduces Lithia Beer
West Bend's Lithia Beer – which once had the tagline "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Jealous" – was founded originally by Balthasar Goetter in 1848.
In 1889, Lithia merged with another brewery into the West Bend Brewing Company and continued to grow in popularity. In 1972, after surviving Prohibition, Lithia moved to the Walter Brewery in Eau Claire, where the beer was brewed and bottled until the '80s.
For more than a decade, Lithia beer was not produced anymore. In 1999, Gunter Woog, who was born in Germany but moved to West Bend in 1952 at the age of 6, bought the trademarked name which had been unregistered since the demise of the Walter Brewery.
"I was waiting for the right opportunity to bring it back," says Woog.
Although Woog did nothing more than own the rights to the name for about 10 years, he was inspired to purchase it because his father was a beer enthusiast and, as a native of Germany, felt it was a part of his history.
Woog, who is interested in natural healing, was always a fan of the Lithia name, which refers to the mineral lithium that naturally occurs in West Bend's groundwater.
Finally, in 2008, when West Bend Mutual Insurance caught wind of Woog's ownership of the Lithia name, the company contacted him to produce the beer for an upcoming party celebrating a new addition.
Woog thought it sounded like a good place to start with reintroducing Lithia and so he started working with Christopher George, the brewmaster at a brewpub in downtown West Bend called Riverside Brewery. They made a batch of beer for West Bend Mutual event, then a few more batches and suddenly, customers and distributors were clamoring for more.
"People remembered this beer. It still had a reputation after 150 years," says Woog. "People are quite loyal to this beer."
Eventually, it was clear that Lithia needed a larger facility, so Woog partnered with Sprecher Brewing in Glendale to increase production. Sprecher continues to brew and bottle Lithia beer today.
"We've made Lithia for three years now. It's one of Wisconsin's oldest brands, and Sprecher brewery was the first microbrewery established in Milwaukee since Prohibition, so you have a link between old Wisconsin craft beer and Milwaukee's leader in the craft beer Renaissance," says Anne Sprecher, marketing director for Sprecher. "Plus, we have a kick-ass brewmaster."
Currently, Lithia offers two types of beer. Regner Red is a spicy, all-malt ale and Bucky Blonde is a lighter ale as the name suggest. Regner Red is named after Regner Park in West Bend and Bucky Blonde is named after mascot Bucky Badger's fictitious girlfriend.
Both are based on pre-Prohibition recipes which are closer to today's craft / micro beers. According to Woog, Lithia, like many breweries, changed into a light, "yellow beer" following Prohibition which is the beer many people remember today, but that's not the type of beer he was interested in making.
"Lithia today is all natural. No corn or corn syrup like other beers might use," says Woog.
After covering costs, Woog donates profits from Lithia to help support the restoration of Regner Park, the Washington County Historical Society and the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.
Lithia is available at the Sprecher Gift Shop, 701 W. Glendale Ave. It has been available off and on at Discount Liquor and was available at Hooligan's for a limited time. It's also widely available in Madison. Both sell for $8-$10 per six pack.
Woog says he plans to heavily promote both of Lithia's brands this summer. In the meantime he's working on developing a beer cooler called the V-8 Piston Power Pack Beverage Cooler, the first cooler according to Woog that keeps eight beverages, up to five pounds of ice and snacks cold for 24 hours. It also has a sound chip that generates a motor sound and is a decorative centerpiece.
"There's nothing else like it on the planet," says Woog.
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