This week, Fox 25/48 is taking a closer look at La Crosse County in our County By County series. Tonight Fox 25/48’s Zach Prelutsky tells us about how the beer industry has flourished there through the years.

There a few things most people who live in La Crosse are passionate about. The Green Bay Packers, the outdoors, and beer. One of the most recognizable breweries is the G. Heileman Brewery. Started in 1858 by Gottlieb Heileman and John Gund, what was called City Brewery at the time is one of many that opened its doors.

“With that many people, especially thirsty lumbermen, breweries started to pop up. And this was a site, one of the major sites in the Midwest for German immigrants to come and of course one of the first things they did when they settled was built breweries.”

A few years after the brewery opened, Gund and Heileman had a falling out and created two separate breweries… Gund Brewing Company and the G. Heileman Brewery. The Gund Brewing Company faded out of business during probation but the G. Heileman Brewery maintained business through that era.

Thanks to brands such as Old Style, G. Heileman Brewery grew to be a national powerhouse by the 1970s.

“Producing a total of just right in the vicinity of about 20 million barrels of beer a year and it made G. Heileman Brewing Company at the time number four in the nation behind Anheiser Busch, Miller, and Coors.”

Over the years many breweries such as Pearl Street Brewery have popped up in the Coulee Region.

“Towns that have always had a brewery in them like Milwaukee or La Crosse or Golden Colorado or St. Louis, they tend to be beer towns.”

But eventually Heileman Brewery went through some down years and eventually was sold in 1987. After changing hands through different bankers and investment firms the company started back up from scratch.

“So here we sat, with a large, fairly modern and efficient brewery but with nothing to make.  So, in late ’99, investors had been found to purchase the brewery and we restarted as the original name of the brewery which was the City Brewery.”

After the relaunch of City Brewery and the beginning of places like Pearl Street Brewery, the world of beer had changed from the Heileman days, now trending towards small breweries trying to come up with the next big thing.

“When we started this brewery, it was 20 years ago, and things have changed drastically in the beer world particularly in the craft beer world since 1998. Craft beer is fun for the consumer, it’s kind of like the golden age of craft beer I think this time this era will be looked at back on as a golden age of craft beer.”

And breweries in the area are seeing success. Pearl Street Brewery just bottled their 1,000’th batch, a milestone they are proud of. But for all the breweries here, they all have a common thread.

“It seems like anybody who has been in this area for any number of years has like you said has some connection to the brewery.  They either had an uncle or their father or grandfather work at the brewery or they worked at the brewery during summers, they were tour guides, or they worked on the packaging line.  Everybody’s got a brewery story in their family history around here.”

Today, beverages from City Brewery and Pearl Street Brewery can be found at local restaurants and stores.

In La Crosse, Zach Prelutsky, Fox 25/48 First News at Nine.