Leinenkugel History & Brewery Tour Review
Driving into Chippewa Falls reminded me a lot of driving into Green Bay. With a storied brewing operations located in the Middle-Of-Nowhere, Wisconsin founded in May of 1867. Here is some brief Leinenkugel history and my review of the 8th oldest craft brewery in America.
Jacob Leinenkugel was a Bavarian immigrant to the United States and from a family of storied brewers. Back in the late 1800’s, Chippewa Falls was primarily a Lumber town, without any railroad access. The Leinenkugel family settled on Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, not for the bustling town (because it wasn’t) but for the pure water that came from the Big Eddy freshwater springs – pictured below. Big Eddy is also a namesake of their higher ABV beers.
Believe it or not, Wisconsin also had soil that was perfect for growing hops & barley.
According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. (Source: Wikipedia)
However, there was a plight that affected all hop plants, but due to the Rocky Mountain Range it did not reach the most western US States. I’d be willing to be that this is why a lot of hops come from Oregon, Washington, or California. The brewery tour guide, Terry, also commented about how you can still grow hops in small batches in the midwest and east, since he grows some himself.
If you’re looking for a beer most similar to the beer that Jacob was brewing when Chippewa Falls had no railroad access, you can grab a cold Leinenkugel original (pilsner). Apparently the yeast strain is still the same one that he used in the batches back in the late 1800s when they first opened.
Once prohibition hit the United States in 1919, the Leinenkugel brewery began creating near-beer (not good), as well as the most famous bottled soda water in the area. Eventually, prohibition was repealed in 1933 and the Leinenkugels, as well as other breweries quickly began production on beer to capture the biggest market share.
When World War II came about, the Leinenkugels were still using a horse and buggy to deliver beer to thirsty patrons across northern Wisconsin. With the war also came rationing and lack of labor – which caused other small breweries to raise their prices. But, the Leinenkugel factory stayed constant with their price. Once the war was over, the brewery became the first in the USA to have glass-lined fermentation tanks to produce beer.
We learned much of the same history above on the tour before we even made it from the Leine Lodge across the bridge to the brewing buildings. Once we proceeded into the brewery on the tour, we weren’t allowed to take any photos. No exceptions.
We first went up to the fifth floor to see the fermentation tanks and learn a little more about the brewing process and Leinenkugel’s output.
You can read more about the Leinenkugel Family and their history on their website. Another source consulted for this article was on FundingUniverse.
Leinenkugel in the early 1980’s was only sold in northern Illinois, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Basically, anywhere within 300 miles of the Chippewa Falls brewery.
Eventually, Leinenkugel was bought as a wholly owned subsidiary of Miller Brewing Company in 1988. They needed the help of a beer stronghold to help expand their market into new states. Once this news broke, Leinenkugel lost about 10% in their profits and employees and fans lost faith in the company. However, come 1994, Leinenkugel expanded into all of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, and Colorado while sales in the Midwest grew by double digits.
Over an eight year period from 1988 to 1996, Leinenkugel went from 85,000 barrels of beer to nearly 270,000 barrels. In 1995, in order to keep up with demand, Miller helped Leinenkugel purchase a Milwaukee brewery. (Which now brews their Big Eddy beers.) Throughout the 90s, Leinenkugel created a craft beer for every season so they could command retail shelf space in an ever-growing competitive market.
While on the tour, I learned that their Summer Shandy – a beer with lemonade – is only sold for a season, but, brings in 75% of their profit each year. All of the beer that they have on pallets in the warehouse is already paid for. Imagine a massive, dimly lit, three-story room that has cases of beer stacked 20 feet high and probably 100 feet or more back. I would be willing to bet there was a couple hundred-thousand cans or bottles of Leinenkugel in that single room.
Our guide continued to rattle off Leinenkugel history and fun facts as we proceeded back outside into the Wisconsin setting sun.
The tour lasts about 45 minutes and costs only $5 to partake in. All the profits from the tours go towards an environmental project that the Leinenkugel factory decides to support. With the $5 fee, you also get five 2 oz. samples of whatever beers they have in the Leine Lodge. This included their mainstays, as well as some that I’ve never heard of like Spicy Pear Shandy, Cocoa Berry Shandy, and a Cranberry Ginger Shandy.
Once the tour is complete and you’ve had your five samples, you exchange your wooden nickel for an Official Leinenkugel Taste Tester 2 oz glass. The Leine Lodge is packed to the brim with historical artifacts and gifts/merchandise that you can purchase.