Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company

To continue our look at the breweries of Wisconsin we'll head up to Chippewa Falls, home of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. Leinenkugels Brewery or "Leinie's" as it is affectionately called here in Wisconsin, was founded in 1867, making it one of the oldest continuously operating breweries in the United States. Unlike the vast majority of Wisconsin and other American breweries, Leinenkugel's managed to weather the storm of Prohibition by switching to flavored sodas and low-alcoholic "near beer". You've got to admire that sort of resiliance.

As with real estate, so with brewing, a huge aspect of a successful venture is location, location, location. Jacob managed to find a place where the water was abundant and eminently suitable for brewing:
Jacob located his brewery near the Big Eddy Springs, from which poured nonacidic, nonalkaline water that the brewery uses without treatment to this day. . . . Water is the key to the brewing process, and most brewers have to treat their water in one way or another in order to make it suitable for brewing. Jacob never seemed to have this problem, and the brewery's water is still of high quality today (The Breweries of Wisconsin, 142.)
The brewery was a family owned and operated enterprise with a fiercely loyal customer base for over 100 years until it was bought out by the Miller Brewing Company in 1988. Some of the top executives at the brewery continue to be in the Leinenkugel family, but in today's world relinquishing of control to a major conglomerate like Miller could very easily spell the end of Leinie's at some time in the future. There won't be any more retooling to put out soda and near beer to weather some future economic storm; rather it will be the standard story of American industry: You're not making the cut any more. Goodbye. Lights out. And that would be a sad day.

Now, as for their products, I must confess that I would not call any of Leinie's brews "great". But quite a few are good. In addition, they are reasonably priced. And because of the Miller ownership the distribution range is broader, so you may stand a better chance of being able to sample one or more in your area.

Leinie's Red Lager is a very solid entry, much better with food than by itself. By itself I find it a bit too bitter, but offset that bittering with some good beef or lamb and you have a great combination. The Creamy Dark is not so much creamy as crisp and snappy, but with a nice roasted backbone and good malt/hop balance.

The Honey Weiss—light, crisp, with a delicate but noticeable honey note—is very popular around here, especially dispensed by the keg at larger gatherings like picnics and wedding receptions.

The Classic Amber, a new brew in the line-up, is really quite good. I expected it to be fairly sweet, catering more to the popular crowd, but it actually has a fairly dry quality and an unexpected, subtle, and very nice roasted note to it.

On the other hand, there are several of their beers that leave me cold. The Leinenkugel's Original is unpleasant to me. Strangely, this is the beer that they used to establish themselves, but I find it over-hopped and a little strange. The Berry Weiss is basically a chick beer, lotsa berry and only sorta-kinda beery. And their Sunset Wheat tastes to me like a blueberry PopTart. Blech.

One that may come in along those same lines is the Summer Shandy—a mix of beer and lemonade—but I have not tried it. On the other hand, a lemonade shandy is one concoction I frequently make for myself on warm summer days (try it!) so it actually stands a chance of being good, if they don't make it too sweet.

But all in all I say Bravo to Leinenkugel's, especially for hanging tough through all sorts of trials. That's great Wisconsin spirit for you.


James Garrison said...

Leinie's Summer Shandy is a wonderful beer, when used correctly. On that hot summer day when you are thirsty for more than just water, Summer Shandy hits the spot. It is the perfect beer for fishing. I enjoy one or two in the warm evenings after a long work day and a vigorous bike ride home.

The only downside I know of is how easy they go down, and how quickly the bottles seem to empty themselves. Do yourself a favor and get a case to try it out, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Scott-TheBrewClub said...

I originally tried their Sunset Wheat and thought it was a wonderful beer. Maybe better than the Summer Shandy for those hot days! I went on to try their Berry Weiss and Oktoberfest and found them to be average at best.

Still, its cool to have a company around doing its thing for so long - even if its just in name.

ThePalmHQ said...

Hey James,

I will go ahead and try the Summer Shandy, if not a full case then at least a six pack. But as I said in the blog entry, I frequently make my own. Mix half lemonade and half mass market lager like Old Style or even Budweiser and you have a very refreshing summer drink. I love it.

Scott, your love of the Sunset Wheat just proves the motto of this blog: de gustibus non est disputandum. I know other folks who, like you, like that beer a lot. In fact, a friend of mine brewed 10 gallons (!) of a Sunset Wheat clone for his brother who just loved the stuff. Maybe I'll try it again on a really hot day this summer and see if it strikes me differently.

Matt K said...

Summer Shandy is a good summer beer. Lienie's Red is the beer I keep going back to. I was VERY disappointed to see them sell out. I think you are right on the money when you say it's only a matter of time. If I was offered a big wad of cash I might do the same thing(I hope not), but that has me looking for something other than my Red to settle on. The only advantage is now I can order Lienie's at Brewers games...

ThePalmHQ said...

I was able to try the Summer Shandy at the grocery store the other day. It is not at all sweet, so I agree that it's quite refreshing. The young lady who was pouring the product was also serving a mix of the Berry Weiss and Summer Shandy which they were calling "pink lemonade". The Shandy definitely cut the sweetness of the Berry Weiss, so that was better. Not everybody's mug of beer, but definitely a welcome refresher on a hot summer day.

Chris said...

Dittoing the praise for Summer Shandy and also dittoing the idea of making your own. I like to use a good-but-not-too-expensive German Pilsner. I can drink thee all day.

If you like that, the Wikipedia page linked here also mentions the "demi-pĂȘche" -- a French drink that combines beer with peach syrup. Sitting in a cafe in Tarbes swilling demi-peches is one of my fondest memories of my trip to France 15 years ago.

Robert said...

Thanks for the tip on the Honey Weiss. It's become my go-to beer this summer. The only problem is how fast I empty the six pack.

Tim J. said...

The first Leinenkugel's beer I tried was the Apple Spice beer - an autumn harvest kind of thing - and I found it fizzy, insubstantial and much too sweet. A kid's beer. It tasted to me like a light beer mixed with apple juice.

I felt pretty much the same about their Sunset Wheat... sweet and bubbly and not much substance.

Disappointed, I didn't try a Leinenkugel's again for quite a while, until I picked up a six of the Classic Amber recently and was pleasantly surprised. It's quite good. Their Red Lager sounds like something I might like, too.

ThePalmHQ said...

Hey Tim J,

Good to hear from you. I'm working my way through another six pack of the Classic Amber and it really is quite good. The Miller Brewing employee at the grocery store who was presenting the Leinenkugel wares said the brewers thought it is their best beer. I really have to agree; it's very well done.

Thanks to all for posting. I'm planning on brewing this weekend and, God willing, blogging again this week.

Julie said...

In NC we only get a limited selection (love Honey Weiss as well as Summer Shandy - July and August). I'd love to be able to get their dark beers that are seasonally produced.

Robert said...

I'm now making my way through a 12 pack of Classic Amber. Very tasty stuff. I rather liked the Leinie Original beer. I've got a sixer of their Fireside Nut Brown and I'm not much impressed. But my wife's grandpa poured me an Octoberfest last weekend and I thought that was pretty good for mass-produced beer.

Thanks for pointing out this brewery!