My father in-law isn’t a big craft beer drinker. He suffers through the endless breweries trips that the family likes to take fairly regularly, and only he has recently found a couple of beer styles that he can be familiar with. There is one craft beer that you can consistently find in his fridge, which led us to take a road trip for his birthday. That drive took us over the border into Wisconsin and ended at the Leinie Lodge, the birthplace of Honey Weiss, and the home of Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.
I don’t typically associate Leinenkugel’s as a craft beer brand, but they fit all the definitions and they are actually the seventh oldest craft brewery in the United States! They were founded in 1867 and weathered the storm of prohibition that left so many breweries in its wake by producing near beer and soda water. They are now owned by MillerCoors, but are still operated by descendents of the original Leinenkugel family. We learned all this, and more, on a tour of their production facility in Chippewa Falls.
After a short drive through downtown, we ended in the parking lot of the Leinie Lodge. This is a newer building and functions as a tasting room and the start of all of their tours. After crossing the threshold you’re smacked in the face by an endless supply of Leinenkugel’s memorabilia and merchandise. If there is something you want to buy there is a very strong chance you can buy it with the Leinenkugel’s logo on it. After our tour my father in-law left clutching a shirt, a paddle, and a pitcher!
Soon after entering you’re greeted by an employee to check you into your tour. You’ve got the choice of either a pair of 12oz samples or five 5oz tasters. Either choice nets you a souvenir pint glass or taster. We were instructed to arrive early, no doubt to give us time to browse their wares, but before too long we were gathering for the tour. Since it is a production brewery we were handed a pair of safety glasses and ushered outside into the sun.
We crossed the creek that cuts the Leinenkugel property in two and our tour guide stopped periodically to give us facts about the brewery and the founders. This were the most interesting part of the tour. We were instructed that we could only take pictures outside but the inside is pretty much what you’d expect for a brewery if you’ve ever taken a tour of one. There were a few cool details inside that were quite interesting. Immediately upon entry you get a chance to see the original door and a couple of windows that have since been covered up by a much larger building. I love old brick buildings, so it’s a shame that this is partially obscured by a steel beam, but that’s the price of progress. On a floor above we got a quick peak at their sparking copper brew kettles. And lastly when they opened the door into their fermentation room they let us gaze at two gigantic rows of fermenters!
I sort of expected that there would be a couple of taproom only beers that would be available to taste, so I was disappointed to learn that there is nothing special that’s available. I had chosen the flight before I knew this, so I ended up with small tasters of lagers that I’ve had many times before. It was a nice consolation to drink these on a sunny patio after a very long winter! The one great thing about the trip was to be able to see my father in-law enjoy a Canoe Paddler and a Honey Weiss, direct from the source.