Leinenkugel’s and the Case for Summer Beer.


Nobody sets out to be what Kingsley Amis refers to as a “beer bore.” When you’re a teenager you don’t drone on about Belgian Lambics, how you only drink Kölsch in Cologne and mercifully you never utter the word “handcrafted.” No, when you’re eighteen you drink what’s available, familiar, cheap and geographically appropriate. And that’s as it should be.

For us, summers in Wisconsin meant Leinenkugel’s, which came, like Annie Hall, from nearby Chippewa Falls. The bottle declared that it’s “brewed by 73 people who care” which is reassuring. It’s been around since 1867 and has been run by many generations of Jacob Leinenkugel’s descendants, which is good. Then it was bought by an international conglomerate in 1988, which is not as good, but perhaps not surprising.

Even for those of use who are devoted wine drinkers, it remains a very fine beer. Well, perhaps not very fine, but certainly good enough. That’s one of the funny things about the beer you grow up with: Your associations are so strong that they can overwhelm your judgment about the taste. This comes into sharp relief when you try your friend’s favorite beer from Washington or Maine and hint that it’s subpar (perhaps over the years you have acquired a few habits of the beer bore). Your friend looks at you icily, as if you’ve insulted his mother’s cooking.

Brewery photo

Yes, it’s all highly subjective. Leinenkugel’s has gone through some changes. They’ve introduced seasonal flavors for some reason. But it’s best to stick to the original, which is a beer you drink on the shore of a lake. There’s also been some back and forth about the woman on the bottle. For a while she had the look of a fierce Native American woman, which I always found inspiring as a kid, though in terms of corporate identity that’s probably frowned upon these days. Perhaps not coincidentally her ethnicity has changed, and now she’s of no specific culture, just a tanned girl with a feather in her hair, possibly an environmental studies major from a good family. Who can explain these things?

On the wall of the Sapporo brewery in Hokkaido, you’ll find the saying: “As long as man has been civilized, he has been brewing beer.” Now that’s downright inspiring. The equation for beer endures because it can’t be improved upon. Most men want consistency in their beer, their scotch and, for that matter, even their clothes. Over the long run they don’t want novelty flavors or strange new bottles developed for no reason. It’s like baseball: it’s a great game, so just play it without endless music and absurd contests on the video screen. In fact, the only thing you need at a baseball game beside the baseball is beer. That’s nature, my friends, and it’s as elemental as it gets. –DAVID COGGINS

Comments on “Leinenkugel’s and the Case for Summer Beer.

    Brad on July 19, 2013 10:22 AM:


    Ryan Biggs on July 19, 2013 10:30 AM:

    Leinenkugel has showed up with a big presence in beer stores here in the Boston area, but its only the Summer Shandy and the fruity flavored beers. The original is nowhere to be found.

    Ben on July 19, 2013 10:47 AM:

    Leinenkugel is also owned by SABMiller, which owns Miller Brewing Co. They’re the second biggest brewing conglomerate in the US second to ABusch.

    Greg on July 19, 2013 11:22 AM:

    Going to step right into this trap and be a beer boor: I have never had Leinenkugel’s Original, but their Summer Shandy is bad to the point of undrinkable.

    Ben on July 19, 2013 12:31 PM:

    I don’t like that Summer Shandy still advertises Linenkugal like it is still family owned. The radio ads here in Chicago make it sound like the brothers brewed it. I guess it is one of those blurred lines in marketing but turns me off in this situation. With that said, when talking about ‘the beer you grew up with’, who cares who owns what. You’re recapturing an experience, simple as that.

    If you’re looking for a Wisconsin beer that is still independently owned, I think Point (Stevens Point, WI) is a good alternative to Linenkugal. If you want a beer cheap beer of provenance, it fits the bill. New Glarus still takes the cake for midsize brewery of excellent quality in Wisconsin.

    I really appreciate comparing beer of your youth to mom’s cooking and agree it is amazing how taste memory can over ride the palate. Good write up.

    Gordito Mojito on July 19, 2013 3:37 PM:

    Leine’s sold its spring “Bock” beer well into the 90’s.

    It was definitively a regional thing (NW Wisconsin) but the only way to differentiate it from the Original was the stapled black and white ribbon of paper on the returnable bottles that read “Bock”.

    Now that my friends is how you build a relationship with a customer.

    The very craftsmanship that even allows for a byproduct becomes a reward for its most loyal advocates.

    Today’s brand is nothing more than nostalgia for what is now a multi-national ad agency who’s primary goal is not craftsmanship but to block out true innovators by taking up limited shelf space.

    steven tatar on July 19, 2013 3:58 PM:

    Spent part of last evening sitting in lawn chairs on the roof of a friend’s building, catching a precious breeze off Lake Erie and watching the sun set behind downtown Cleveland and the steel mills- drinking just cheapo Bud, but my esteem for that swill kicked up several notches by the vibe alone. Feel the same about Rolling Rock-one of our local “affordable beers”, brewed in Latrobe, PA at “Old 33” (so says the bottle, seen only through the glass, printed on reverse of label.) Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

    Jeff on July 19, 2013 4:26 PM:

    Texans, like me, who grew up with Lone Star and Pearl aren’t afflicted with this “sweet beer of youth” problem. Sheiner Bock is fine, but it’s the new small breweries that are making some memorable stuff.

    JLL on July 19, 2013 8:31 PM:

    So Michael just got a new marketing contract with Leinenkugel’s, eh?

    Paul Cunningham on July 19, 2013 10:40 PM:

    Genesee Cream Ale; the bitter nectar of my miss-spent youth.

    Jim L on July 19, 2013 11:07 PM:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jake Leinenkugel one August evening at a local bar in Green Bay, WI, in the mid-1990s. It was the night before I was heading back to college, so I was the designated driver. When he entered the bar, those who had had a few by then descended upon and somewhat smothered and his beer girls; I stayed in my seat with my friends. He saw and came over to me and said, as he extended his hand to shake mine, “That’s one mellow guy.” We then had a nice chat, and to this day that’s how I think of Leinenkugel’s: that’s one mellow beer.

    Nate on July 20, 2013 12:21 AM:

    I normally don’t comment blithely, but when I do it’s to say leinenkugel’s sucks ass.

    Bruce B on July 21, 2013 2:20 AM:

    I have a lake cabin near Chippewa Falls and had dinner last night at a “supper club” similar to the one pictured at the top of your story… A 1930’s place called the Indianhead. Doesn’t get much better than that. Leinies is an institution around here. The original cant be compared to a microbrew, beer snobs. But it beats a Bud. I prefer micros but I always keep a few in the cabin fridge for when you just want something light and basic. But despite the outcry heard in the comments above, Miller has left Leinies alone. The family still runs the operation and you can feel it.

    Jack on July 22, 2013 12:06 AM:

    Is Leininkugel’s still brewed in Chippewa Falls or has production been shifted to Miller’s plant in Milwaukee?

    I was given a tour of the Milwaukee plant several years ago and they were brewing many brands that fetch top dollar using same equipment, processes, staff, etc., as their $2/six-pack swill. The one statistic that really stuck in my mind was that they bottle/can at least 6 million units per shift which is impressive until one actually tastes the product.

    Tom on July 22, 2013 9:41 AM:

    Hate to burst your nostalgic bubble @Steven Tatar but I’m pretty sure that Rolling Rock is brewed in sunny downtown Newark, New Jersey, but I’m glad that you were feeling so swell about Bud, because they own Rolling Rock now.

    Michael Williams on July 22, 2013 9:46 AM:

    Rolling Rock is indeed made right there on the 1&9 in Newark, NJ.

    Matt on July 22, 2013 10:28 AM:

    You’ve got it, holmes. This article is spot on.

    TakomaMark on July 22, 2013 3:41 PM:

    I can tell you the beer I wanted to drink when I was a kid growing up in Michigan: Hamms, the beer refreshing. I still know the entire jingle and remember those cartoon commercials with the bear fondly. Unfortunately they’d stopped distributing to MI by the time I hit high school, so I mostly drank Busch products, Miller, and Strohs. Also Molson and Labatt’s from Canada. Those Hamms commercials were great though.

    AwfullySharp on July 23, 2013 9:13 PM:

    Potosi Beer is by far the best of the old brands still alive in WI (not necessarily by taste, although they still have some good brews, but by the fact that it’s independent and classic). It is a nonprofit with the charitable purpose of revitalizing the economy of Potosi, an old lead mining town near the Mississippi. On top of that, the brewery is also now home to the National Brewers Museum. Definitely worth checking out in every way. ACL ought to go see what’s happening in Potosi. Also, my mom is on the board of directors.

    Scott on July 24, 2013 11:37 PM:

    I will drink to that.

    Thank you ACL

    reteptterab on July 25, 2013 1:25 AM:

    “no specific culture”; well, I wanted to make a comment but couldn’t without adding all of the B S that I wanted to avoid.
    If you are an old-American company it is OK to display a Native American female on your labels; if it because you love them as much as I do.

    I have images of my dad’s West Virginian family – My Great Grandmother and an Aunt of some sort – and I love to see their dark-haired likeness on almost anything!

    Aaron on July 29, 2013 4:57 AM:

    Beautifully written, David.

    Jon on August 10, 2013 3:37 PM:

    Nice shout out to old time Wisconsin beer. I am actually from Chippewa Falls and live in nearby Eau Claire today. Leinies and Walters (an old EC beer which is now being brewed once again) both remind me so much of growing up in WI. Both beers have gone with throw back labels and cans that look super cool. I have to admit that neither is my favorite beer but I buy it because it makes me feel nostalgic and connected, like I’m having a beer with my long gone Dad and Grandma B.
    Thanks for the post.

    Jamie on August 11, 2013 10:40 AM:

    Coming from England, I find it fascinating reading something like this. When I was first experimenting with beer drinking there were no ‘real’ lager-type beers only your run-of-the-mill Stella, Heineken, Foster’s ect. It’s only since recent years with US craft beers that there’s been a boom in that sort of area – with British companies like Brewdog making some really interesting stuff.
    I love the state-specific nostalgia you talk about, great post.

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