BY SARAH THEODORE
Chippewa Falls, Wis., has
been home to Leinenkugel beers since 1867. The brewery’s location was
an important part of the brand in those days, and still is today.
Close to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Chippewa Falls
was once one of the largest lumbering communities in the United States
— the perfect location for a brewery, say today’s fifth
generation of Leinenkugel brewers, brothers Jake, Dick and John
Leinenkugel. They estimate the original Leinenkugel beer quenched the
thirst of nearly 2,500 hard-working lumberjacks in the area, and they once
used the slogan, “It takes a special beer to attract 2,500 men to a
town with no women,” to illustrate the point.
Today, the Northwoods is more of a vacation getaway,
but the Leinenkugels believe the history of the brand in Chippewa Falls is
key to its authenticity with consumers. The company became part of Miller
Brewing Co., the second-largest brewer in the United States, in 1988, but
maintained its base in Chippewa Falls rather than move production to one of
Miller’s massive breweries. Miller has invested significantly to
ensure Leinenkugel can meet production demands from its original location.
“The true essence of the beer, the authenticity
of Leinenkugel and its relationship with its consumer was built with the
family, the name, and importantly, Chippewa Falls,” says Dick
Leinenkugel, vice president of sales and marketing. “[Miller has]
given us the resources to expand our brewery not once or twice, but three
times here in Chippewa Falls to meet our consumer demand.”
The original brewery founded by Jacob Leinenkugel and
partner John Miller was called the Spring Brewery after the Big Eddy
Spring, the natural spring located on the site that gave the brewery the
source of its most important ingredient. When the Leinenkugel family took over full ownership of the brewery in 1890, the
name changed to Jacob Leinenkugel’s Spring Brewery, and eventually
the spring dropped out of the name.
Today’s brewery spans the history of the
company, with the oldest part, the malt house, built in 1877, and the
newest part, the brewhouse, constructed in 2001. A historic red barn built
in 1880 is still located on the site and once housed the horses and wagons
used to distribute the beer.
Of course, things are different today, and the brewery
mixes the historic atmosphere with high-tech brewing technology and
warehousing. The new brewhouse is one of the most modern in the United
States, and produces about 270,000 barrels of beer per year. The majority
of Leinenkugel beers are produced at the Chippewa Falls brewery, with a
small percentage produced at the Leinenkugel Tenth Street Brewery in
Milwaukee, Wis., for a total of more than 300,000 barrels per year.
Leinenkugel beers have their history in German beer
styles and brewing methods, but the lineup has expanded to encompass a
number of styles, including its most popular beer, Leinenkugel Honey Weiss;
a number of lager styles from light to red to dark; and several seasonal
products that rotate in and out throughout the year.
No matter what the variety, all of the beers begin in
the same place in the brewery’s new, highly automated production
system. Malted grains, such as barley or wheat, and corn grits are measured
out into cereal cookers where they are combined with water and begin to
liquefy and break down into sugar and starch. A batch of beer begins with
anywhere from 4,000 to 12,000 pounds of grain, depending on the beer
variety. The grains are combined in the mash mixer, which heats the grains
and water to a temperature of about 160 degrees, and continues the process
of breaking down the grains into fermentable sugars.
When the process is complete, the mixture moves to the
lauter tun, which separates the liquid — now known as wort —
from the spent grains. The wort contains the fermentable sugars, and will
continue on through the brewing process, while the solids left over from
the grains will eventually be hauled off and used for cattle feed.
The lautering process takes about an hour and a half,
and the wort then moves to one of two brew kettles where it cooks at a
temperature of about 212 degrees. Hops are added during this stage,
providing both flavor and aroma. Depending on the beer variety, Leinenkugel
uses cluster, Cascade or Mt. Hood hops. This also is the stage when honey
is added for Leinenkugel Honey Weiss, and fruit is added for Berry Weiss or
Apple Spice. The brewery uses locally produced honey for Honey Weiss to
ensure consistency and to add to the Northwoods appeal of the product.
From the brew kettles, the liquid is filtered again in
a whirlpool tank to remove any remaining solids, and is then cooled to a
temperature of about 52 degrees in preparation for fermentation. The
brewery has three fermentation rooms that house a total of 24 fermentation
tanks. Yeast is added to the liquid to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide,
and the beer is left to ferment for eight to 10 days. During fermentation,
the temperature of the beer fluctuates from about 52 degrees to about 58
degrees due to the heat that is naturally produced during the fermentation process.
Like most breweries, Leinenkugel uses a proprietary
strain of yeast. The yeast can be used as many as 10 to 12 times, and the
brewery has three tanks for yeast propagation.
When the fermentation
process is complete, the temperature is reduced again, and the beer moves
to the longest part of the brewing process, aging. Products spend about two
and a half weeks in aging tanks before they are packaged in bottles, cans
and kegs. Prior to filling, carbon dioxide is injected back into the beer
to compensate for the small amount that is lost during aging.
The entire brewing process is monitored from a
computer control room that tracks the beer’s location in the brewing
process as well as times and temperatures. In addition, quality control
personnel perform frequent tests for indicators such as color, clarity, pH
levels and starch levels, and the brewmaster has the ultimate, and
enviable, responsibility of ensuring the flavor quality of every batch.
Leinenkugel products are filled into one of three
containers — cans, glass bottles or kegs — prior to shipping.
Bottles are filled at a maximum speed of 450 bottles per minute and cans at
350 per minute. The facility has three keg fillers that fill kegs at a rate
of 60 per hour.
Bottled and canned beer is pasteurized in the
container and has a “best consumed by” shelf life of four
months. An onsite warehouse holds three to five days worth of inventory for
shipping to retail locations, and two to three days of keg inventory to
keep up with high on-premise demand. BI