On the last day of our very first Great Brew Tour, the weary duo of Mark and Jesse arrived in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. This was 2001, in the days before Miller had built the new multimillion dollar Leinie Lodge. The brewery was owned by Miller at this time, but the gift shop and tour desk were still in the old red building that still stands on the grounds.
I was looking forward to this tour for one main reason. Leinenkugel’s Bock was the first craft beer I had ever tried and enjoyed, and I’d be taking the tour with Mark, the guy who introduced me to it. Of course, we had our doubts. Since Miller’s aquisition of Leinies, the brand, in our opinion has gradually changed for the worse.
So we went to the desk and got signed up for a tour. It was your run-of-the-mill tour. Our guide was a college student in his early 20′s. Our group was made up of mostly older couples and young families.
The tour went extremely well until about 3/4 through it. At that point, the guide stopped and informed us that all Leinenkugel’s beer was made in Chippewa Falls. I raised my hand and said, “I was in Milwaukee two days ago on the Miller tour and saw 12 packs of Honey Weiss coming down the line.” The guide responded with, “That’s impossible.” That didn’t sit well with Mark who had seen the same thing as me. He then said, “Are you calling him a liar? I was there and saw it too.” The guide got a little flustered at that point and clumsily asked if there were any questions. Mark had one. He asked, “How come your Bock beer doesn’t taste as good since Miller bought you?” At that point, our poor guide lost most of the group. Others in our group, complete strangers to us, started chiming in with comments about how the quality of the beer had slipped in recent years. Our guide got us back to the tour center pretty fast after that exchange.
We then headed to the gift shop where Mark purchased a Leinie’s canoe paddle and had Jake Leinenkugel sign it for him. After that, we jumped in the car and headed back to Minnesota; celebrating what would later become an annual summer tradition.
We’ve been back to Leinie’s a few times since that first tour. Since then, it has gotten bigger, more commercialized, and more about selling gear than making beer. There are yellow lines all over in the brewery buildings showing you where you can’t enter or take pictures. Compared to the dozens of places in Wisconsin where making great beer IS the priority and the people there are willing to show you the actual working parts of the brewery, Leinie’s ranks pretty low on the list. If you’re already in Chippewa Falls, by all means, go take a tour. If you want to travel to a brewery where the beer is great and a wonderful brewery experience awaits you, keep driving until you get to Stevens Point or Madison.