Not only is Leinenkugel’s among the oldest breweries in Wisconsin, it’s also among the longest-running in the U.S., according to this list.
Leinenkugel's was founded in Chippewa Falls in 1867 and it’s been pumping out lagers and ales continuously ever since (excepting, of course, during Prohibition).
Launched as Leinenkugel and Miller’s Spring Brewery, thanks to its location at the Big Eddy spring along the Chippewa River, this Leinenkugel’s was the third to be started in Wisconsin by one of the Leinenkugel brothers (and the only one to survive Prohibition).
In perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, 26-year-old Jacob Leinenkugel partnered with John Miller (no relation) to open the brewery, which they quickly expanded, even excavating a lagering cave into the rock and building a pair of matching houses in front of their brewhouse.
While the buildings were replaced over time – the current brewhouse, former malthouse and stables date to the late 19th century and the first years of the 20th – and the two houses moved (they survive today in Chippewa Falls and one of them can be seen from the entrance to the brewery), Leinenkugel’s has never stopped brewing.
Even when new equipment from Ziemann in Germany was installed into a 2001 addition, only three days of brew time were lost.
Leinie’s began bottling its beer in 1880 and still does so today, though it also cans some of its brews.
In 1988, Miller Brewing bought Leinenkugel’s – which had dropped the “Spring” moniker in 1898 to become simply Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. – and continued production in Chippewa Falls.
In 1995, Miller bought Milwaukee's 10th Street Brewery, built by Heileman a decade earlier, to expand Leinie’s production and now the beer is made at both facilities, as well as Miller’s plant in the valley and another facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
While you can’t tour the 10th Street Brewery and the valley brewery hasn’t yet reopened for tours, the Leinenkugel’s brewery in Chippewa Falls, 124 E. Elm St., is offering tours and it's worth the three-hour drive from Milwaukee to join one.
The day I visited, my tour guide (Izzy) was extremely knowledgeable, cheerful and entertaining, offering a pretty in-depth look at the brewery complex and its history.
We saw the the exteriors of the buildings, historical photos and the interiors of the brewhouse, packaging facility and warehouse.
Sadly, the former malt house – which still has a portion of its old pagoda chimney – isn’t considered safe enough for public visits.
I loved seeing the beautiful 1890 brewhouse and the Big Eddy spring, whose name was bestowed upon a beloved but discontinued series of limited edition experimental beers.
Although a bit of the facade of the brewhouse is now obscured by the 2001 addition, you can still see the original entrance inside when on the tour.
The Leinie Lodge visitors center and taproom just across the river is a fun experience, too. There you can walk through Leinenkugel’s history through displays, photos and vintage brewing tools.
A long bar offers samples of familiar brews and a few that are exclusive to the Lodge, and there is a wide range of merch and packaged beer available for purchase.
You can also peek into the pilot brewhouse, where batches of beers that are sold in the Lodge are brewed.
When I was in Chippewa Falls those brews were a hefeweizen, red lager dry-hopped with fresh hops and Captain Jack light bock to benefit the National Desert Storm Memorial in Washington D.C.
Crowlers of any tap beer are also available.
You can find complete details on visiting Leinenkugel’s in Chippewa Falls here.
At the time of writing, daily tours are $15 and include four five-ounce samples. Tour times depend on the day of your visit. Complete tour info and online ticketing are here.
Here are some more images from the Leinenkugel's brewery in Chippewa Falls...
Mash tun and grain cooker
Vintage brewing objects in the lodge
History exhibits in the lodge
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.