Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Leinenkugels in Oregon

I'm a fifth-generation Wisconsonian. My parents were from Eau Claire, and my mother's parents had a cottage on a lake north of Chippewa Falls, the home of Leinenkugel's brewery. Leine's was my grandfather's favorite brew, and it was always around whenever we went up to visit. In the old family album there is one pic of me at ten months, sitting on the floor and playing with empty Leine's bottles, and another of me at two years, standing at my grandfather's knee and drinking from his bottle.

We moved to Florida when I was seven, but we never really lost our Wisconsin roots. I grew up cheering for the Packers, and the annual summer vacation was always spent up at the lake. Though I went through a phase where my favorite brew was root beer, by my mid teens I was back to drinking the good stuff. In those days Leinenkugel's made only a lager, with a small batch of bock beer in the spring.

In the mid seventies I found myself attending graduate school at the U of W in Madison. Most of the local bars had Leine's on tap. By this time the company was also producing a light beer, something they apparently felt they had to do to stay competitive (I don't think they make it anymore, and I doubt it's missed).

After finishing school I returned to Florida, but managed to drive up every two or three years, always returning with several cases. A long drive, but worth it.

In 1988 Leine's was acquired by Miller. My first reaction to this was horror, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them. Production of the lager and the light shifted to Milwaukee, and the Chippewa brewery began to focus on craft beers. A "Red Lager" was followed by an a "Northwoods Lager" and an "Auburn Ale" (this last a favorite of mine). Others followed, including the now-legendary "Big Butt" dopplebock. In the 1990s they started producing wheat beers, starting with the "Honey Weiss" and later the lambic style "Berry Weiss". Unfortunately production capacity was limited at the old (1867) Chippewa brewery, and the "Berry Weiss" squeezed out the "Auburn Ale", much to my dismay.

At one point during the last twenty years (I can't remember exactly when) Leinenkugel's was available in Florida for a couple of years. It didn't last; I guess their reach exceed their grasp. When Kathy and I visited Wisconsin in 2003, I left believing I'd never have the opportunity to drink it again.

I arrived in Oregon in late December of 2006, and Kathy remained in Tallahasse for a couple of more months. During a mid January phone call, she said, "You'll never guess what I saw in the beer section at Albertsons today..."

Not that I was suffering here. If there's anyplace in the USA that can claim to be beer-drinker-heaven-on-earth, it's Oregon. With Widmer, Deschutes, Full Sail, Rogue, Ninkasi and others to choose from, our steins runneth over with excellent brew.

Nonetheless, last autumn when I received an E-Mail from a friend in Portland informing me that he'd seen Leinenkugel's at an Albertsons up there, I immediately headed for the local one. Sure enough, there on the top shelf were both the "Classic Amber" and the "Sunset Wheat". I immediately grabbed a sixpack of the former and took it home. I'd never had this expression before, but found it to be beautifully balanced beer, nice and malty with floral notes and medium hoppiness. There's been some at the house ever since (I haven't tried the "Sunset Wheat", not being a big fan of wheat beers).

In addition to Albertsons, I've seen it at the Albany Fred Meyers, though it's yet to appear at the Corvallis one.

Not that I've forsaken Oregon brew. Our "go to" stout remains Deschutes "Obsidian" and when I feel like an IPA there's a good chance it's going to be Ninkasi "Total Domination". During the hot summer months there are few beers  as refreshing as a well-chilled Deschutes "Twilight".

But a lot of the time it's going to be Leine's "Classic Amber". If that means I'll never truly be an Oregonian, so be it.

After all, I still cheer for the Packers.


  1. I am also from Wisconsin and just moved here in March of this year. Have wondered if I could get any of the leine's here. I am going to see if Albertsons has some before I watch the Pack take on the Vikings today! GO PACK!

  2. Hopefully they had some on the shelf. They did the last time I was in there. Also, last time I was in Corvallis Brewing Supply (about three weeks ago) they had some Leinies Octoberfest. Might be worth a look.