Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Small Town Brewer Passes On

Any fifth generation business goes through a number of critical events in its 100+ year life. Most don’t make it to the third generation, much less the fifth. A business like beer brewing which had to live through the thirteen years of prohibition from 1920 through 1933 was especially hard hit. Thousands of local brewers never reopened their doors with the repeal of prohibition.

One of those that did reopen was the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, WI, which survived during prohibition by brewing soda water and near beer. The company dates to 1867 when Jacob Leinenkugel traveled to Chippewa Falls, WI (population 12,925) in the northwest part of the state to serve the large lumberjack population.

Fourth generation brewer Bill Leinenkugel who ran the company from 1971 to 1986 passed away last month in his hometown at the age of 87. He orchestrated the transition of his brew from largely a local into a regional one. During that time the number of brewers in the country fell from 350 to less than 40, as national companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller transformed the industry. When Miller’s new budget brand Old Milwaukee threatened the Leinenkugel brand, Bill successfully repositioned his beer as a classier and more expensive alternative.

Even though the company was sold in the late 80s to Miller Brewing, the brewer is still run by fifth generation cousins Jake and Dick Leinenkugel in Chippewa Falls.

Bill Leinenkugel still sipped a bit of his favorite brew until a few days of his death. When asked his favorite, he responded, “I’ve got two. Leinenkugels and a free beer.”

No comments: