- Views & Opinions
The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., is reaching into its past as it plans for its future.
Looking ahead to next year’s 150th anniversary celebration of when founders Jacob Leinenkugel and John Miller first began brewing beer in Chippewa Falls, the brewery is honoring its family’s roots by creating a collaborative beer with Hofbräu München, a German brewery that’s even older, dating back to its founding by William V., Duke of Bavaria, in 1589, the Leader-Telegram reported.
The brew — Leinenkugel’s Anniversary Lager — is an amber-colored, marzen-style beer that when introduced in April will represent more than a year’s cooperative effort between the two breweries, including a meeting in Chippewa Falls last June that featured the key representatives from both companies. The beer will be brewed simultaneously — for bottles and kegs in Chippewa Falls, for kegs in Munich — using identical formulas and ingredients, with American hops shipped to Munich and German malt sent to Chippewa Falls.
“We have our roots in Germany, and this is the first time the Leinenkugels have brewed beer in Germany since at least 1845,” said Dick Leinenkugel, brewery president and a member of the fifth generation of Leinenkugels charged with carrying on the family tradition.
“We felt a lot of similarities with the Hofbräu representatives as we worked on this,” Leinenkugel said. “Hofbräu München is owned by the Bavarian state, and they’ve been around for 400-plus years, and working with them you get the sense they feel very much like the caretakers of a brand and a brewery. And in our case, it’s our family, it’s our name on the label, and we feel very responsible for it.”
Jacob Leinenkugel learned the brewing science at the knee of his father, Mathias, who brewed beer in Meckenheim, Germany, before immigrating in 1845 to the United States with his wife, Maria, and children in tow, including Jacob, age 3. Mathias founded a brewery in Sauk City, and his offspring all eventually operated breweries in the state, including Jacob’s creation in Chippewa Falls in 1867.
“This collaboration is really historic, the Leinies brewery with its German heritage and a historic German brewer creating a beer together and both of them brewing it,” said Bill Febry of Cardinal Marketing in Chippewa Falls, a Leinenkugel’s ambassador helping with the 150th anniversary planning. “Both breweries have such a story to tell, and what better way to help tell it than through a collaborative beer.”
When discussions about creating a beer with a German brewery began in 2015, Leinenkugel said working with Hofbräu München immediately came to mind.
“We already had a relationship with them through Steve Ksycki; we knew Steve, and Steve knew us,” Leinenkugel said. Ksycki, the U.S. brand manager for Hofbräu München n, formerly worked for Leinenkugel’s then-parent company SABMiller in their specialty craft beer accounts, which included Leinenkugel’s. (Leinenkugel’s is now part of MillerCoors.)
Ksycki said he was excited by the concept of a collaborative beer and brought the idea to his superior.
“Just like Leinenkugel’s, Hofbräu München is very protective of their brand,” Ksycki said. “They view themselves as guardians of a national treasure. They were willing to listen, but it was going to have to be a very good fit.”
The early discussions led to a key January 2016 conference phone call — in English — among all the principals of both breweries, including executives, brand managers and brewmasters.
“There was a lot involved,” Leinenkugel said, noting the agenda included developing timelines, determining an organization, defining roles and discussing possible beer styles. That initial call went well, and over the next several months teams worked out a variety of issues, including legal agreements, pricing, packaging and distribution.
And then there was the beer itself. Because it would be brewed by Hofbräu München in Germany, it had to adhere to the “Reinheitsgebot,” sometimes called the German Beer Purity Law. Only four ingredients could be used: malt, hops, yeast and water.
“There were several different versions of what we call a fest-style beer,” Leinenkugel said. “Our Oktoberfest is a marzen-style, but we wanted this to be different than that. There was input from the Hofbräu team and the Leinenkugel’s team. By the end of April we were ready to brew prototypes.”
With beer ready to taste, in June representatives from Hofbräu München flew over to visit the Chippewa Falls brewery. All the key players from both breweries attended. Hofbräu München representatives included Dr. Michael Möller, director and CEO, Rudy Seider, national sales, and Rolf Dummert, head brewmaster. The Leinenkugel’s team included Dick Leinenkugel and brewmaster John Buhdrow.
“That was a key selling point, for Dr. Möller and the others to come over and experience the Leinies brewery and meet the people, the family,” Ksycki said. “They loved the character and the feel of the brewery.”
“We knew this was a historic meeting,” Leinenkugel said. “Our brewmaster, John Buhdrow, showed them around our brewery. And then we went to the Leinie’s Lodge, and we started tasting the prototypes and discussing what we liked about each.”
The two brewmasters, Dummert and Buhdrow, gravitated toward the more traditional style of the two finalists. The younger members of the teams leaned toward a style that included “mosaic” hops.
“That style had a little bit of spiciness, that little bit of floral aromatic that comes from the mosaic hops,” Leinenkugel said. “So it was a bit of ‘old school’ meets ‘new school.’
“There was more conversation, more deliberation, more tasting, and we decided to go with the one that included the mosaic hops. And in the end, everyone was pleased with the decision.”
Leinenkugel describes the beer as “bready, toasted caramel, rich, flavorful, with the hops bringing in this fruitiness, a little bit of spiciness, but still balances the malt. The goal was to have a beer that has drinkability, a beer that can be enjoyed in liter steins.”
And after the final recipe was chosen, “we went and broke bread at Famous Dave’s, and we drank Hofbräu original, and they drank Leinie’s Original,” he said.
Leinenkugel’s Anniversary Lager will only be a part of the brewery’s celebration of its 150th anniversary, which will include a community event Aug. 10-12 at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.
But when Leinenkugel considers the significance of the collaborative beer, he points to both the professional and personal achievements that made it possible.
“This was two brewing teams from historic breweries collaborating on a new recipe, tasting it, discussing it, and in the end choosing it and brewing it,” he said. “And also the conversations about how we’re going to package it, how we’re going to promote it, how we’re going to sell it, all of those details.
“And then after meeting the representatives from Hofbräu, you really understand that they care about their beers as much as we do. And even though they are from Germany, and we’re from Chippewa Falls, we are brewers. In many ways we speak the same language.”