Considering the tremendous growth and popularity of Leinenkugel’s beers, it was only a matter of time that the Chippewa Falls brewer would extend to all 50 states.
What is remarkable is that it is a seasonal beer, Summer Shandy, that is busting Leinie’s out onto the national stage.
“It is something where I scratch my head, because I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime,” said Jake Leinenkugel, president of the Chippewa Falls brewery.
He said it’s quite a switch from the years that he and brother John Leinenkugel worked Wisconsin and Minnesota to make Leinie’s a huge regional beer, and their brother Dick helped open up the Chicago market for them.
The expansion from coast to coast is being accompanied by a large national advertising push that is kicking off this month. Television ads for Summer Shandy will be airing on the NCAA tournament broadcasts from Thursday through Sunday on CBS and TBS.
It marks a meteoric rise for Summer Shandy, a summer favorite and one of 16 beers Leinenkugel’s now brews.
Summer Shandy, a wheat beer brewed with natural lemonade flavor, has filled a craft beer niche and taken beer drinkers by storm. Its sales soared by 90 percent in 2012, quickly becoming Leinie’s top-selling beer.
“By far it’s our No. 1 beer,” Leinenkugel said, noting it is only available for about five months, through about August. “It keeps our Chippewa Falls brewery at full production, and we’ve had to brew some of it out of Milwaukee to keep up with the demand.”
Leinenkugel’s is the nation’s seventh-oldest craft brewer, dating back to 1867. It is also the fifth-largest craft brewer in the U.S.
Leinenkugel said his company could be the third-biggest craft brewer if it would brew Summer Shandy year round. But don’t look for that to happen.
Lemonade-flavored beer has been popular in Germany for quite some time, for its low-alcohol, refreshing taste. Jake gives a lot of the credit to Dick Leinenkugel for the success of Summer Shandy. More than five years ago Jake said his brother pushed for the company to fill a void that existed in the American beer market.
“Craft beer has been blossoming in general,” Leinenkugel said. “This (going national) is something our distributors have been talking about for two years now.”
On two other occasions Leinie’s was on the brink of moving to a national stage. In the mid-1990s its Red Lager was distributed in around 30 states, and in 2002 Leinie’s Sunset Wheat could be purchased in about the same number of states.
A key part of Leinie’s growth has been its emphasis on its small-town roots, and its advertising features Jake and his brothers John and Dick and other family members in local settings.
“With the new spots, there’s a little banner that comes down about 15 seconds in, that highlights Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. It’s a great shout-out to the area,” Leinenkugel said.
He takes great pride in spotlighting the Chippewa Valley in the advertisements, and the Leinie Lodge has become a huge tourist destination for Leinie drinkers.
In addition to seeing the ads during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight NCAA games, Leinenkugel said they will be showing on several other key cable shows, including mini-series such as the History Channel’s “The Vikings” and “The Bible” and one of his favorite shows, AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which concludes its run this Sunday.
Leinie’s has also been a big advertiser with Major League Baseball. This season it will increase its presence on Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins broadcasts, and also sponsor the White Sox, Tigers, Indians and Reds games.