I believe in celebrating the things in life that bring you happiness--and for me, one of those things is Leinenkugels' beers. That's why I want to give a big "thank you" to Jake Leinenkugel--who announced this week that he is retiring at the brewer's president.
I started drinking Leinies in college, when the three options offered by them were "regular", Lite (available only in the Chippewa Falls area) and Red. Then came HoneyWeisse (yes, I pronounce the "w" like a "v" just like all Germans should) and BerryWeiss--which led to custom mix called a "Jake's Pour"--which was half-Honey, Half-Berry. I even have a divided pitcher in my basement Leinenkugels Shrine that holds a couple bottles of each brew and makes a Jake's pour much easier.
Around that time, Jake and the family sold the operations to Miller Brewing. There was much concern that Leinies was going to become the same type of swill offered by its new parent company--but in one of the few smart decisions by the Milwaukee folks, Jake was promoted to president and oversaw operations independently from MillerCoors. Joining the major with its nationwide distribution systems came at a perfect time, because the American beer consumer was ready to try a lot of new things.
That was followed by an explosion of new craft beers from Leinies--like Sunset Wheat (which made its un-official debut at EAA Hops and Props here in Oshkosh, where Jake was on-hand serving out of unmarked bottles this "new elixer"). Then came new porters, apple ales, Russian stouts, amber bocks and eventually Summer Shandy.
I'm sure that when Jake and the brewers pitched the idea to Miller of selling a beer that is mixed with lemonade, it raised a few eyebrows. But Summer Shandy now accounts for 60% of all Leinies sales. It is offered long before summer starts and well into the fall to maximize that sale period. And it is the only Leinies product available in all 48-states. Oh, and every other major brewer jumped on the shandy bandwagon as well--but none seem to get it quite right.
There are more than a few beer snobs who turn their noses up at Leinenkugel products because they are not a "real microbrew"--but part of the enjoyment of your favorite beer is actually being able to drink it wherever you may be--and under Jake Leinenkugel, some of my favorites went from back corner of the liquor department items to promoted specials in bars and stores around the country. All thanks to the vision and expertise of Jake Leinenkugel.