Leinenkugel's Brewery in Chippewa Falls, WI

Every year – actually twice per summer – I pass the sign for Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin but never have had a reason or the time to stop. After all, I am on my way to go fishing.

Front entrance to the 'Leinie Lodge'

This year however, was different. I found out that there was another brewery that I could tour. And since I was planning to stay overnight in nearby Rice Lake, I realized that this was one detour that was not really out of my way.

Chippewa Falls is just a few minutes north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin on Route 124 and the Leinenkugel’s brewery is located right on Route 124 at the north end of town. There was ample parking in a large lot and I actually arrived over an hour before my scheduled tour time.

Reservations are required but tours leave the Leinie Lodge Gift Shop every half hour. It was a Friday afternoon at about 2:00 when I walked through the doors. The place was packed with people! I checked in and asked if I could take an earlier tour and was told that that would be fine. One very important note to make here is that, without exception, every person I met that day from Leinenkugel’s was genuinely friendly, courteous and helpful.

Plenty of great souvenirs to take home

As I left Leinie Lodge, I couldn’t help but wonder if this tour would be any different from the one I took at the Huber Brewing Company in Monroe, Wisconsin. I guess I had the “seen one brewery, seen 'em all" attitude. There were a few things that were the same but it was immediately obvious that Leinenkugel’s was very different. The whole place seemed to almost shout its intent to maintain a niche in the very competitive beer business.

Although it has to be one of the oldest breweries in the country (dating back to 1867), they have recently built a new addition to the brewery and installed all new equipment – including a sophisticated computer monitoring system – to insure absolute quality control and to maintain consistency from one batch to the next. The brewing building was filled with a lot of highly polished stainless steel. For a relatively small brewery, this place was high-tech and ultra-clean!

One very interesting fact that we were told about – our collective jaws hit the floor together – was what happened to any bottle of beer that was improperly filled, either with too little or too much beer. A laser beam detects the ‘bad’ bottle; it is removed from the line … and smashed, to bits! I assume that it doesn’t happen too terribly often, but the thought of any beer being “wasted” just kind of makes me want to cry.

Case after case of handcrafted Leinenkugel's beer!

It was very cool watching the bottles being filled, capped, sent to the pasteurizing machine and then put in cases and sent to the warehouse. Here they patiently await delivery to your favorite store or tavern. Those cases probably do not have to wait long.

After the tour we were taken back to the Leinie Lodge Gift Shop. In the back was a small bar where we were allowed to sample several of the varieties of the handcrafted beer about which we had just been informed. Although I liked all the samples I tasted, my favorites were the Amber Light and the Honey Weiss, which by the way, is Leinenkugel’s hottest seller right now.

Coming soon is a beer that several on the tour claimed as their personal favorite. Called ‘Big Butt’, it is a dark Bock-type beer that is apparently not made on a regular basis.  I should also mention that the gift shop is stocked to the ceiling with every imaginable kind of souvenir from your visit. I opted for some beer glasses and a T-shirt.

Awaiting a sample of that great, handcrafted Leinenkugel's beer!

The experience was one well worth repeating, if for no other reason than to see if the employees are always that nice. I suspect that they are, and I thank them for a great tour and a great time. The whole ‘detour’ took about an hour and a half and I still made it to Rice Lake before 5:00pm. This is an excursion well worth taking – especially if you are within an hour’s drive from Chippewa Falls. Or make it a trip unto itself and take some time to see the rest of what the area has to offer.

by R. Karl