In Chicago of all places, we fell in love with the 4th largest craft brewer in the United States and the region’s largest, The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewery. We have to thank our friend Kelly for getting us hooked on their seasonal brew Summer Shandy – a wheat beer with a hint of lemonade.
A craft brewery by definition is smaller and brews very little for storage; most require distributors to provide advanced notice of orders. As a result, craft brews are sometimes fresher and, because they aren’t brewed for mass production, the brewmasters can experiment seasonally with different flavor variations.
Leinenkugel kicks off the fun right from the beginning. You enter the Leinie Lodge, a replica of a back woods cabin complete with log frame, mounted fish, cozy couches and a fireplace. After you sign up for your tour, you’re given four sample tickets per person to be used at the serving bar. Each drink is 5 ounces and you can choose from almost every seasonal blend and standard brew. While we waited for our tour to start, we grabbed our first sample and browsed the cozies, t-shirts, beer barrel banks and other kitschy merchandise of the store. Victoria tried the Leinenkugel Red Lager and trying to keep my svelte, girlish figure intact, I tried the Leinenkugel Light.
Terry, our tour guide, took attendance and we walked outside to the sweltering heat and were drenched almost immediately in either sweat or the 80% moisture in the air. He led us to some shade and shared the history of Leinenkugel before he walked us towards the factory tour.
Unlike Miller Brewing (Leinenkugel’s owners), this tour seemed more organic. First of all, the tour is limited to 16, so it’s definitely more intimate. Terry’s stories were accompanied by hand flip charts with photos, and his jokes weren’t standard company fare – they were just plain corny. He shared with us Leinenkugel’s partnership in the local ecosystem, a Miller Brewing expectation.
The tour covered the brewing process, the bottling and pasteurization, and as I said, the history. Overall, we prefer this tour to Miller but it still doesn’t surpass the paid Beer Master tour of Anheuser-Busch. Regardless of our ranking, all three are fun and feature free samples.
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