We’d made arrangements to stay at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls. After a couple days of non-stop travel we usually like to stop somewhere for a night or two where we can connect to utilities, cook a decent meal and regroup a bit.
Before we arrived, Ben was researching the area surrounding the fairgrounds. He asked “Did you know the Leinenkugel brewery is right next door?” I allowed as I did not realize that. “They offer tours, would you be interested in something like that?” My answer was something along the lines of ‘heck yes,’ so Ben made some online reservations for Sunday afternoon. Those of you who are faithful readers (all 10 of you) know that earlier that same Sunday morning we were treated to an Auto Cross race. Our brewery tour started at noon, so a few minutes before 12 we headed out.
We arrived at the brewery gate, and after identifying ourselves as paying customers, we headed in to join our 12:00 group. We were joined by a young woman named Kiana. She was our tour guide, teacher, shepherd, body guard and safety officer (she must have said ‘watch your step’ a hundred times).
The Leinenkugel origin story in brief, goes like this:
“In May 1867, the Leinenkugel family brewery was founded in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin by Jacob Leinenkugel. He was a family man driven by an iron work ethic, and he knew that his German family heritage would play an integral part of his brewery’s success. Today, sixth generation family members are involved in the company, helping to bring the same family-inspired recipes that Jacob poured his heart and soul into to consumers across the country. Over the years, our family has grown and so has our brewery, but our history and heritage remain at the forefront.” —https://www.leinie.com/home
Kiana gave her account of the above history, in addition to other interesting tidbits. She, like many other tour guides is a college student. Her job ends when it’s time for her to go back to school. She walked backwards for most of the tour, which impressed me, as I also have some experience walking backwards. When I was an interpreter I often walked backwards to interpret for my boss as he gave people tours of the Ohio School for the Deaf. He would help by spotting me to make sure I didn’t run into anything behind me. I shared this with Kiana and wondered how she managed walking backwards so well, especially since the tourists were unlikely to be aware enough to warn her about obstacles. She laughed. “I walk this route so many times every day six days a week. I have it totally memorized,” she said. Clearly Kiana is made from sterner stuff than I. Even with my boss helping out I ran into everything behind me.
Since it was a Sunday the manufacturing part of the brewery was quiet. Leinenkugel shuts down on Sunday with the exception of the touring and the legendary Leine Lounge.
Ah, the Leine Lounge. It’s an enormous store/museum/Biergarten. When you arrive for a tour each person who is of age gets four tickets for beer samples. I promptly lost my tickets somewhere between shoving them in my pocket at the beginning of the tour and our arrival at the Leine Lounge. I am not such a beer fan and Ben is not a heavy drinker, so he graciously let me use one of his tickets for the one beer I was curious to try; the Berry Weiss. The beer “samples” were generous glasses of what looked to be about 8 ounces each. Armed with our beers, we headed outside to share our beers with the yellow jackets. That was OK as most of them seemed pleasantly tipsy from visiting other people’s beers. We also became pleasantly tipsy; I drank all of my Berry Weiss, and Ben polished off his Summer Shandy, Leine Original and part of whatever the third choice was. Loosened up, we shopped for some Leine swag. When we took our t-shirts to the checkout area, there was Kiana running the register.
Kiana had been working for the brewery all summer; I never really asked what her job title was, but I decided it must be something like “general tourist wrangler,” because we saw her working in just about every capacity. We said our good byes and headed back to the fairgrounds which was just up the hill. It’s a good thing, we didn’t have far to go, because we both needed naps after our day-drinking at the brewery. You know you’re a senior citizen when you’re done in by a couple short beers.