Have you tried to find a Leinenkugel's beer on tap in Madison recently? A few weeks ago, I stopped in Chippewa Falls to see the relatively new Leinie Lodge hospitality center. The visit reacquainted me with a few of the brewery's mainstays, enough so that over the Labor Day weekend I thought a Leinie's Red sounded like a good beer to pair with a burger at lunch.
While you can always find a variety of Leinenkugel beers in local store coolers, I was astonished at how difficult it was for me to find it on tap in Madison. It almost became a game to see if I could find it.
After no fewer than 14 stops, I was almost ready to give up and just go the six-pack route when State Street Brats was able to pull one of the company's trademark red canoe tap handles to meet my thirst. Bar manager Kelly Meuer said he was a little surprised I had so much trouble finding Leinie's Red, because it's a strong seller there. But he added that Madison is a very competitive market for a brewery to get its beer on tap. But is that that even the case for the legendary Leinenkugel, with the muscle of its parent company, MillerCoors?
What is it? Red Lager from Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls.
Style: Leinie's Red is a Vienna Lager, characterized by reddish brown or copper color, medium in body and an emphasis on light malty sweetness. The malt aroma and flavor may even have a light roasted tone, with a clean hoppy bitterness that is held in balance. Vienna lagers range from 4.8% to 5.4% ABV.
The style originated around Vienna in the mid-1800s, but its popularity faded until Austrian brewers who immigrated to Mexico created a following there. The Vienna lager is often closely associated with Märzen and Oktoberfest styles, but historically the malt used for the Vienna was more highly kilned, leaving it with more light-roasted qualities.
Background: Leinenkugel is one of the oldest names in Wisconsin brewing history, the seventh-oldest brewery in America and the oldest business in Chippewa Falls, where it began in 1867. Today the company is part owned by MillerCoors, but the Leinenkugel family still has some say in operations, with Jake Leinenkugel serving as President of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.
Leinenkugel's Red Lager has been produced by the company since 1993, and company spokesman Tom Ryan says it is sold in 49 states (all except Alaska). According to Ryan, Red is always among the top five best sellers in the Leinenkugel brand.
Leinie's Red showcases Cluster and Mt. Hood hops, but its primary flavor is derived from three malts that include Pale, Carapils and Caramel. It finishes at 4.9% ABV. Leinenkugel's Red Lager was given a Gold in the 2002 World Beer Cup competition. It's a year-round beer for the brewery and sells in six-packs for $7.50 and 12-packs for $13.50.
By the way, the Leinenkugel brothers will be appearing at the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce 2009 Annual Dinner on Tuesday, October 6, at Monona Terrace. Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce Dick Leinenkugel will be the dinner's master of ceremonies, and his brother Jake will be the keynote speaker.
- Aroma: Firm maltiness.
- Appearance: A clear, deep ruby-red bronze, with thick, marbled tan head.
- Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, soft texture.
- Taste: Smooth caramel maltiness, but overall a nice balance and clear taste.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Light clean malty accent.
Glassware: Leine's Red is a beer with a brilliant reddish amber color and great head retention. A dimpled mug with a slight inward curve to the lip -- sometimes called a Bavarian Seidel mug -- accentuates the subtle malty aroma and shows off the color. This is a beer that is best served cool (45-48 F), to bring out its smooth malty flavor. Serve it too warm and you get a sourness. But don't serve it extremely cold or you'll lose nuances of its flavor. Unfortunately, most bars, taverns and restaurants bring it to you at refrigerator temps, too cold to appreciate this beer's true flavor. I prefer a thick glass mug that allows it to warm slowly and remain cool.
Pairs well with: The red lager is one of the most versatile meal beers, and will match with most foods. Leinie's Red is well suited for mild cheeses and sausages, modestly spicy dishes and Mexican fare. It complements a tailgate, especially when the occasion calls for something red to support your favorite team.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Leinie's Red is solid red lager that will blend with most meals, and for that reason deserves a place in most refrigerators. It's a popular beer for the Wisconsin masses looking for local beer, albeit one available nationally. It's a step up from the typical big-brewery golden lagers. The malty nose is inviting, while its smooth, soft mouth feel complements the caramel malt flavor. The red lager isn't a style that is overly assertive by most definitions, and some might find Leinie's Red a little reserved or even non-offensive to a fault. Then again, that's what it's supposed to be, and one reason it is so popular -- at least in bottles around Madison.