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As Shandy season approaches, Leinenkugel’s celebrates 150 years with a new beer

Dick Leinenkugel, President, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company; (right) Dr. Michael Möller, Director, Hofbrau Munchen.
Source: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.
Dick Leinenkugel, President, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company; (right) Dr. Michael Möller, Director, Hofbrau Munchen.

One of America's oldest breweries is going back to its roots to celebrate a milestone anniversary.

In a nod to its German heritage, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company is collaborating with Hofbrau Munchen, the German brewery founded in 1589, to create "Leinenkugel's Anniversary Lager," in celebration of its 150th anniversary this year. As part of a yearlong celebration, the beer will be brewed both in Germany and in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

"It'll be the first time Leinenkugel's has been brewed in Germany for…seven generations, when my great, great, great grandfather last brewed beer," Dick Leinenkugel, president of Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company and a fifth generation family member, told CNBC recently.

While the milestone anniversary puts the family's long-tradition front and center, history has never been lost on Dick Leinenkugel who often reflects on the sacrifices made by his ancestors. He invoked Jacob Leinenkugel's daughters, who mortgaged their homes so they could get the brewing equipment up and running again after prohibition.

Then there is his father, William, who presided over the brewery for over 40 years – including during the 1970's, when many smaller family owned and regional brewers were forced to close. At the time, larger breweries increased their scale and distribution footprint, squeezing out many of the smaller players.

"I think about what my dad did to compete during those times, making pennies on the case, but always investing back into the brewery in terms of quality and people, and keeping the local market strong," said Leinenkugel. "That's what really set us up for success now."

Dick Leinenkugel, President, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.
Source: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.
Dick Leinenkugel, President, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company.

In 1988, the family made the decision to sell to Miller Brewing, now known as MillerCoors, a move which likely saved the brewery from going out of business.

Fast forward nearly three decades and to a new generation of Leinenkugel family members working in the brewery, the brand is enjoying a resurgence. A big part of that is its successful line of Shandy, beer that's mixed with a soft drink.

The brew is enormously popular during the all-important summer sales season, and Leinenkugel has all but cornered that market.

"Nine out of every ten Shandies consumed in the United States have Leinenkugel on the label," said Leinenkugel. "Early indications are we're going to exceed our summer Shandy plans this year."

In addition to the continued strength of the flagship Summer Shandy brand which was first introduced in 2007, a grapefruit Shandy brand extension has also proven to be a hit.

"In the first year we released it as package it became the number one craft beer brand in 2015 " said Leinenkugel.

So while the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewery Company celebrates its past and the Leinenkugel Shandy remains a current summer success, Dick Leinenkugel is looking toward the future.

"I'm just a caretaker of the brewery and the brand, that's the way I view it and when you look at the four generations that came before me and how much tougher they had it than I do, I'm really humbled," he said. "I'm just looking forward to getting the brewery set up to have another great 150 years."