As beer drinkers’ tastes broaden and their palates become more sophisticated, large brewers are responding by becoming more adventurous. One example of this is Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. For the past couple of decades, Leinie’s has been known for lighter beers such as Honey Weiss, Sunset Wheat and Summer Shandy. However, the continued craft beer growth convinced Leinenkugel’s brew masters it was time for them to flex their brewing muscle and expand their lineup with some bigger, bolder additions.
In 2009, Leinie’s introduced Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout, featuring 11 different malts and 9% ABV. Although it was quite a departure from Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss, the beer earned positive reviews and broadened the brewers’ audience of beer drinkers.
“When we first rolled out Big Eddy, many beer drinkers were a little surprised since it was certainly a bit of a change for us, but once people drank it, that shock turned to respect,” said Jake Leinenkugel, president and fifth-generation Leinenkugel’s brewer. “Sometimes we have to trust our brewers’ instincts, and that’s what we did in this case. It all comes down to occasions. We want to have an option for beer drinkers whether they’re out on a lake fishing, or savoring a special meal.”
Brewing the award-winning Russian Imperial Stout wasn’t a decision Leinenkugel’s took lightly. The brewing team developed countless recipes and batches until it settled on the final beer, which features a deep, mahogany color, espresso and mocha character and finishes with toffee and molasses notes. Leinie’s also opted to brew the limited-edition beer in its 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee, versus its primary brewery in Chippewa Falls.
“Considering the intricate recipe, numerous ingredients, small batches and brewing equipment required, it made sense to brew Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout in our smaller 10th Street Brewery,” said Leinenkugel’s brew master Greg Walter. “We’re excited by the response Big Eddy has received, and it’s given us confidence to keep brewing new, bold flavors and styles.”
In fact, the success of Big Eddy RIS has led to the 2012 launch of three more beers in the lineup: Big Eddy Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, Big Eddy Imperial IPA and Big Eddy Baltic Porter. The name honors the Big Eddy spring in Chippewa Falls, lifeline of the brewery since 1867.
“We’ve found, and other brewers are seeing this as well, that it doesn’t necessarily matter where you’re from or what styles of beer you might be known for,” Leinenkugel said. “Ultimately, if you brew great beer, people will try it.”
Leinenkugel will be at the BBC in Indianapolis with its beers, so you’ll be able to try them yourself. Let us (by commenting here) or them (@jakeleinenkugel) know what you think.