Leinenkugel's president shares why KC has its only restaurant
When the new Leinenkugel's Kansas City restaurant and bar opened on March 7, it was something bigger than just the newest offering in the Kansas City Power & Light District, because it's the only one in the entire nation.
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., which is owned by MillerCoors LLC, has been a well-known craft beer brand in Wisconsin for nearly 150 years, but it has only been in the Kansas City market for about two decades. So why would Leinenkugel's choose Kansas City, and not a city in Wisconsin, as the place to open the first Leinenkugel's branded restaurant in the nation?
We talked with president Dick Leinenkugel about the restaurant and his interest in the area as he visited Kansas City to kick off a charity competition at the new venue between Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Kansas City Pet Project. Both organizations will receive 5 percent of the beer sales on a designated tap, and the one selling the most out of their tap gets an extra 5 percent donation.
So who actually owns and operates this restaurant?
This is owned and operated by The Cordish Co. We have a license agreement with Cordish allowing them to use our brand name. We're brewers, we're not restaurateurs, so we're delighted to partner with a group like Cordish to put something like this together.
Jake Miller (an executive vice president with Cordish) came up to Chippewa Falls, Wis., to see us and fell in love with the Leinenkugel's story. It started out as us getting to know them and them getting to know us. We formed a great relationship with Cordish. We started out with an agreement in Baltimore to put together the Leinenkugel's Beer Garden there. But we're also looking at other opportunities where we could do this in other cities.
So tell me what you like about this venue from a marketing perspective?
We saw the revitalization of downtown Kansas City with the Power & Light District. We saw what it has generated now with new office structures and condominiums going up. You've got a very up-and-coming, vibrant downtown here. I was at the bar last night meeting young people who are moving back downtown and want that experience of being able to walk to their favorite restaurant or bar and not have to worry about driving. That's a great living environment.
Plus, Kansas City is a great sports town. Of course, they've got the World Champion Kansas City Royals and we have distribution at their stadium. There's not a better beer to go with baseball than a Summer Shandy.
How long has your company been distributing beer in the Kansas City area?
We've been in Kansas City since the mid-1990s, with Leinenkugel's Red Lager and Honey Weisse. In fact, I think we even distributed Leinie's original down here at one time. So we've been in this market for awhile. But it wasn't until about 2007, with the first year of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy that we really started to get some traction with respect to making our brand even bigger. Now Leinenkugel's is available in all 50 states. Summer Shandy is our No. 1 seller and our lead beer. It is the No. 1 seasonal craft beer brand in the United States.
How have things changed at Leinenkugel's over the years, particularly with the rise of craft brewing?
Jacob Leinenkugel came to Chippewa Falls and set up the brewery using an old family recipe in 1867. His first year he made 400 barrels of beer. Fast forward almost 150 years later and we're going to sell over 1 million barrels of beer this year.
Certainly, people's taste in beers have changed over the years, so we've changed with them. We're now able to offer a wide variety of different styles of beers. We have everything from Summer Shandy, Grapefruit Shandy and Berry Weisse, to Leinenkugel's Creamy Dark, which is our most award-winning beer. We've won more medals at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup (for Creamy Dark) than any other beer. Then you can even go to a beer like our Big Eddy, which pays tribute to the spring that Jacob Leinenkugel found at the brewery, and it's a Russian Imperial Stout with 9.5 percent alcohol by volume on draft. So we now run from very light fruit-flavored beers to big bold beers. That's craft beer. It's a wide range of different style of beer.
What should people expect from your brewery in the future?
From a beer perspective, the more we can keep things interesting and fresh, the better. I think a lot of what makes the craft beer industry interesting is that it's not stagnant. It's changing and always developing new flavors. They may not all work, but we'll keep making things interesting for our drinkers. One of the beers we have on draft right now is our new summer seasonal called Beer Garden Tart. It's a sour beer, our take on a German Berliner Weisse.