Crafting Something Special
whatever your taste, Chippewa County breweries, distilleries, and wineries have something to savor
Whether you’re in the market for a Summer Shandy at the Leinie Lodge or a sip of something stronger from Chippewa River Distillery, Chippewa Falls has got the drink for you. Chippewa has craft beverage creation down to a T; it’s part of the very fiber of the community. Learn more about these makers, all of whom are found along the Chippewa Valley Craft Beverage Trail.
Chippewa River Distillery & Brewster Bros. Brewing Co.
Founded in March 2016 by Jim Stirn and Kurt Schneider, Chippewa River Distillery & Brewster Bros. Brewing Co. (402 W. River St., Chippewa Falls) overlooks the Chippewa River through big, bright windows. The duo grew up in and around Chippewa Falls, and were excited to bring distilling to the area when they saw the city’s efforts to update downtown. They felt most welcomed by the city as they underwent the construction and licensing processes. Stirn believes that welcome was in part because of the great foundation laid by Leinenkugel’s over the decades.
Stirn comes from a background in technology, where he says workers can be isolated because of the competitive nature of the business. In the craft beverage industry, however, he finds that the culture is more open and friendly, with makers collaborating and working together to find new flavors.
The distribution process is also cooperative, he says. “Part of what we’re here for is to help local restaurants and bars offer local beverages, and further their business,” he said.
Now, he and Schneider see the growing presence of alcohol tourism in the region.
“We meet people from all over the world in the facility who are traveling to see family, and even just to see the breweries and wineries,” Stirn said.
With more than 150 years in the business and 150 full- and part-time employees, it could be said that Leinenkugel’s set the standard for craft beverage culture in Chippewa Falls. Jacob Leinenkugel founded the brewery in 1867 – two years before the city was incorporated! People flock from near and far to enjoy a beer, a view of the river, or a game of cornhole at the Leinie Lodge (124 E. Elm St., Chippewa Falls). On weekends during the warmer months, Lindsey Everson, the Lodge manager, sees as many as 1,000 people a day come through the tasting room.
“As the generations have continued, their love for the beer and the brand and for this place has always been unstoppable,” Everson said. She uses phrases and words like “love” and “work ethic” to refer to Chippewa Falls and the brewing scene. Those themes are reflected in Leinenkugel’s giving initiatives, which range from individual donations to local organizations to funding water restoration projects. The brewery also works to preserve the history of the business in the form of interactive tours, history books, and more.
Autumn Harvest Winery & Orchard
If drinking from crystal is more your cup of tea, Chippewa County is home to two wineries specializing in locally grown and fermented wines. John and Marykay McIlquham opened Autumn Harvest (19947 County Hwy. J, Chippewa Falls), in the summer of 2004. Their family had tended the orchard since 1924. Now, the business has moved into the hands of Chad and Jean McIlquham, who oversee the making of 13 different wines and cider beverages. Autumn Harvest frequently hosts live music and wine tastings throughout the summer season.
“I think we’re all jumping on the craft beverage train,” Jean said. She also sees the local scene as one that thrives through cooperation. With the Craft Beverage Trail entering its second season, offering incentives for people to try out all the breweries, distilleries, and wineries the Valley has to offer, it’s clear that diversity feeds the culture.
“For a long time there was really not a lot of options – the more the merrier!” Jean said.
“People like to see things start and finish in the same place,” she went on. At Autumn Harvest, visitors can see the apple tree their beverage came from and meet the family members who helped harvest, bottle, and stock the wines.
River Bend Vineyard & Winery
The same is true at River Bend Vineyard & Winery (10439 33rd Ave., Chippewa Falls), which Al and Donna Sachs opened just a few years later in 2009.
“The vineyard surrounds the tasting room, and for some people that’s so unusual,” Donna said. She and Al moved to Chippewa Falls from the Twin Cities, far removed from the agricultural component of food and beverage.
“We’ve always said we’re not just selling people a bottle of wine, or a bottle of vodka; we’re giving people an experience,” she continued. That experience is the visit, not only to the tasting room, but to the region. The sense of place that comes along with buying an entirely locally sourced beverage, she says, ties the taste to a time and place that’s uniquely Chippewa Falls, from the geography to the people.
Fulfilling the duties of a vineyard, winery, and distillery is hard work, but finding people with strong work ethic has never been a challenge for the Sachs. It’s tied with the history of Chippewa Falls as an agricultural community.
When all those components come together into a great experience at a tasting room – especially with three of those four rooms popping up in the past 20 years or so – it says something about the region. “This town is so much more than just a town now,” Donna said.
Leinenkugel’s, Chippewa River Distillery, Brewster Bros. Brewing Co., Autumn Harvest Winery & Orchard, and River Bend Vineyard & Winery are all participating in the 2019 Chippewa Valley Craft Beverage Trail. For information about beverage tastings, events, and how to win prizes by visiting local craft beverage makers, visit chippewavalleytrailguide.com.