Leinenkugel’s American Family Field brewpub will give company another outlet for innovation

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Earlier this month, Chippewa Falls-based Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company unveiled plans to open a combined brewery, bar and restaurant space at American Family Field in Milwaukee. Dubbed J. Leinenkugel’s Barrel Yard, the space will take over the former Restaurant to be Named Later space located in left field. The brewpub will open in March.

BizTimes Media reporter Ashley Smart caught up with Tony Bugher, Leinenkugel’s incoming president who will succeed his uncle, Dick Leinenkugel, who is retiring at the end of the year, to discuss the brewery’s new concept. Bugher explained how the Barrel Yard will allow the company to hone its focus on innovation and establish even more brand awareness.

Below are portions of the interview with Bugher:

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Has the company always had its eyes on the space at AmFam field?
“Broadly speaking, given the fact that there are a lot of breweries out there today, we’re always looking for unique and creative ways to sample our products and get our products to bigger audiences. We invest in things like music and festivals, but stadiums are a really big opportunity. Leinenkugel’s and baseball just made sense. We’ve always been a part of baseball and we’re a baseball family. We’ve always had an interest in partnering with baseball teams.”

Tony Bugher

What makes this a good partnership for Leinenkugel?
“The opportunity to really talk to consumers on a consistent basis. When you think about a baseball season, you’re talking about 81 home games. That’s 81 opportunities where you’ve got thousands of fans and we want to hear from them. Plus, this type of setup gives us the opportunity to play around with different (beer) recipes and styles. That’s something that’s pretty hard for us to do frequently at our bigger operations.”

Are there any logistical challenges in opening a brewery within a baseball stadium?
“No and yes. There’s always challenges when you’re outfitting a space that wasn’t originally designed for brewing. I think our head brew master would tell you there’s always going to be challenges. The good news is the pilot system we installed earlier this year in Chippewa Falls gives us a baseline to work off of, so we’re ahead of some of those obstacles. The space is there, it’s going to work great and we have all the confidence in the world that we’re going to be up and running by opening day.”

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Was Leinenkugel inspired by any similar baseball stadium concepts?
“Yes, definitely. There is a Terrapin brewery at the Atlanta Braves’ stadium that I had spent a lot of time at. It’s called the Brew Lab. I was able to get a lot of eyes on it and see how they operated and understand customer dynamics. Certainly, a lot of inspiration came from that and visiting other stadiums too. The design is going to feature a lot of historical cues from Leinenkugel. (Customers are) going to be able to see the brewing process, too. It’s also going to be very open and modern.”

Will the brewery feature Leinenkugel classics, some more innovative beers, or a mix of both?
“It will be very similar to the setup we have in Chippewa Falls with our pilot system at the (Leinie) Lodge. This system is a little bit smaller than that. It’s a three-barrel system. We’ll have all the fan favorites there like Summer Shandy and Juicy Peach, but the cool thing about this system is it will allow us to brew different styles. We can play around with new recipes. Like I said, we want to hear from the fans and hear their ideas. We’ve got the capability to brew them now and the flexibility to turn things around quickly. That’s the most interesting and exciting thing for me.”

Will there be any unique food concepts on the menu?
“We haven’t completely landed on that right now. We’re working on it. What I think you can expect is something better than you get at just your general concession stand, but you can’t expect artisanal food. It’s going to be food that you would want to have at a baseball game, but it’s going to be better than the standard hot dog, pretzel, or Cracker Jacks. That’s kind of our baseline.”

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What’s the breakdown on space in terms of each section of the brewpub?
“The brewing space is relatively small because it’s a small system. The rest of the space will be very open. You’ll be able to see the field from upper left field. It’ll be a very casual and unique space that you can come visit without necessarily missing part of the game.”

As your time to take over the company quickly approaches, what have been your biggest immediate priorities?
“My uncle and I had the opportunity to go out and visit with our distributors and retail customers from 30 different markets and that really kind of presented the transition in itself. It allowed us to rally around Leinenkugel with our biggest stakeholders. It allowed Dick to announce his retirement and then it allowed me to introduce myself. That’s the most important thing. Relationships are critical and that was an important thing to do. Because of that, I have a lot of confidence heading into next year and beyond. Some of my biggest priorities are fueling that pilot system and getting this Barrel Yard running so we’re in a really good rhythm. Again, with so many breweries out there, innovation is a really big priority for us. Now, we’ve got two separate vehicles that will allow us to innovate in a much more flexible way. I’ve got a lot of energy around that. In addition to that, (taking a look at) the Leinie Lodge. It’s got over 100,000 visitors every year. We’re going to continue to prioritize that property and space so customers can maximize their experience with us.”

Read the latest issue of STUFF, a BizTimes Media publication highlighting southeastern Wisconsin careers in manufacturing, construction and the trades. Learn more about STUFF here:

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