A toast, an apology: Leinie’s fans now include Minnesota politician who once insulted the beer“That’s like promising a case of Summit to the party and showing up with that bathwater called Leinenkugel’s,” Zellers said. “It’s not a fair deal at all. Good Minnesota beer for Wisconsin bathwater, no sir.”
By: By Ross Evaold, Winona Daily News, Superior Telegram
Brothers Dick, John and Jake Leinenkugel were roaming the brewery grounds Saturday, shaking hands, posing for photos and thanking some of their loyal Leinie’s followers.
At the 10th annual Leinie Lodge Family Reunion, those fans included a high-level Minnesota politician, as the Kurt Zellers Apology Tour came to Chippewa Falls.
What started with an unintentional insult in an official public setting ended Saturday with laughs, hugs and Leinie’s, and a pledge to meet again in a couple of months on Zellers’ home turf.
“It was nice that it worked out, and I’ll have to reciprocate at the Minnesota State Fair this fall,” said Jake Leinenkugel. “Minnesota has been very good to us, and I look at us as being sister states.”
The sister reference was certainly in keeping with the family reunion’s mission. And on the day before Father’s Day, Jake invoked his father’s name, Bill, in telling the Zellers that “my dad would have been happy you came over.”
The goodwill generated from Zellers’ slipup was a result of the way it was handled by both Zellers and Leinenkugel.
When the Minnesota House of Representatives was debating whether to raise the state alcohol tax in April, Zellers, R-Maple Grove, criticized claims that the tax increase would amount to seven cents a beer.
“That’s like promising a case of Summit to the party and showing up with that bathwater called Leinenkugel’s,” Zellers said. “It’s not a fair deal at all. Good Minnesota beer for Wisconsin bathwater, no sir.”
It didn’t take long for Zellers to realize he had made a big mistake.
“Within 24 hours of that, three people set me straight,” he said Saturday. One included a lobbyist for MillerCoors, which owns Leienkugel's.
“He said the good news is that the Leinenkugel guys are really good guys,” Zellers said. The bad news was he was told he should apologize for his comments.
He received the same message from his stepfather, whose family has produced malted barley and other crops on their North Dakota farm for 134 years, as well as from his wife, Kim.
When she heard what her husband said about Leinie’s, she thought: “Does he really not know what I drink in the summer at the lake?”
She became a fan of Leinie’s Summer Shandy a few years ago.
“I had some friends who drank it and said, ‘You have to try it,’ ” Kim said, noting she was won over instantly.
Zellers, who is thought to be a strong candidate for governor in 2014, decided an act of contrition was warranted, in the same forum where it had all started.
“The little joke I played last night got me in trouble at home last night,” Zellers said on the House floor the next day. “So most importantly, my apologies to the Leinenkugel family. They are a great family-owned business. But as it usually goes at our house, ‘I’m sorry honey.’”
Correcting the record won him points all around.
“It was great what he did,” Kim Zellers said Saturday. “This was all in good fun, and hopefully a good relationship will develop.”
When contacted in April by the Herald for a reaction to Zellers’ apology, Jake Leinenkugel laughed it off and issued an invitation to the Zellers to visit him at the brewery.
“He came home and said we were invited, and I said, ‘We’re going,’” Kim recalled.
So the couple each enjoyed a Summer Shandy in the company of the Leinenkugels on Saturday. They posed for photos under a Leinenkugel’s tent and in front of Duncan Creek, which cuts through the brewery property and doesn’t in the least resemble “bathwater.”
It didn’t take long for the Zellers and the rest of their contingent — including Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, — to fit right in with the thousands of Leinenkugel drinkers that surrounded them.
In fact, one of Kurt Zellers friends was heard to exclaim after taking a sip from his cup of Leinie’s, “Best beer in the world.”
This time, there were no dissenters.