Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, an American brewery that has been owned by Molson Coors (formerly Miller Brewing Company) since 1988, is handing over its management to the 6th generation of the family. Dick Leinenkugel (64), who has been the president for the past eight years is retiring by the end of the year and handing over the management to his nephew and sixth-generation Leinenkugel, Tony Bugher (45).
Bugher, joined Molson Coors at his uncle’s urging in 2014 and has progressed through several roles in the company, including craft and import manager, field marketing manager and senior distributor sales executive. He recently took over as associate marketing manager for Leinenkugel’s, where he works on sales and distributor engagement and branded partnerships and is overseeing the installation of a new pilot brewery in Chippewa Falls that’s slated to come online this spring.
“I am just thrilled that another descendent of Jacob Leinenkugel will now lead our brewery,” Dick Leinenkugel says. “The more family members we can have be part of this business, the better. Working with the Molson and Coors families has been a blessing, especially when it comes to understanding the value of heritage in a business.”
Bugher, whose mother, Kate, was Leinenkugel’s first tour guide when the brewery opened for tours in 1967, aims to continue the legacy set by previous generations of Leinenkugel leaders while pushing “the constant evolution” of the brewery and its brands to modernize and connect with a new generation of drinkers.
“Each generation of Leinenkugel’s leadership has made a significantly positive impact throughout our 155 years of brewing history,” Bugher says. “It’s an honor and a privilege to have that opportunity to continue the legacy alongside my uncle John and cousins Katie and Matt Leinenkugel. I appreciate all that I’ve learned from Dick throughout the past eight years and look forward the future of our family’s storied brand that we love so much.”
Bugher will serve as the de facto face of the brand, sharing the Leinenkugel’s story and history with distributors, retailers and brewery fans as a direct representative of the family. He’ll also advise on brand marketing efforts, production and the Leinie Lodge.
The first project on his plate is christening the Lodge’s new innovation brewery, a small-scale system that will allow Leinenkugel’s to develop new beers and gather immediate feedback from customers who visit the Chippewa Falls brewery.
“We’ve got a ton of energy around our new pilot system and feel it’s going to be a game changer,” Bugher says. “The opportunity for us to move more quickly to develop new brews and get immediate feedback on what we’re doing is huge.”
His return to Western Wisconsin and the Chippewa Falls brewery will mark a homecoming of sorts; Bugher was born and spent much of his youth in nearby Eau Claire, often hanging around the family brewery, including working in the bottling department over summers during his college years.
Bugher will spend the balance of 2022 alongside Dick Leinenkugel, touring the country on the Leinenkugel 155th Anniversary Appreciation Tour. The tour will kick off this winter and visit key distributor markets throughout the year, with Tony officially taking the helm on Jan. 1, 2023.
Dick Leinenkugel, who was named president of Leinenkugel’s in October 2014 after his brother, Jake, stepped aside, spent the majority of his career with the brewery, starting in 1987 as a sales representative based in Chicago. A year later, his family would sell Leinenkugel’s to Miller Brewing.
By 1994, Dick Leinenkugel was named vice president of sales for Leinenkugel’s and took on the additional responsibility for marketing in 1997. Over the next decade, his teams led the expansion of Leinenkugel’s Red Lager and helped build and expand Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss and Berry Weiss brands. Then came Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, an easy-drinking beer inspired by a classic German beer recipe of mixing beer and lemonade.
The brand, which launched in 2007 in the Great Lakes region, quickly exploded into a national phenomenon with a proven staying power that few brands can boast. “It’s rare in a beer career where you get the opportunity to launch a brand that’s first in its category, and that really stands out to me as one of our team’s biggest accomplishments,” Leinenkugel says. “It’s truly a terrific beer.”
He left briefly in 2008 to serve as Wisconsin’s Commerce Secretary and returned in 2010 in a leadership role for Tenth & Blake, Molson Coors’ U.S. craft division.
Four years later, upon the retirement of his brother, Jake, Dick Leinenkugel was tapped to become Leinenkugel’s seventh president.
Over his tenure, he has guided the brewery through a series of new products, including recent additions such as Lemon Haze IPA, Toasted Bock, Chocolate Dunkel and Juicy Peach. He’s also continued to grow attendance at the Leinie Lodge, which today welcomes more than 125,000 visitors each year. And he spearheaded the project to build out the pilot brewing system that will help enable Leinenkugel’s to remain relevant in the years ahead.
Aside from leading the team that developed and launched Summer Shandy, “I’m grateful to be able to work with some really great people and be out there in the market representing our family and selling our family’s beer with our distributors partners and sales team partners,” Leinenkugel says. “Just seeing the love that drinkers have for a brand that’s been around for 155 years — when you stop to think about it, how cool is that I was able to represent my family and be part of that?”