Beer drinkers couldn't bear loss of Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat. Now it's back.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Margaret Naczek, Business Journal


Because the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. has a portfolio that is characterized by signature beers like Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and new innovations like Leinenkugel's Juicy Peach, sometimes other beers go into what incoming CEO Tony Bugher called hibernation.

That was the case for Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, which went into hibernation in 2019.

The Chippewa Falls-based brewery hears feedback often from its drinkers about hibernated beers but nothing quite like the reception for Sunset Wheat.

"It was overwhelming the passion that was out there over the past couple years to bring Sunset Wheat back so much that a petition was initiated and signed by around 1,500 people," Bugher said. "That's how motivated they were to tell us that they wanted Sunset Wheat back at their neighborhood liquor store or grocery store or restaurant."

Bugher will succeed his uncle, current CEO Dick Leinenkugel, who is retiring at the end of 2022.

Because of that strong feedback, Leinenkugel's will bring back Sunset Wheat for a limited fall seasonal run. The beer will hit store shelves Aug. 15 and be available through October.

Sunset Wheat is a 4.9% alcohol-by-volume Belgian witbier with a hint of orange peel, coriander and blueberry. Bugher said it is sometimes called "the fruity pebbles beer."

"My Uncle Dick and I have been traveling throughout the United States this year, and we hear it from our retailers. We've been hearing it from our retailers and our distributors this year to bring this beer back because that's what their customers, that's what their drinkers are telling them. That's what we're doing," Bugher said.

Sunset Wheat will be available in six-packs and 12-packs as well as part of the Leinenkugel's variety Lodge Packs.

Though Sunset Wheat is currently only available for a limited release, that is not to say the beer will necessarily return to hibernation. Bugher said the company is always measuring performance, which leads to the decision to bring beers back or try new product innovations.

Leinenkugel's tracks not only orders from distributors but also how packages are moving off shelves at retail and within bars and restaurants.

The company has also seen great summer success, specifically with two brands in Summer Shandy, a popular nationwide summer beer, and Juicy Peach, which has only been released in the Midwest.

"We're still in the heart of Summer Shandy season," Bugher said. "Summer Shandy is a big part of baseball at baseball stadiums around the country."

Juicy Peach was released in February and has become what Bugher called "the darling" of Leinenkugel's portfolio. Since its Midwest launch, it has become the No. 1 selling new craft beer in the Midwest and No. 4 new craft beer in the U.S. despite its limited geographic release.

"There is a ton of energy around Juicy Peach, and we're looking forward to the future with that brand as well," Bugher said.