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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — There was a toast and an apology this weekend as the Leinenkugel brewery's fan base grew to include a Minnesota politician who once insulted the Wisconsin beer.
What started out as a slur during a legislative debate ended Saturday with laughs, hugs, photos and cups of Leinie's — and a pledge to meet again in a few months on Rep. Kurt Zellers' home turf in Minnesota, the Chippewa Herald reported (http://bit.ly/11Sk359 ).
"It was nice that it worked out, and I'll have to reciprocate at the Minnesota State Fair this fall," said Jake Leinenkugel, president of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls. "Minnesota has been very good to us, and I look at us as being sister states."
When the Minnesota House was debating whether to raise the state alcohol tax in April, Zellers, R-Maple Grove, criticized claims that the tax increase would amount to only 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, referring to the Summit brewery in St. Paul. "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 Leinenkugel's.
He got the same message from his stepfather, whose family grows barley in North Dakota, as well as from his wife, Kim, who's a fan of Leinie's Summer Shandy.
Zellers, a former House speaker who's considering a run for governor in 2014, decided an act of contrition was warranted. He started with an apology on the House floor the next day.
When contacted in April by the Chippewa Herald for a reaction to Zellers' apology, Jake Leinenkugel laughed it off and invited the Zellers to visit him at the brewery in western Wisconsin, which has been run by his family for five generations, since 1867.
"He came home and said we were invited, and I said, 'We're going,'" Kim Zellers recalled.
So the couple each enjoyed a Summer Shandy in the company of the Leinenkugels on Saturday. It didn't take long for the Zellers and the rest of their contingent to fit right in with the thousands of Leinenkugel drinkers that surrounded them during the 10th annual Leinie Lodge Family Reunion.
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.