Potter’s Wheel Turns Out Commemorative Mugs

The Dunn County News
Menomonie, Wisconsin
Wednesday March 6, 1985

The match between the family owned brewery and the small-town potter was a natural. Thomas made mugs for a tavern in Downsville. When Jake Leinenkugel delivered his company’s brew to the tavern, he noted the mugs and asked about them.

The proprietor arranged a meeting between Leinenkugel and Thomas, and over several samplings of the company’s brew, Thomas agreed to make 500 mugs to commemorate the 1983 batch of bock beer. Thomas completed 250, which were sold or given away as, prizes with a certificate of limited edition. In 1984 he delivered 1,000 mugs and this year 1,500.

“I’ve heard that they’ve already increased in value,” Thomas said. The potter and the brewery have many things in common. Both are fighting to survive in the face of large companies that can mass produce their products~sometimes a lower cost.

The brewery began in the mid 1860s with 20 employees and a 400-barrel annual production. Today the company employees 70 people and claims an annual production of 90,000 barrels.

According to an article in the February 1978 issue of “Brewers Digest,” the brewery has kept many of its old-fashioned ways in an effort to maintain its old fashioned quality the beer is carbonated naturally its brewing age is three to five weeks longer than most breweries, and the company uses more grains than most larger companies.

Thomas has in the past made pottery from local clay, but used purchased clay for the Leinenkugel mugs.

”A source for enough Menomonie brick yard clay to make the mugs has been elusive,” he said.

All the mugs are thrown by hand and fired three times-in a woodfired kiln.

“Wood is somewhat of a inconvenient fuel,” Thomas said. “You turn gas or electric on and all you have to do is peek at it for awhile. But I like the wood.”

The wood kiln and basement studio restrict Thomas’ production to smaller numbers, if he is to maintain quality.

He has restricted his sales to commission work, such as the Leinenkugel mugs, three art fairs a year and distribution to a few shops, such as the Silverwear in Menomonie.

Along the same lines, some of the processes employed by the Leinenkugel brewery take longer than those used by larger beer companies and limit how much brew it can produce.

According to information from the brewery, about 70 percent of all “Leiney’s” is distributed within 100 miles of Chippewa Falls.

Both the brewery and the potter stick to the tried and true methods they’ve learned through the years. The styles of the mugs have varied slightly from year to year, but Thomas said this year’s style, patterned after a beer barrel, may be the beginning of a standard. The mug must be comfortable and keep beer cold, Thomas said. From then on the style is just a matter of personal taste.

And more than one person has told him, he said, that Leinenkugel bock beer tastes best from his mugs.