Leinenkugel’s 6th Annual Family Reunion, or, Free beer, free beer, free beer!

Fourth of July has competition for the title of top summer holiday. This past weekend, Leinenkugel’s hosted their 6th Annual Family Reunion, replete with copious amounts of their divine, fermented nectar, free food, brewery tours, and a rockin’ cover band.

Although obvious that it was public relations-driven, it didn’t detract from what was clearly someone’s idea to have a really big, fun, beer-rific party. The cooking contest is case in point: What better way to generate summer-appropriate recipes that include Leinie’s beer than a cooking contest with 150 of their biggest fans? The gauntlet was thrown: create a salad using the ingredients provided, including at least one Leinie’s beer, as well as a “commercial” and documented recipe.

Ten teams of fifteen (yeah — fifteen) rifled through platters of lettuce and spinach, piles of produce, a cart full of spices, and a table of elbow pasta, cooked potatoes, and other standard salad fare, vying for the choicest ingredients. Dressings were started while other team members enveloped their groups in a flurry of chopped vegetables flying from their knives. Whether or not contestants were motivated to compete by the lure of unlimited access to more free beer is unclear, but it was apparent that it was appreciated.

Some thirty minutes later, judges made the rounds, taking in sassy jingles, posterboard with marker-ed recipes and hastily-drawn product sketches, and — most importantly — tasting each team’s offerings. Some were no more impressive than what you’d make in your own kitchen with basic ingredients, while others were clearly well-thought out at the hands of someone capable.

Team Summer Shandy (our team!) created “Sweet and Sassy Summer Shandy Salad” (above). Lumping complete strangers together in a competitive environment can yield unusual results — like defensiveness over the merits of salad dressing. In the end, a compromise elicited a second-place prize of nifty metal Honey Weiss signs.

Winnings in hand, we cashed in our food tickets, found an open stretch of sunny curb and settled in to enjoy Jennie-O turkey brats (Healthy? Perhaps.), chips, a cookie, and a chilly cup o’ beer.

They may not tout fireworks like other summer celebrations, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be going back next year. The cases of free beer they sent us home with is incentive enough!

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