Monday, January 16, 2017

People Who Know Their Beer Drink Peoples

Here's an ad rarely seen in these parts. This is a poster issued by People Brewing Company of Oshkosh, circa 1971.

After the 1970 purchase of Peoples by  United Peoples Brewing Ltd., the brewery became the first in America controlled by African Americans. Under the new ownership, Peoples began targeting urban markets. The brewery hoped its unique standing would translate into sales among beer drinkers wanting to support a black-owned business.

The ad seen here was part of that marketing strategy. You wouldn't have seen this one hanging around Oshkosh. It was sent off to larger cities like Milwaukee and Gary, Indiana. It wasn't much help. In 1972, the 59-year-old Peoples Brewing Company went bankrupt and closed.

You'll find more about the sad end of Peoples Brewing here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A 1919 Homebrew Recipe

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been mucking around in a lot of info related to the Prohibition-era homebrewing scene (see here & here). While doing that, I came across a recipe book published in 1919, the year before Prohibition went into effect.

Home Beverages is filled with precisely the sort of stuff you’d want to know if liquor were about to become illegal. Among the “Valuable Information” is a recipe for beer. Have a look...

That recipe would produce the sort of beer that was fairly standard before Prohibition. It would come in at about 5% ABV and 27 IBUs. I don't know about that business of filtering it through old flannel, though. You can check out the entire book here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Learn to Brew this Weekend at The Cellar

Saturday, January 14, The Cellar homebrew shop in Oshkosh will offer a free, introductory class on homebrewing. Class begins at 11 a.m. The instructor will be Tim Pfeister, a local homebrewer, hop grower, and beer geek.  Tim knows his shit. You may know him from this.

Consider attending if you’re thinking about getting into homebrewing or have already dipped into the hobby and want to up your skills. Actually, it would pay to sit in even if you're not interested in brewing, but want to learn more about beer in general. Educating yourself on the process is among the best ways to deepen your appreciation for what’s in your glass.

As long as we’re talking homebrew… Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah is hosting the 2017 Northeast Wisconsin Homebrew Open. Deadline to get your beer in is February 18. More info on that one, here.

The winner gets to brew 10 barrels of their beer in the Lion’s Tail brewhouse. And a free party when the beer goes on tap. Pick up your entry form and rule sheet up in the taproom at Lion’s Tail or email them The Facebook event page for the comp is here.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Beer and Homebrewing in Prohibition-Era Oshkosh with Clarence "Inky" Jungwirth

Oshkosh historian Clarence "Inky" Jungwirth grew up in Oshkosh when Prohibition was the law of the land. Here’s a brief video with Inky talking about his memories of that time.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Collaboration with Lion's Tail Brewing & The Ruby Owl Tap Room

Lion’s Tail Brewing and The Ruby Owl Tap Room are teaming up for a craft beer and food pairing on January 12, 2017, at the Ruby Owl Tap Room in downtown Oshkosh. Here’s Alex Wenzel of Lion’s Tail and Adam Carlson of The Ruby talking about their upcoming event.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Upcoming Beer Events

The beer year gets off to a promising start with a quartet of beer events coming up over the next couple of weeks. Here’s the what...

Saturday, January 7
Oshkosh Girl’s Pint Out brew day at Bare Bones. The GPO crew gets its mash on with the making of a bock beer at Bare Bones Brewery. Perfect for the beer-curious woman who’d like to meet up with others who want to know more about beer. The brew starts at 10 am. The beer is being made in honor of Anna Windhauser, who started the first homebrew store in Oshkosh back in 1925. Check out the GPO event page for more.

Wednesday, January 11
Beer Dinner at Dublin’s featuring beers from Oshkosh’s Bare Bones Brewery. Meet the gregarious RJ Nordlund, brewmaster from Bare Bones. $35 per person. Dinner begins at 6 pm. Contact Dublin’s to reserve a place at the table.

Thursday, January 12
Surly Brewing Co. beer dinner at Chester V's. Four courses & four beers. $35 per person or $65 per couple. Dinner starts at 6:30 pm. Check out the Facebook event page for more info.

Thursday, January 12
Pasta and beer pairing at Ruby Owl Tap Room. Here's a swank, little flyer with all the details...

Monday, January 2, 2017

Anna Windhauser’s Home for Homebrew in Prohibition-Era Oshkosh

In 1925, Anna Windhauser moved to Oshkosh. She came here to open a business selling supplies for making beer at home. In Prohibition-era America, most women wouldn’t have dared do such a thing. Considering Anna’s circumstance, the plan went beyond daring. It was defiant in ways only she may have fully appreciated. It was the last thing anyone would have expected of her.

Anna Windhauser

She was born Anna DeKeyser on March 1, 1888, in Menominee, Michigan. The DeKeyser family moved to Green Bay a year after Anna’s birth.

Anna as a young girl in Green Bay.

Anna knew responsibility from an early age. The family lived on a small farm in the Town of Preble near Green Bay. Her mother worked the field. Her father was often away working lumber camps in Michigan. It was Anna’s job to oversee her five younger siblings. And when she could, she worked at a nearby produce farm picking onions.

Pictures of Anna in the early 1900s.

In 1907, Anna turned 19 and married Charles Windhauser. Charles was six months older than Anna. He worked at his father’s shoe store. His parents were German immigrants.

Wedding photo of Charles and Anna Windhauser

Almost exactly eight months after their wedding, Charles and Anna had their first child, a boy. They named him Carlton. Over the next six years Anna gave birth to five more children. Two died in infancy. Carlton’s three surviving sisters were named Jeanette, Thelma, and Audrey.

The Windhauser children: Thelma, Audrey, Jeanette, and Carlton

Charles took over his father’s shoe store. He re-named it Charles Windhauser & Co. He did well. The Windhauser family lived a comfortable life. Charles was well known and respected. An amiable sort. He liked his beer. Sometimes after work, he’d stop by his brother’s saloon. Sometimes he’d come home singing. He picked up the nickname Good-Time Charlie.

Anna was serious minded. She’d had little formal schooling but loved to read. She could be militant at times. Strong-willed. Always independent. She’d grow outraged if she heard of a man beating his wife. A granddaughter remembers her saying, “No man would beat me twice. He’d never get the chance.” Charlie liked to egg her on. He said, “I bet he wouldn’t, you’re that mean.”

Anna Windhauser in Green Bay.

Before 1920 and the start of Prohibition, Charlie’s drinking had been moderate. After Prohibition it developed into a problem. In a letter written in 1988, Thelma Windhauser recalled her father’s slide into alcoholism.
“When they were no longer able to get beer, they drank whatever was available – illegal, under-the-bar, raw alcohol… (it) turned some of the men literally crazy. My dad never became violent, but he did develop a dependency.”

Charlie’s dissipation was rapid. By 1924, the situation had become dire. More from Thelma Windhauser’s 1988 letter:
“When it seemed imminent that his business, along with his health, was certain to go down the drain, both parents agreed that my mother would have to assume responsibility for the family. My father then sold his business in order to provide money for mom to start a new life. Thus the separation. There never was a divorce.”
Anna and the four children left for Oshkosh. She set up living quarters in rooms behind a storefront near the river on N. Main St. At the front of the building would be her store. In early 1925, she opened Rex Malt Products Co. at what was then 17 Main Street.

The storefront in yellow highlight was 17 N. Main St. in 1925. The Best Western Waterfront Hotel is now located there.

Anna had no experience with this kind of thing. It didn’t matter. She had a shrewd idea. Rex Malt Products became the first store in Oshkosh catering to homebrewers who wanted to make their own beer now that they couldn’t buy it legally. She undoubtedly was aware of the city’s reputation. Beer was always a priority in Oshkosh.

It was somewhat rare for a woman to launch a business in 1925. But a woman starting a business involved with the production of beer was unheard of. Beer was now a black-market commodity. What Anna was doing was legal, but just barely. It flouted the law by its very nature.

The irony of the situation was inescapable. Her marriage failed because of an alcoholic spouse. Now she was selling the materials needed for making alcohol. If Anna had to quell the dissonance, she could take umbrage in the fact that things were good when Charlie still had his beer. And beer was what she was providing a means to. It’s doubtful the self-possessed Anna felt moved to explain herself to the customer’s who flocked to her store. There would have been no need to. She worked in a business ripe with contradiction.

The awkward posturing of the homebrew trade was sometimes laughable. Malt syrups were a prime example. Often they were labeled as if they were food stuff. But the addition of hops belied its true purpose, which had nothing to do with baked goods. Not unless you sought a lingering, bitter flavor from your pastries and cakes.

A label for Happy Way Malt Syrup, produced by the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

Not surprisingly, Anna took a more direct approach to marketing her goods. Her ads for the store went straight to the heart of the matter. There was no pretense. She made it clear that Rex Malt Products supplied everything needed for a home brewery.

Save on Malts and Hops
BUY In bulk. Also caps, cappers, syphon
hose, bottles, fillers, brushes,
bottle washers. Phone 2624. We deliver.
Rex Malt Products Co., 17 Main Street
       - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; April 13, 1925

Home delivery was a common amenity offered by retail businesses in the 1920s. For a homebrew store it was practically a requirement. The dry law had little support in Oshkosh, but that didn’t mean people wanted it known they were making beer at home. The idea of traipsing out of her store and onto Main St. with a bag full of brewing supplies would have been unnerving for those who worried over their reputation. Home delivery provided discretion.

Main Street’s visibility wasn’t its only drawback. Anna’s store was huddled among speakeasies masquerading as soda parlors. People weren't coming to the area seeking the materials to make alcohol. They wanted it served up ready to choke down. Rex Malt Products needed to be where the real action was: the south side.

In the spring of 1926 Anna moved the store south of the river to what is now 1013 Oregon St. Prior to her arrival it had been August Ladwig’s grocery store. It was a large space with room for her family on the second floor. The location was ideal.

The 1926-1927 location of Rex Malt Products at 1013 Oregon St.

In the six years since the onset of Prohibition, homebrewing on the south side of Oshkosh had grown into a cottage industry. Oshkosh historian Inky Jungwirth was a young boy in the 1920s. He remembers what it was like: “My Grandpa had a basement and he’d ferment his beer in big crock jars. My Grandpa had crocks upon crocks of beer at his house. They even had their own bottling process.”

Jungwirth’s grandfather was one of many. It was said there was so much homebrew being made on the south side that in some areas you could smell fermenting beer as you walked down the street. The Daily Northwestern referred to it as a “Homebrew flood.” Anna’s store was in the middle of it.

In 1928, she moved the business again. This time just across the road to the east side of Oregon St. Rex Malt Products flourished there, despite the fact that competition had intensified. Another homebrew shop had opened a few blocks north on Oregon. And nearly every grocery store in Oshkosh was now selling extracts for beer making.

Red Arrow indicating the 1928 store. It's now vacant land between 1004 and 1012 Oregon St. A recent view shown below.

Amidst the success, Anna’s life grew more complicated. Charlie was visiting Oshkosh regularly now to spend time with Anna and their children. The visits grew longer and longer. By 1928 his sojourns in Oshkosh sometimes lasted months at a time. Yet, nothing had changed. Charlie was in no better condition than he was when Anna left him. He had tried to become sober. He took the “cure” on at least three separate occasions. Each attempt failed.

Charlie Windhauser

Anna seemed to grow more tolerant of Charlie’s failings. Now that she no longer need rely on him for support, his drinking was less punishing on the family. Anna and the children moved into an apartment near the corner of 15th and Oregon streets where Charlie sometimes lived with them. He’d pick up odd jobs repairing shoes to support himself. The arrangement would never hold. In the end, he’d always return to Green Bay.

Anna would never go back. In Oshkosh, she had managed to create a new life for her family. Rex Malt Products was an ongoing success. Her son Carlton worked at the store with her. Her three daughters were doing well in school. The uncertainty they had faced in Green Bay no longer clouded their future. It was time to take the next step.

In April 1929, Anna purchased a lot on 22nd Ave. and hired a builder. The Windhauser’s new home was finished in early 1930. It was two stories and 2,200 square feet. Anna took a pair of small loans to help finance the construction. She paid cash for most of it. Oshkosh’s homebrewers had been good to her. That would soon come to an end.

Anna's former home at 150 W. 22nd Ave.

By 1931 all but the most reactionary had realized that Prohibition was an unqualified failure. It would be only a matter of time before the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed. The election of 1932 sealed the deal. Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency. Democrats took control of congress. They promised to end the dry law.

In the spring of 1933 the hammer fell.  On April 7, beer no stronger than 4% ABV was made legal. Sales at Rex Malt Products immediately tanked. Anna scrambled to keep the business solvent. She acquired a retail liquor license allowing her to sell beer at the store. It didn’t help.

Full repeal of Prohibition didn’t arrive until December 5, 1933. By then Rex Malt Products was already a dead issue. In late September 1933, the remaining stock was sold off. The doors to Oshkosh’s first homebrew shop closed for good.

Three months later, Anna’s husband died. For much of 1933, Charlie had been back in Green Bay working at a soda parlor that likely operated as a front for a speakeasy. When Prohibition ended Charlie was already too far gone. He was said to have suffered from delirium tremens at the time of his death. Charles Windhauser was 46 years old.

In 1934 Anna turned 46 years old. Her youngest child, a daughter named Audrey, was now 19. After the upheaval and striving of the past eight years, Anna’s life grew more settled. The children moved on and out of the home. Anna moved too. She took a small apartment at Oregon and 15th. As the Great Depression deepened, she supported herself with practical nursing, babysitting, and housework.

On July 9, 1942, Charles Windhauser’s sister Catherine died. She had been married to Thomas C. Olson, a Madison businessman. Anna moved to Madison and in 1943 married Olson. She was 55 years old at the time of her second marriage.

Anna later in life.

Anna returned to Oshkosh in 1966.  Her health was failing. She needed more care than her elderly husband could provide. She moved into the home of daughter Audrey.  Anna was now 78 years old and debilitated by dementia and Parkinson's Disease.

Anna died in 1974 at Pleasant Acres Assisted Living Home in Oshkosh. Her brief obituary ran under the heading Mrs. Anna Olson. No mention was made of Charles. No mention was made of what Anna had accomplished here against all odds in the 1920s.

The omissions aren’t surprising. Where would you even begin?  At the time of her death, Prohibition had been over for more than 40 years. The memory of it had been buried under caricature that conjured images of wise-cracking gangsters and wild young things of the Jazz Age. Anna had known it wasn't like that at all.

For Anna and her family, Prohibition led first to devastation. The story could have ended there. Anna wouldn't let it. Her response was remarkably appropriate. She used the rise of homebrew – an unforeseen consequence of the pernicious dry law – to liberate herself and her children from their predicament.

Those close to Anna never heard her speak of it in that way. It's difficult to believe, though, that she wasn't cognizant of the irony. She was a person too aware not to have noticed. For Anna, perhaps no explanation was necessary.

Thanks to Janet Wissink, a granddaughter of Anna Windhauser, for her generous help with this post.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

I’ll be on winter recess soaking in Gemütlichkeit for the next couple weeks so the blog will be on temporary hiatus. Thanks to everyone who stopped by this year. See you in 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top Fives of 2016

Adam Carlson returns for our year-end round-up of beery things we liked best.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016: Oshkosh’s Year in Beer

This has been a good year. In 2016, our breweries grew, the variety of beer available to us was unprecedented, and the city’s beer community expanded. The beer culture here hasn’t been this vital since the mid-1950s when Oshkosh was home to three breweries. Things are changing rapidly. And in interesting ways. Here’s a review of what 2016 brought to the Oshkosh beer scene.

The year began with announcements that progress was being made by two groups planning to launch breweries here.

In early January, The HighHolder Brewing Company shared the word that fabrication of its brewhouse was underway at 2211 Oregon St. The 40-gallon brewery they've installed would make this the first nano-brewery in Winnebago County.  Problems related to the permitting process slowed their progress, but now the project is back on track. Of the three breweries currently in planning for Oshkosh, HighHolder Brewing is the closest to producing beer. There's a good chance that will begin happening in 2017.

The beginning of the HighHolder brewhouse.
Later in January came word that another startup, Fifth Ward Brewing Company, was seeking authorization from the city to open a brewery on South Main Street.  By spring, Ian Wenger and Zach Clark of Fifth Ward had secured a building at 1009 S. Main St. and the permits needed to move ahead with their plans for the property. It initially appeared that Fifth Ward could possibly open by the end of the year. But the project ran into financing issues. Clark and Wenger have made significant progress on that front and hope to have an announcement about their impending brewery in early 2017.

The proposed home of Fifth Ward Brewing at 1009 S. Main St.
February brought major change to Bare Bones Brewery. Lyle Hari, brewmaster at Bare Bones, left the brewery to take a job with a Florida brewery. By the end of the month, Hari had been replaced by RJ Nordlund, who had previously worked for Founders, Harmony and Fetch breweries in Michigan.

RJ Nordlund
Nordlund’s beers have been a departure from those produced at the brewery prior to his arrival. His beers often showcase hops and deliver a  robust charge of alcohol.

The change appears to have been invigorating. The effect was most noticeable in the tap room at Bare Bones. The draught lines there had previously been divided between the brewery’s own beer and that of other Wisconsin breweries. But by early summer nearly all the handles had been taken over by Bare Bones’ beer. The point was driven home with new packaging and distribution emphasizing the brewery’s IPAs. At the end of 2016, Bare Bones is not the same brewery it was a year ago.

A new sign being installed at Bare Bones Brewery, November 7, 2016.
Talk of another new brewery flared in May when Jeff Fulbright announced his plan for establishing the Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Company. Fulbright had previously operated Mid-Coast Brewing Company in the early 1990s. His flagship brand was the well-known Chief Oshkosh Red Lager.

Fulbright’s new plan would establish a tap room and 40-barrel brewhouse in the heart of the city. By the end of summer, he had secured a 12-month, option-to-purchase agreement on property at the corner of Jackson and Pearl streets. Fulbright continues to make progress on the project. He is currently negotiating a partnership with a local developer for construction of the brewery.

The proposed Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Company brewery and tap room.
On June 27, Ruby Owl Tap Room opened at 421 N. Main St. After more than a year in development, the Ruby had an immediate impact on the downtown beer scene. The tap room opened with 30 beers on draft, without a light beer or macro in sight.

In July, Ruby Owl installed Oshkosh’s first crowler machine for take-away sales of draft beer in cans. In early fall, manager Adam Carlson began regularly featuring beer events at the Ruby completing his transition from Gardina’s, the Ruby’s sister restaurant on N. Main Street.

If the opening of the Ruby Owl marks the beginning of a new phase, then the death of Brews n’ Blues surely marks the end of the first wave of Oshkosh’s beer revival.

For the first summer in 20 years, the Brews n’ Blues Festival did not take place. When the festival launched in 1996, it represented what was new and exciting about beer in Oshkosh. For many here, the fest provided their entrée to craft beer, or as it was called then microbrew.

But Brews n’ Blues failed to keep pace with the evolution of beer drinkers here. In a city where diverse beer events now take place on an almost weekly basis, the Brews n’ Blues model of beer fest was no longer the novel event it had been. Its demise was the result, in part, of its success at introducing so many people in this area to good beer.

Better news arrived in August. The Cellar, Dave Koepke's homebrew shop, relocated from Fond du Lac to Oshkosh. The Cellar opened at 1921 S. Washburn St. on August 30. It became the first full-scale homebrew shop to operate in Oshkosh since 1933.

The store fills a gap that was begging to be occupied. Oshkosh has had a vibrant homebrewing community for more than two decades. The lack of a local resource for materials the hobby requires was always a hindrance. No more. As a homebrewer, I can attest we sorely needed something like this.

Dave Koepke at The Cellar in Oshkosh.
At the end of August, both Bare Bones Brewery and Fox River Brewing produced beers using wet hops (hops that go directly from bine to brew kettle without being dried or processed). Beers like these had never been brewed here before.

Fox River made its wet hop beer on August 24. Perhaps more important than it being brewed with wet hops was the source of those hops: they were grown at a small hop yard in Oshkosh. It was the first time in more than 130 years that a beer had been produced by an Oshkosh brewery using locally sourced hops. Big Ed’s Hopyard Ale went on tap at Fox River Brewing in mid-September.

Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at Fox River Brewing, picking hops for his August 24 brew day.
Bare Bones brewed its wet hop beer on August 29. This was the first beer from an Oshkosh brewery to be brewed with wet hops exclusively. Bare Bones brewers RJ Nordlund and Jody Cleveland made a day trip to Michigan to source freshly picked hops for the brew. The beer, named WHARRGARBL, went on tap in early September.

Nordlund with WHARRGARBL wet hops.
September was also noteworthy for the formation of Oshkosh Girl’s Pint Out, a group whose goal is to build a local community of women who appreciate good beer. Organized by Erin Peyer, GPO had its first gathering on Sunday, October 2 at Bare Bones Brewery. They followed with a series of events through the remainder of the year. The organization is a signifier of the maturing, more inclusive beer culture developing here.

October 2, the first get together of Oshkosh Girl's Pint Out. Bare Bones Brewery.
This year brought a torrent of reports on the declining fortunes of craft brewers. Often left unreported was that the slowdown was predominantly restricted to large breweries losing ground to smaller, local producers.

In 2016, Fox River Brewing became a prime example of one of those small, local producers on the rise. By the end of October, Fox River had already broken its previous production record set over the whole of 2015. Fox River is now at full capacity and exploring options to increase production. In the near term, that may mean contract brewing some of its bottled beer.

Bottling beer at Fox River Brewing.

Nationally, the brewery count is now over 5,000. With that has come the return of breweries to nearby cities where brewing once flourished. This year we’ve seen beer in Oshkosh from breweries in Ripon, Neenah, and Appleton. You’d have to go back to the 1940s, to find as many breweries in our immediate area sending their beer here.

You’d have to go even further back to find a comparison point for our two breweries. Although Bare Bones and Fox River both distribute their beer, each is reliant upon people coming to their tap room to drink beer they produce on site. This is a model that was prevalent in Oshkosh from the 1850s into the 1870s. It died off as the city’s breweries grew larger in the 1880s. Now it’s being revived as small brewery’s become commonplace again. Each of the three breweries in planning also intends to work this model.

Big breweries aren’t going away. The renaissance occurring here is taking place in spite of that. What we’re seeing is a return to form. For much of Oshkosh’s history, beer was synonymous with local. At the close of 2016, that perspective is undergoing a renewal.