Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beer Break

Friends, I hate to say this, but for the next little while I’m going to be engaged in some pursuits that’ll pull me away from the blog. I’ll be indisposed for at least a couple of weeks. I should be back here mouthing off by October 13; maybe a little sooner.

In the meantime, stop by the Oshkosh Oktoberfest and say hello on Saturday, October 4. I’ll be there pouring and talking about the history of German-style Oktoberfest beer.

And what does the picture have to do with any of this? Nothing. But I like it. Click it and dig that boot!

In any case, be well. See you soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Oktoberfest Taste Test

A few years ago in Oshkosh, it wasn’t too difficult to make your way through just about every Oktoberfest-style beer that came to town. To accomplish that this year, you’d have to be an obsessive with a leather liver.

There are currently more than two dozen Oktoberfests being sold in and around Oshkosh. That’s more than I can handle. So where do you start? This might help.

I invited five tasters to sample and rank five Wisconsin-brewed Oktoberfest beers. I purposely selected beers that are easily obtainable in Oshkosh. The panel consisted of three women and two men. Each of them has a solid foundation of beer knowledge. Two of them are homebrewers. I poured the beer and was not a part of the panel.

This was a blind tasting. The participants were not aware of who made these beers. They only knew that they were drinking Oktoberfest-style lagers. Let’s get to the meat: here are the beers in order of overall preference.

1) Lakefront Oktoberfest
2) Point Oktoberfest
3) Central Waters Octoberfest
4) Capital Oktoberfest
5) New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest

Surprised? I was. New Glarus sticks out at the bottom of the heap. RateBeer currently ranks Staghorn as the 9th best Oktoberfest in the world. Obviously these tasters wouldn't agree with that. Perhaps this illustrates the beauty of a blind tasting. All of the branding bullshit and hype that inevitably influences us gets tossed out the window when there’s no label there to remind you what you're supposed to like. The geeks loitering at RateBeer don’t enjoy such an advantage.

Lakefront and Point stole the show. Lakefront's Oktoberfest took 4 out of 5 first-place votes. Point took the other. Point’s Oktoberfest took three 2nd place votes and a 4th-place vote. The bottom three beers were tightly clumped with Capital beating out New Glarus for 4th place by a nose. Each of the tasters mentioned that the beers were extremely similar. None of the beers were said to be “off” or bad.

If you can swing it, I’d encourage you to try something like this yourself. It’s illuminating and a lot of fun. Short of that, I’d go grab a sixer of the Lakefront beer or a 12-pack of the Point beer in cans. ‘Tis the season, after all.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dublin's Third Annual Craft Beer Festival is Saturday

This Saturday, September 20, Dublin’s Irish Pub in Oshkosh will host its Third Annual Craft Beer Festival. They’ll have beer from more than 30 Wisconsin brewers on hand with over 100 different beers available for the drinking (and I’ve heard from a couple of fellow Society of Oshkosh Brewers that they’re going to have some homebrew for the sampling this year, as well).

In addition to all that beer they’ll have a selection of food, live music, a raffle and games. It’s just $25 to get in with 100% of the proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh. C’mon, help a kid out, drink a bunch of beer this weekend at Dublin’s. The event runs from 3-6 p.m. Tickets are available at the pub.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Firkin Tonight at Gardina’s

After a short, summer recess, Gardina’s Beer Bar Series returns. Tonight (Tuesday, September 16) at Gardina’s they’ll tap a firkin of 3 Sheeps Really Cool Waterslides IPA.

For this iteration of the beer, they’ve bumped up the hops with an additional hit of cascades added directly to the cask. This is real ale in the English tradition with hops swimming in the serving vessel.

A little background on the beer: Waterslides is a 6.20% American-style IPA. The standard version features prominent, citrus-like hop notes over a firm body of malt. I imagine the dry-hopping of this firkin will result in the hop quotient being upped a couple notches. I’m looking forward to trying it.

The firkin will be tapped at 6 p.m. sharp. Oh, and you might also want to include dinner in your plans. Gardina’s will be serving from a special menu inspired by the firkin. Beer on!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Where the Streets Have Beer Names

We ought to have more streets in Oshkosh bearing the names of Oshkosh brewers. Just think how much more appealing Harney Ave. would be if it were named Kuenzl Ave. And Doty would be better off as Schwalm St. It has a much nicer ring. I know it does me a world of good to pedal down Lake St. while pretending it was named to honor the long forgotten Lake Brewery and not the huge body of water the road runs parallel to. Well, until these missteps are corrected we still have good, old Rahr Ave.

Charles and August Rahr came to Oshkosh in 1865. They purchased fives acres of land for $700 near the shore of Lake Winnebago. The brewery they built there was then at the outer edge of Oshkosh development. A road was cut to reach the brewery from Rosalia St. The private drive came to be known as Rahr Alley.

An 1895 Map showing Rahr Alley and the Rahr Brewery
As the brewery grew, the area surrounding it began to populate. Many of those who settled nearby worked at the brewery and like Charles and August Rahr, many of them were Prussian immigrants. By the turn of the century, the 50-foot wide Rahr Alley had become a bustling drive traversed by local residents and beer wagons running to and from the Rahr brewery. But despite the fact that more than a dozen homes now stood along the road, the Rahr family still owned it. That was a problem.

Because it was privately held, residences along Rahr Alley could not obtain city waterworks or sewer access. By 1903, that situation had grown untenable. The Rahr family sought to remedy the predicament by donating the land to the city. In exchange, the thousand-foot drive that ran from Rosalia to the lake would be named Rahr Ave. It was an obvious and simple solution to the problem. And T.A. Getchius didn’t like it.

Getchius was an alderman representing Oshkosh's Twelfth Ward (a district then framed by Sawyer Creek, Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River). Boisterous and combative as always, Getchius set out to make political hay by preventing the city from accepting the Rahr’s land donation. On December 15, 1903, the matter came before the council. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported on Getchius’ protest against the deal.

Alderman Getchius objected to having the resolution and the deeds accepted for the reason that he had a street in his ward where houses had been built on the abutting property, although the street is not owned by the city. He stated that there is a church on the street he referred to, while on Rahr avenue there is a brewery. 
      Daily Northwestern, December 16, 1903.

I would have loved to had heard the laughter that must have met the sanctimonious Getchius that night. T.A. Getchius was a hellion. Known as the “old Roman” he had for years operated a dive saloon and dance hall at what is now the south east corner of Oshkosh Avenue and Punhoqua Street. The place was a well-known source of mayhem on the west side. A Daily Northwestern description of Getchius’ beer hall painted it as the sort of joint where "the feet of lewd women and tougher men knocked out time to the tunes of a cracked orchestra."

Getchius’ complaint about the street running past a brewery was equally hollow. For years, Getchius had operated an independent beer bottling operation in Oshkosh. He’d been making money for breweries for a good part of his life.

In the end, Getchius’s objections were pushed aside and Rahr Alley become Rahr Ave. Now, it’s the only sign that’s left of the brewery it once led to.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wisco-Deutsch Brew

Here’s a couple beers floating around Oshkosh at the moment that borrow a page from the German recipe book. But it seems like the brewers were seeing double when they read the recipes. And to good effect! These are Wisco-brewed lagers caught in the act of pulling the rug out from beneath a couple of traditional, German favorites. Das ist gutes Bier!

Capital Brewery’s Fishin' In The Dark
Capital is calling this an imperial schwarzbier. A typical schwarzbier is an easy-drinking, black lager with an emphasis on malt flavor. They usually run about 5% ABV. Capital takes an American craft beer approach. They ditch the subtly and go for the throat. The beer is nearly black with a rocky head of tan foam. The aroma is terrific: intensely bready (as in the fresh baked kind) with caramel and chocolate notes swirling in. The aroma comes through in the taste along with a hit of malted-milk sweetness that turns raisin-like as you drink the glass down. At 7.5% ABV, the alcohol isn’t hidden, but it pairs well with those dark-malt flavors. This is a full-bodied beer with a firmly bitter finish that makes for an overall clean impression. I love it! Gardina’s has Fishin' In The Dark on tap (at least they did as of yesterday afternoon). You can also get it at Festival Foods in Oshkosh where they sell it in 4-packs for $8.49.

Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy Über-Oktoberfest
Here’s another one that takes a staid style and goes hog wild. This starts out looking like a typical festbier. It has a pretty, deep-amber hue with a nice, off-white head. Things begin to switch up with the aroma. The moderate toasted malt notes you expect from a good Oktoberfest are amplified into a blast of sweet malt and toffee. The flavor starts honey-like and sweet with an almost thick mouthfeel. It would be too much, if it weren’t so beautifully balanced by the hops. There’s a strong noble hop presence that’s spicy and earthy and adds a wonderful complexity. At 8.5% it’s surprisingly drinkable, too. I’ve seen this beer at a few places in town, including Festival where 4-packs are being sold for $10.49.

You can’t go wrong with either of these beers. And they'll both go well with the cool weekend we have ahead us. Prost!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beer Season Begins

If you haven’t yet picked up the September issue of the Oshkosh SCENE, get it and you’ll see that my Oshkosh Beer Garden column for this month is about Oshkosh’s packed beer calendar. As we stumble into fall and meander towards the holidays we’ll see a number of good-looking beer events. And it all begins this week. Here we go...

Thursday, September 11: Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America Tapping at Oblio’s
Chances are, you haven’t dipped into this series of collaboration beers that Sierra Nevada brewed with a dozen of America’s more admired craft brewers. The 12-packs that were the fruit of this labor were sucked up incredibly quick. In Oshkosh, they were gone in a blink. Here’s your opportunity to taste what you may have missed. At 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oblio’s will tap into three kegs of Beer Camp beers. They’ll have There and Back, an English-style bitter brewed in collaboration with New Glarus Brewing; Chico King, a hoppy pale ale made with the help of 3 Floyds Brewing; and Maillard’s Odyssey, a strong, dark ale that Bell’s Brewery conspired on. I was lucky enough to try all three of these beers. They’re fantastic and I imagine they’ll be even better on draught.

Saturday Morning, September 13: SOBs Invade the Farmer’s Market
The Society of Oshkosh Brewers will have a stand at this weekend’s Farmers Market. More importantly, they want to give you some free beer. The SOB booth will be just across from Oblio’s. If you stop by, they’ll happily hand you a ticket that you can take into Oblio’s and exchange for a sample of free homebrew. SOB Jody Cleveland will be pouring his English-style brown ale he’s calls Nemesis. Jody says, “It’s an easy drinking, ‘lighter’ brown ale with a hint of spice that comes from rye malt. Here’s an idea: get your Saturday off on the right foot by pairing Nemesis with a bloody mary.

Saturday Afternoon and Evening, September 13: O’Marro’s Public House 10th Anniversary Party
Hard to believe the O’Marro’s have been doing what they do for 10 years. They’ll celebrate with an all-out blow out that begins at 3 p.m. They’ll have beer specials and special tappings and music outside under a big tent. Shawn O’Marro says, “We’re going to have some beers that have never been on at O’Marro’s before. That’s hard to do after 10 years!” Later in the evening, the party will move inside and culminate in a hootenanny jam session. This will be fun.

There’s no need to bemoan the end of summer, friends. Beer season is here!

Monday, September 8, 2014

When the O’Marro’s Opened their House to the Public

O’Marro’s Public House will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary this weekend with a big party on Saturday. Let’s take a look back at how this all got started...

Clarence Deniger
It was the end of summer in 2004 and Shawn O’Marro was laboring to turn his vision into reality. The pub that he and his wife, Brandy, had dreamed up after visiting Ireland was beginning to materialize. “I was working 40 hours a week at ImproMed and working all night trying to get the bar in shape,” he says. “I’d sleep in my truck during my lunch break. I pulled every favor card I had. Everything went into this.”

What they were putting everything into would require everything they had. The space at 2211 Oregon St. needed plenty of work. The site had come into being in 1959. It was the brainchild of Clarence Deniger who came to Oshkosh from Beaver Dam in 1945. Deniger had begun construction on what would become Lake Aire Shopping Center in 1958. It was Oshkosh’s first shopping center and over the years had been home to everything from Deniger’s appliance store to beauty salons and hobby shops to grocery stores. But Lake Aire had housed nothing like what the O’Marro’s had in mind.

The Winemaker Restaurant had been at the heart of the Lake Aire Center since 1982. But by 2003 the restaurant had run its course and was about to go under. That same year, Shawn and Brandy had taken their second trip to Ireland where Shawn had fallen in love with Irish pub culture and the inky stouts made by Guinness. The O’Marro’s wanted to bring that taste of Ireland back home with them to Oshkosh. The recently vacated Winemaker space had deteriorated over the years, but it also had everything the O’Marro’s wanted – a kitchen, a full bar and a banquet hall. Their offer on the property was accepted on July 4, 2004. The long days were about to begin.

The renovation was difficult, but it went relatively quickly. By August 2004, the pub was open. There was little in Oshkosh to compare it to. “At the time, it was just us and Oblio's that always kept Guinness on,” Shawn, says. “You could hardly get people to drink anything that was even slightly dark.” Brandy laughs remembering what they were up against. “I think we were the only bar in Oshkosh that didn’t have Miller Lite on tap,” she says. “We were told we’d never make it. Not in this town.”

The grand opening of O’Marro’s Public House was held on September 24 and 25, 2004. The Thursday before, the Oshkosh Northwestern ran a short feature on the new bar naming it “Tavern Of The Week.” It included a picture of a serious looking Shawn O’Marro pouring a pint of Guinness. The pub had eight beers on tap and not a light lager in sight.

The past decade hasn’t seen the O’Marro’s settling into a rut. The pub continues to grow and evolve. These days, there are often more than 200 beers available at O’Marro’s with the draught lines now numbering 18.

What hasn’t changed is the basic premise that the O’Marro’s started with. “This is a place where you meet new and old friends,” Shawn says. “We get them all, from twenty-one to eighty. You’ll see a doctor sitting down next to a biker talking over a pint. Nobody here cares about all that other crap. They want to have a good conversation and a good beer and a good time. We’re just doing what real Irish pubs have always done. Only we’re doing it in Oshkosh.” Here’s to the first decade of the O’Marro’s Public House. Sláinte!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Toppling Goliath Returns

Last month, I posted a story about  Adam Carlson of Gardina’s and how he’s been working to bring the beers of Toppling Goliath to Oshkosh. I mentioned that when the next shipment arrived, I’d post a note about it here. Well, it’s here.

Yesterday afternoon, Gardina’s took delivery on two of the Iowa brewery’s coveted beers: Golden Nugget IPA and  Pseudo Sue Pale Ale.

Golden Nugget hasn’t been available here before. This IPA is a study in hops. It delivers a gush of tropical-fruit aromatics and a complex palate of hop flavors that range from citrus to floral to evergreen. Golden Nugget gets insanely high marks on both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate and is a must for any hop head.

Pseudo Sue I’ve mentioned here before. It’s a cult beer that’s actually worthy of the hype it has generated. This ale is a showcase for citra hop flavors that are framed by gently sweet malt. It’s a phenomenal beer. Don’t take my word for it, take a look at THIS.

Folks, these won’t last long, so get to ‘em. They’re available in 22 oz. bombers in the packaged beer section at Gardina’s.

If you go, you might also want to check in at the bar. The Gardina’s tap list is looking good. Here’s what’s currently pouring:
 Potosi Tangerine IPA
•  Capital Brewery Supper Club
•  Destihl St. Dekkera Series Flanders Sour Red
•  Sprecher Commando Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale
•  Black Husky Pale Ale
•  Bell's Two Hearted IPA
•  Emmelisse Creme Brulee Imperial Stout
•  Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter
•  Tyranena Fargo Brothers Hefeweizen
•  Capital Brewery Fishin' in the Dark Imperial Schwarzbier
•  Black Husky Sproose II Double IPA
•  2012 New Belgium Abbey Grand Cru

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Belgian-style Ales of Une Année

Une Année is a small, Chicago brewery that focuses on traditional Belgian and French styles of ale. The brewery released its first beers just a year ago. This past summer they began distributing in Wisconsin. Last week, three of their brews landed on the shelves at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. Let’s check them out.

ENKEL is an abbey-style ale of a different stripe. This is an amped up version of a tafelbier, or table beer. Traditionally, tafelbiers were low-alcohol ales reserved for monks and family use; most often as an accompaniment to a meal. A typical table beer usually hovers around 3% ABV, but Une Année’s 5.6% take on the style nearly doubles that. It’s an interesting beer. Careful how you pour this one, if you rush it you’ll make a pillar of foam that’ll have you waiting longer than you’d like to get to the beer beneath it. The beer is hazy and pumpkin colored. It has a nice depth of aroma with some wild-yeast funk giving way to pineapple over caramelized sugar and pie crust. The scent comes together in the draw presenting more pineapple and a subtle, cake-like malt flavor. Like all of the Une Année ales, this beer is unfiltered and bottle conditioned. The lingering yeast adds a peppery bite to the beer’s pleasant, dry finish. I wouldn’t mind sitting down to about three glasses of this. It’s one of those beers that would seem to grow more interesting over the long term. To me, that’s the sign of a truly fine beer.

MAYA is a bit thornier for me. This is Une Année’s flagship beer. They describe it as a “Belgian Inspired India Pale Ale.” The aroma backs that up with a punch of hops in the nose that reminded me of dried apricots. Another voluminous head on this one, it slowly gives way to an opaque, golden beer. Those hop aromatics don’t carry over substantially into the flavor. Instead there’s a light, sugary sweetness that pops up momentarily before being driven under by a woody bitterness that might be as much a byproduct of the yeast as it is the hops. The finish is dry and that bitterness is lingering. It’s a 7.6% ABV beer, but you wouldn’t guess that until you’re well into it. This is far from my favorite style, but they do a good job of it. I wouldn’t want to drink two of these back to back, but I’ll have another before too long.

LESS IS MORE rounds out the Une Année beers currently being distributed here. I haven’t tried this saison, yet, but here’s the word from the brewery: “You’ll find substantial hop flavor, a complex yeast presence and a hint of orange... Low bitterness leads to a clean finish.” And that beer is 4.6% ABV.

All three of these are available at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. They’re being sold in 500ml (16.9 oz.) singles that go for $5.99 each.