Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day from the Oshkosh Brewing Company

Here’s an 80-year-old ad from the Oshkosh Brewing Company saluting all of us who work for a living. This appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on September 1, 1934.

This appeared in conjunction with the first Labor Day since the repeal of Prohibition in December 1933. After suffering nearly 14 years under the yoke of an asinine law, you can’t blame the folks at OBC for their melodramatic slant: “America has risen up, shaken off the dregs of a nightmare that seemed beyond control.”

For others, the nightmare hadn’t ended. In 1934, the Great Depression was battering the workers of Oshkosh. If you hadn’t already lost your job, chances were your wages had been substantially cut. It was a grim time for many and that undercurrent informs the text of this ad. To read it all, click the image and it will enlarge.

Here’s to Labor Day and hoping that yours is more festive than that of 1934.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Couple Beers for Labor Day Weekend in Oshkosh

Labor Day weekend is upon us. Time to think about what you’ll drink. You going to try slugging down an oily imperial stout while you stare at the grill watching your meat burn? Hell with that. Grab a real beer; as in a beer your father would recognize as beer. Wrap your hand around a nice, cold pilsner. Right now in Oshkosh, we have a couple prime examples of just how tasty a traditional pilsner beer can be. There’s a reason this beer style conquered the world. Let’s quench some thirst…

Fox River Brewing Company German Pilsner
Within the pilsner style there's a subset of beers that range light-blonde to deep-gold in color. Where they differ is in their balance of malt and hops. The German-style pilsner leans to the maltier side. This pils from Fox River Brewing gets that just right. It’s  a golden beer that pours with a pillow of white foam that lingers to the dregs. The aroma reminded me of soda crackers with a dash of fresh pepper. The beer is medium-bodied with a fresh-malt flavor that’s grainy and light. Those malt notes are balanced by a relatively firm bitterness that doesn’t present itself until the very end. Crisp and exceptionally clean, I can’t think of any food that this beer wouldn’t pair well with. They’re selling German Pilsner at Fratellos in Oshkosh in pints and in take-home growlers.

Side Note: Last month, they installed a new draught system behind the bar in the restaurant portion of Fratellos. The beer coming out of those lines has been noticeably better. Along with the new system, they also added four more tap handles bringing the number of beers they have on draught to 13. If you haven’t checked out what’s happening there lately, give it a shot. What you find might surprise you.

New Glarus Hometown Blonde
Here’s another German-style pilsner, but one that leans a wee bit more towards the hop-side of things. This is a seasonal offering from New Glarus and, to me at least, this year’s version seems more robust than last year’s. I like that. It’s a clear, straw-colored beer that sends a cascade of bubbles up from the bottom of the glass to create a creamy head of white foam. The aroma is akin to white bread under a grassy, almost lemony note from the hops. The beer is intensely carbonated and crisp with a mild biscuit-like malt flavor. The hops come across brightly with more of that grass along with a subtle minty tatse. There’s a pleasing and lingering bitterness to the finish that makes this beer another great match for all types of food. This is an exceptional lager that even your Lite-beer loving friends will probably warm to. Hometown Blonde is all over the place: gas stations, grocery stores... it’s easy to locate this one in Oshkosh.

Have a great weekend and don’t burn those brats. Prost!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Ghost Hops of Delhi

If you had traveled west from Oshkosh 150 years ago and made the 13 mile trip to the Village of Delhi, you would have encountered something extraordinary. You’d have seen acres of spiraling hop plants growing high and ripe in the late summer sun. The air would have been spiced by the resinous aroma of mature hop cones that would soon be harvested. But if you were to make that same trip to that same point today, you wouldn’t guess that such a place as Delhi had ever existed.

Delhi was the dream of Luke LaBorde. He was born in Green Bay in 1810, the son of a French/Canadian fur trader. LaBorde went to Fond du Lac around 1840 then came to Winnebago County in 1846 when he purchased a trading post on the north side of the Fox River. He moved the trading post across the river and a small community began growing around it. Located approximately halfway between Omro and Eureka, the settlement was first known as LaBorde’s Landing. In 1849, LaBorde created an official plat of the village and renamed it Delhi. In the summer of that year, LaBorde went seeking recruits for his hamlet.

An advertisement LaBorde placed in the Oshkosh Democrat of August 10, 1849 has him singing the praises of his aspiring community. “This site for a village in point of beauty of location and commercial and trading advantages is unsurpassed by any other upon the Fox River, or indeed the State… there is every prospect that in short time a large and flourishing village will grow upon this site… The Proprietor now offers to give any person wishing to locate here, a lot 66 by 132 feet on which to build, upon a condition that a building shall be erected thereon within six months from the time of making the agreement.”

The giveaway attracted takers. On September 27, 1850 the Democrat reported that upon a recent visit to Delhi, “We saw several large, nice buildings, one large store, one public house, besides a number of dwellings, a steam sawmill and preparations for more buildings.” At the close of 1850, Delhi had its own Post Office, another sawmill, two hotels, and a ferry crossing the Fox that would be replaced by a float bridge. The village was thriving. By 1853, Delhi was home to 150 people with more than 30 dwellings having been raised on LaBorde’s plat. And it’s probably about this time that the farms surrounding Delhi began growing the crop the village would be known for – hops.

The exact year that hop farming began near Delhi isn’t documented, but it’s likely to have occurred in the 1850s. We know that Yankee hop farmers had introduced the crop to Winnebago County by this time. Productive hop farms usually take several years to establish and Delhi’s prominence in the field suggests that hops had taken root there early on. In any case, hop farming in Delhi grew to be extensive. The small village reaped the benefit.

During the annual harvest in late August and early September, Delhi would flood with people who had come to pick hops. The American House in Delhi would grow so crowded that some guests slept in the hallways and attic of the hotel. The pickers were paid by the box sometimes earning as much as 40 cents for a box that would hold 40-50 pounds of hops before they were dried. After drying in vented barns with slatted floors, the hops were processed in Delhi, which had three hop mills and a hop press. The hops would be bound in large bales that weighed as much as 200 pounds. The bales were then delivered by boat to Oshkosh for use by breweries there and beyond.

A Typical Hop House of the 1860s
The price of hops increased through much of the 1860s as New York State, then the largest producer of hops in the nation, suffered a blight of failed crops due to aphid infestation. As prices rose and demand spiked, some Wisconsin farmers grew rich. Luke LaBorde may have been one of them. LaBorde had taken to farming and had built a hop house on his property that was nearly 100 feet long and used for drying his crop. One report indicates that LaBorde’s hop yard consisted of 30-40 acres. In its time, that would have been a very large hop farm.

As prices rose, more farmers turned to hops. An inevitable glut ensued. By 1869 hop growers were forced to sell their crop at a loss. Many of them abandoned the crop. The decline in hop farming appears to have been concurrent with the decline of Delhi. And the failure of Delhi was presaged by the death of its founder.

There are conflicting dates given for the death of LaBorde, but it occurred in either 1868 or 1869. He was buried on his farm on land that had previously been used by Native Americans as a burial ground. The crash of the hop market and the death of LaBorde weren’t the only problems to have beset Delhi. The village had never attracted the number of residents LaBorde had hoped for and with the railroad having bypassed Delhi in favor of Omro, the village had been put at a disadvantage. After both Eureka and Omro built bridges better than the float bridge at Delhi, the village’s decline became unavoidable.

A Portion of LaBorde's Land as it Now Appears
Delhi’s demise seems to have occurred somewhat rapidly. In Richard J. Harney’s 1880 History of Winnebago County, Delhi is already described as “long since depopulated.” Today it’s a ghost town where the only reminder of its existence is the road bearing its name that runs between Waukau and the vanished village on the river.

A portion of the land once farmed by LaBorde is cross cut by County Road E. Much of it is now untended and overgrown. I’ve been there a number of times recently hunting for remnants of the hops LaBorde once grew. Hops are a notoriously durable plant and will often continues growing wild after cultivation has ceased. So far, I haven’t been able to find hops growing in the area. Delhi keeps her ghosts well hidden.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Couple of Big Lagers to Enjoy This Weekend in Oshkosh

Lager beer gets a bad rap. Even among those who know a thing or two about good beer, I still encounter people who remain wedded to the idea that lagers are low impact and bland. I suppose we have a few decades of tepid macro-beer to thank for that. Well, here’s a couple of beers that put the lie to such rank bullshit. These two big lagers from the Milwaukee Brewing Company explore the dark and spirited side of that good, old lager beer. Let’s start with the dark...

Dark Matter Imperial Schwarzbier
Schwarzbier is a German-style of dark lager. Usually, it’s a medium-bodied brew that accentuates malt over hops and is of moderate strength. Kind of like a German pilsner, but black. This beer ramps all of that way the hell up. It’s definitely a black (schwarz) beer. In the glass it’s opaque under a thin lid of sandy foam. It gives off a rich aroma that brings to mind malted milk and chocolate cream. Drawing it in, the malt flavor is uppermost. It’s creamy/sweet and at the same time cookie like. The beer is a mouthful, but balanced by enough roast and hop bitterness to keep it from being too sticky. The warming finish of alcohol is especially nice. You wouldn’t guess that it’s 9.5% ABV until you’ve finished it. I love this beer.

Doppelvision Barrel Aged Doppelbock
I was thinking the other day about how tired I am of barrel-aged beers. Barrel aging has gone the way of hopping rates. Most of the barrel-aged beers you get now are so ridiculously overwrought with spirit flavors that the character of the beer is lost; usually to an unpleasant bite of highly compromised, often musty, bourbon flavor. So I picked this one up with some trepidation. My faith has been restored. This is what barrel aging is all about! Doppelvision is aged in bourbon barrels and you get that. But those flavors are a part of the beer, not the essence of it. The beer pours deep brown with a sticky rim of tan foam. The scent is rich with caramel malt aromas threaded by bourbon and vanilla. It has a full mouthfeel. Caramel and toffee flavors arrive first and are backed by bourbon and vanilla notes, giving the beer a delicious, candy liqueur aspect. The beer is 8% ABV and there’s a slight heat from that alcohol that seems to tie the flavors together. The balance of this is just incredible. That’s about the last thing I expect from a bourbon-barrel aged beer. You want bourbon, go drink bourbon. You want a real beer with a spectrum of flavor that includes bourbon, then get this.

Where
At this point it ought to be pretty obvious: Gardina’s. You think Festy has the foresight to carry something like this? No fucking way. Anyway, Gardina’s is selling 750-milliliter bombers of both of these beers for $8.99. That’s a good price for these small-batch brews. And the quantity at Gardina’s is limited. You want some? You’ll have to get there before I get there again. Prost!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Brew News From Hereabouts

Here's a pack of stuff bubbling up around us. We'll begin close to home and spread out from there.

The Fall Beer Season
It’s shaping up nicely. Check out that Oshkosh Area Beer Events sidebar on your left (sorry phone readers, you’ll have to switch to the webpage view). That thing is filling in. And that’s just the start of it. There’s going to be more popping in there as fall approaches. We have a lot of good beer bashes on the horizon.

The Glatz Mansion
It’s for sale. This is the house built by Oshkosh beer baron John Glatz in 1894. It’s a beautifully restored Victorian home at 2405 Doty St. I recently spoke with an owner of the property. They’d love to see the home land in the hands of some caring soul who appreciates the historical aspect of the place. Check out the listing and get a peek inside HERE. Read more about John Glatz and an open secret about the house he built HERE.

Oshkosh Brewer Gets Props at Great Taste of the Midwest 
That would be Brett Hintz. “Bub” lives in Oshkosh and is the head brewer for Pigeon River Brewing in Marion. In a recap of this year’s recent Great Taste of the Midwest that appeared in Isthmus, Pigeon River’s Gingerbread Ale was spotlighted as one of the “Most Unusual Brews” of the mammoth beer fest. “This was a dessert beer that few could match,” writes Robin Shepard. Here’s something else: I heard a rumor that beer was actually brewed in Oshkosh. Way to go, Brett!

Fondy Gets a Brewpub
That would be the Green Dragon Brew Pub at 156 Western Avenue in Fond du Lac. Dave Koepke and Jacob Walker of Fondy aren’t churning out beer just yet, but they are open for business. A lot of us in Oshkosh are friends with Dave Koepke. He’s the owner of The Cellar, a terrific home brew shop in Fond du Lac. Dave is also a graduate of the Siebel Institute’s Diploma Course in Brewing and a hell of a brewer. Until, Dave’s beers come online, the Green Dragon is filling the gap with craft beers. Check out the taplist HERE. Visit them on Facebook HERE. And there’s more about our friend Dave HERE.

World of Beer is Coming
To Appleton. World of Beer is a chain of franchised bars that specialize in the kind of beer we like around here. These places typically have anywhere from 30-100 craft beers on tap. The Appleton location isn’t open, yet, but they have a web page up and it looks like they’re taking applications online. Take a look HERE.

Beer at the Museum
In Green Bay, that is. The Neville Museum has an exhibit titled Agriculture to Tavern Culture: The Art, History and Science of Beer that’s running now through October. This looks pretty good. The curator is Kevin Cullen, who did some great stuff blending beer and history while at Discovery World in Milwaukee. In conjunction with the exhibit will be a series of lectures on the theme. The lectures will be followed up with beer tastings. HERE’s a good overview. We ought to do something like this in Oshkosh...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lafayette, Indiana, August 19, 1968

Click to enlarge
A captured moment in time. The picture here was taken inside the Kroger Supermarket in Lafayette, Indiana on Monday, August 19, 1968. It shows a 150-case display of Chief Oshkosh Beer. The beer is packaged in non-returnable, 12-ounce "stubbie" bottles. It’s being sold in 8-packs for $1.24. Sounds like a great price now, but that would have been about average for something like this in 1968.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company had been trying to expand its reach beyond Wisconsin and Michigan since 1964. This form of packaging was part of that strategy. The non-returnable bottles were cheaper than the costs associated with hauling cases full of empty bottles back to Oshkosh. Regardless of the package, Chief Oshkosh Beer never caught on in Indiana. That may have been because of what was inside the package.

The recipe for Chief Oshkosh Beer underwent significant changes after 1961 when the Horn and Schwalm families of Oshkosh sold controlling interest in the brewery to David V. Uihlein. Brewer's logs from 1968 show the recipe continuing to devolve. During this period, the recipe was typically composed of 70% barley malt and 29% of a corn syrup designed for brewing named NuBru. Soy flakes and sometimes pale malt made up the remaining 1 percent. At the same time, hop extracts as opposed to actual hops began playing a more prominent role in the bittering of the beer. It’s a dismal mix, but it’s reflective of the state of American brewing during the period.

Looking at that stack of beer makes me wonder how many people who pulled an 8-pack off that pile ever had the urge to come back for another. At this point in time, Chief Oshkosh wasn’t a beer to write home about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Augtoberfest in Oshkosh

I spend a dumb amount of time wandering down the beer aisle ogling the labels on brown bottles. If you do too, then you must have noticed that Oktoberfest-style beers have bloomed like blue-green algae on Lake Winnebago in July. In Oshkosh, there are already Oktoberfest beers on the shelves from Point, Capital, and Central Waters, just to name a few. Like that algae, this shit just ain’t natural. Or is it?

Traditionally, this Bavarian-style of lager was brewed in March; hence it’s also often referred to as Märzen, the German word for March. It was aged cold in stone beer caves over the summer months for release in late summer or early fall. Those earlier, mid-1800s, Märzenbiers were actually more like dunkels than the current Oktoberfest beers. The beer we now know as Oktoberfest didn’t come into being until 1872, making its debut at the Oktoberfest celebration that year. Got it? Perhaps not and I think that’s my point.

The idea of certain types of beer being released at specific dates is sort of a ridiculous proposition these days. Most seasonal beers were born out of technical limitations that constricted brewers. Their fermentations were at the mercy of the weather. Beers tended to come out at specific times of the year because brewers had little other choice. Obviously, that’s no longer the case. I can home brew an Oktoberfest-style beer in August (in fact I did this year) almost as easily as I can make a warm-fermented Belgian-style saison.

Granted, on a steaming August afternoon, a fresh (and warm fermented) wheat beer tends to go down more comfortably than a chewey Baltic porter. When it’s late at night, though, and you’re sitting inside with the air conditioner running, that Baltic porter can really hit the spot. There’s just no point in clinging to these hoary limitations. The brewers who developed these styles were not in love with such restrictions. If they were, IPAs would still be brewed for a limited time each fall and aged for a year before being released. I don’t think the hop heads would want that.

Besides, it’s wishful thinking to believe beer makers are not going to try and get the jump on their competition by releasing their beer early. This has been going on forever. Trying to stop it is hopeless. Here’s just one example: throughout the mid-to-late 1930s, the United States Brewers Association continually implored its membership to hold off on releasing their seasonal bock beers until March. When that didn’t work they suggested late February. The USBA was roundly ignored. Brewers continued releasing their bocks whenever the hell they wanted and if they beat their competitors to the punch, so much the better. You think today’s craft brewers would be any more manageable? Forget it.

Personally, haven't gone all in on the Oktoberfests this year. Not yet, at least. I love the style, but I still get a slight twinge of disgust when I see the beer hitting the shelves in July. That’s just my prejudice. It won’t be too long before I start filling my refrigerator with malty, amber lager. Actually, I may have just talked myself into picking some up today. Tradition only goes so far. If I was going remain hidebound to the beers that were traditional to me, I’d still be drinking Huber and Bohemian Club. And you might still be slurping Miller Lite. No.

Monday, August 11, 2014

OBC in '63

Here’s a sunny look at how things were going at the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1963. In January that year Brewers Digest, a trade publication for the brewing industry, ran a feature article on OBC and its new owner David Uihlein. It’s a friendly piece written by Nancy Moore Gettelman, who was no stranger to David Uihlein. Gettelman was the wife of Tom Gettelman, the last president of the A. Gettelman Brewing Co. of Milwaukee. The Uihlein family owned Schlitz and had known the Gettelmans for decades.

Thanks to Austin Frederick, you can now read it yourself. Austin recently came across a copy of the article at Folklore in Oshkosh. He’s scanned it and made it a downloadable PDF on his excellent history blog. To get your copy, go HERE and click the image to download the file.

As you read the article, notice the contradiction that’s inherent in much of what David Uihlein has to say about beer and the brewing industry. Here’s a little background for that: Uihlein purchased OBC in 1961. At that time, Schlitz was still the second largest American brewery and the Uihlein family owned 82 percent of all Schlitz stock. That fact shadows Uihlein’s talk of small business and independence.

Three years after this article appeared, OBC was in precipitous decline. And two years after selling OBC in 1969, Uihlein was voted onto the board of directors of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. Uihlein certainly didn’t come here to destroy the Oshkosh Brewing Company, but you can hardly blame people in Oshkosh for thinking that he did.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Black Husky Sparkly Eyes Imperial IPA

It’s IPA day, friends. Here’s how to celebrate it in a big way. This is a monster of an IPA hailing from Wisconsin’s piney northwoods.

Sparkly Eyes is an Imperial IPA made by Black Husky Brewing of Pembine. It’s an über-small brewery run by husband and wife Tim and Toni Eichinger out of what is essentially a cabin. They produce about 250 barrels of beer annually with most of it pouring in Madison and Milwaukee. The Eichinger’s run the entire show themselves. They do everything from brewing, to bottling and labeling, to delivery. This is hand-made beer from start to finish. And luckily, we get some of it in Oshkosh.

Sparkly Eyes pours to a deep shade of bronze under a persistent cap of ivory foam. The beer is spiced with hand-picked spruce giving it a woodsy aroma that compliments its deep tones of sweet malt and piney hops. The flavor is intense. There’s a caramel-like richness to the malt that wraps around fat notes of spruce and citrus-rind. It comes together into something similar to candied fruits. It’s bitter and delicious. The beer is a mouthful, with a lavish texture that penetrates the palate and stays there. At just shy of 11%, it’s definitely a sipper. That works well. The beer continually exposes more flavors and complexity as you hang out with it.

The only place to get Black Husky Sparkly Eyes anywhere around here is in the packaged beer section of Gardina’s in Oshkosh where it’s being sold in 22oz. bombers for $11.99. If you go, stop at the bar in front and check out the Black Husky Sproose on draught. Sparkly Eyes is the “imperialized” version of Sproose and it’s interesting to see how the two compare.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The New Glarus Beer Dinner at Dublin's

Here comes an opportunity to do something fun with your mouth. Next Thursday, August 14, Dublin's in Oshkosh will set the table for a five-course beer dinner featuring the brews of New Glarus. The feast begins at 6:00 p.m. and a seat at the table is a paltry $25. This will be just a 35-chair affair, so you'd be wise to move on this sooner than later. Check in at Dublin's to reserve your spot.

The lineup looks excellent. Here's the full menu with beer pairings:

• BBQ Pulled pork baguette with cheddar cheese blend paired with Two Women, a country style lager. 

• Garlic Teriyaki chicken with mango and papaya fruit salsa paired with Scream, a double IPA

• Lemon Raspberry sorbet paired with Yokel, a German-style kellerbier.

• Prime Rib with mushroom sweet potato cake and tart cherry chutney paired with Oud Bruin, a tart Flander’s style ale.

• Brie puff pastry paired with Strawberry Rhubarb, a Wisconsin wild fruit ale.

Go ahead, tell your out-of-state friends about this. They can only wish they were here....