Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fulbright Announces Plan for Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Company

Jeff Fulbright is planning his return to the brewing business.

Fulbright, who ran Mid-Coast Brewing Company, the brewer of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager in the early 1990s, is now working to establish a new brewery here named the Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Company. If his current plan comes to fruition, it would be the largest brewery launch in Oshkosh since the opening of People's Brewing in 1913.

“It's going to be a 40-barrel system,” says Fulbright. “We're going to be able to do 40,000 barrels a year. That's before any expansion.” He says the brewery will sell beer from its own taproom and through distribution in 12-ounce cans.

Fulbright isn’t going it alone. “We have an advisory board of local businessmen I've put together,” he says. “I'm not going to name the guys at this time, but they're all well known, local, successful businessmen.” Fulbright describes his role as the administrator of the project.

“We want to build a 15,000 square foot building with a large taproom, and landscaped beer garden,” he says. “It's to the point now where things are coming into place. The site is picked and we're finishing up the financials and the business plan.”

Fulbright anticipates the brewery being operational in 2017. The site he refers to is located two blocks from the river at the corner of Jackson and Pearl streets. “This is a 3 to 3.5 million dollar project,” Fulbright says. “This will be a serious brewery.”

“I want Oshkosh Bier & Brewing to be more than just a beautiful brewery that makes great beer,” he says. “I want it to be part of the fabric of what is good and fun in this city and a source of pride for the people of Oshkosh. I want this to be a destination. When people come to town, I want this to be on their go-see list.”

The proposed Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Co.

Fulbright, a graduate of the Siebel Institute’s brewing program, says the new brewery will have two distinct lines of beer. “One is going to be a traditional lager line called Oshkosh Classic. And then we're going to have the craft line that's going to be called Oshkosh Reserve. That's where we get to go nuts. We'll do everything. We're going to have some great beers.” Fulbright says John Zappa, former brewmaster for Stevens Point Brewery, will act as a consultant and assist in getting the brewery up and running.

Having Oshkosh be part of the name is consistent with one of Fulbright’s objectives. “I really want to promote local involvement,” he says. “When I did Chief, the market wasn't big enough to do that. Now it is. We want to have this brewery involved with the city and work with local charities and homebrewers. We want to make it interesting for the city.”

The proposed brewery becomes the third currently being planned for Oshkosh. Fifth Ward Brewing and Highholder Brewing previously announced their intentions. If each comes into being, Oshkosh will have five breweries, the highest number in operation here simultaneously since the late 1880s.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The End of the Dancing Days

This agreement made and entered into this 15th day of May 1893 by and between J. Glatz and Son, a partnership, party of the first part, Horn and Schwalm, a partnership, party of the second part and Lorenz Kuenzl party of the third part, all being brewers and wholesale dealers in beer in the City of Oshkosh …. agree as follows… 

So begins the last ditch effort of Oshkosh’s three largest brewers to save their own hides. By the spring of 1893, Oshkosh’s breweries had lost their lock on the local beer trade. The city was swamped with beer sent in by some of America’s largest breweries (for more on that see this, this and this). The local brewers were in a panic.  
Faced with the dread prospect of having to compete with breweries that dwarfed them, three of the four Oshkosh breweries scrambled to contrive a united front against the onslaught. The old rivals were now allies. Together, they created a binding agreement to prevent each of them from undercutting the others.

From left to right, Oshkosh brewery owners John Glatz, Lorenz Kuenzl, and August Horn
The lone hold out was Rahr Brewing. Rahr was the smallest brewery in town, but its numerous tied-house saloons helped to buffer competition. The Glatz, Horn & Schwalm, and Kuenzl breweries had no rampart. And little trust in one another. The agreement the brewery owners hammered out was restrictive, rigid, and doomed to fail. The dancing days were over. Literally.

The agreement of 1893 had three main provisions.
  1. The price of beer would be fixed at $7.20 a barrel after discounts were applied (the actual list price was hiked to $8 a barrel).
  2. The brewers and their delivery men would be limited as to the amount of money they could spend at saloons “treating” customers when delivering beer or making collections.
  3. The brewers would not be allowed to spend money at “dancing parties” held at saloons.
That last restriction sounds innocuous, but those “dancing parties” were hardly innocent affairs. More on that later. First the beer.

At the time of this agreement, beer was selling for $6.40 a barrel. Jacking your price by 80 cents a barrel when you’re facing a pack of competitors ready and willing to sell cheaper isn’t going to endear you to your customers. This part of the pact dissolved almost immediately.

The limits on treating customer’s wasn’t going to increase their popularity either. It was expected that a brewer buy a round for the congregation when he visited a saloon. It was an Oshkosh tradition, one that would last well into the 1950s. The brewers couldn’t have picked a worse time to turn stingy.

Oshkosh was at the cusp of the brutal depression that followed the Panic of 1893. Unemployment was high and growing worse. New construction was headed for a screeching halt that triggered local woodworking plants to shed workers.

It didn’t help that at this same time, the men who owned Oshkosh's breweries had taken up residence in splendid homes that made a show of their wealth. Here’s a couple examples of their opulent digs.

This is where August Horn, president of Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, lived at what is now 1662 Doty Street.

Just down the road, the mansion of Glatz Brewery president, John Glatz was being built. That home is still there, too. It's at 2405 Doty St.

Finally, we come to those dancing parties. This is impossible to confirm, but I suspect this part of the agreement is a veiled allusion to paying for prostitutes.

In the 1890s, saloons were almost exclusively the domain of men. And that’s just the way most saloon keepers meant to keep it. But at the same time, they knew that bringing in women who put out was good for business. Thus was born the dancing party, wherein ladies of a certain vocation were welcomed in to provide carnal entertainment.

Some considered it a spectacular problem. The pages of the Oshkosh Northwestern were littered with references to such parties and the inability of the mayor or police to reign them in. Here’s a typical Northwestern screed from the era that alludes to illicit dance parties taking place at the Getchius saloon, located upon the grounds of what is now West Algoma Park.

The institution over which Mr. Getchius presides was originally an ordinary saloon, but the rural aspect of its surroundings apparently infused the proprietor with the idea that his enterprise would reap a reward if he built an addition to the building where he could hold those "select dancing parties" so popular in the vicinity of Devil's bluff and other parts of Oshkosh. The proximity of residences to his place of business had no terror for Mr. Getchius, and during the summer season of '89 he erected the dance hall where, for months thereafter, the feet of lewd women and tougher men knocked out time to the tunes of a cracked orchestra.
    – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, February 27, 1890

Fun! Were the brewers here actually helping to finance the flesh trade in Oshkosh? It appears that may have been the case.

Overall, the agreement of 1893 was a poorly aimed stab at trying to bring back the salad days for Oshkosh’s breweries. The attempt wasn't even remotely successful.

A year later, Glatz, Kuenzl, and  Horn & Schwalm took a more drastic measure. They merged their three breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. This tactic worked.

By 1900, the Oshkosh Brewing Company attained utter domination of the Oshkosh beer market. But this city would never again have the multitude of breweries that existed prior to those big breweries coming to town and forcing the hands of our local brewers.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #46 – ​Beerito!

This week, Adam and I are drinking Beerito, a Vienna-style lager from Oskar Blues Brewery. Beerito is made with malt from Troubadour Maltings, one of the new craft maltsters on the American beer scene.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Beer Merchant of Oshkosh

Frank X. Thielen. Something profane would likely have accompanied that name were it uttered by an Oshkosh brewer in 1891. Thielen was their nemesis. He worked as an agent for “foreign” breweries. That is, he imported beer from large, American breweries intent on muscling their way into places served by smaller, regional breweries like those here. Thielen was the beer merchant of Oshkosh. Here’s a look at his work.

Frank X. Thielen was born in the Rhine Province of Western Germany in 1840. In 1858, he arrived in Oshkosh and found work as a railroad brakeman. But by the early 1870s he had gone off the rails in favor of selling groceries and liquor from his father’s store on Main Street. By 1884, Frank X. was running the place.

He planted a saloon at the back of the grocery. Liquids gradually crowded out the solids. Thielen's stand transformed into both a tavern and wholesale liquor distributorship. He took to calling it the California Wine House. Designed by William Waters in a style described as “commercial Gothic,” Thielen’s home base still stands at what is now 420 N. Main Street. Thielen's place is under the red arrow.

Calling it a wine house may have lent an upscale sheen, but beer was Thielen’s meat. He’d been bringing in beer from Milwaukee since the late 1870s. He began with Milwaukee’s Cream City Brewing Company, importing and bottling its Export Beer. Here’s a damaged and very rare Thielen beer bottle.

At the close of the 1880s, Oshkosh’s breweries were losing their grip on the local beer trade. The four breweries were engaged in a price war that made them vulnerable to outside competition. Thielen saw opportunity there.

In 1890, he began importing beer from the Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Company of Milwaukee. The Milwaukee brewery was a rapidly growing concern producing more than 175,000 barrels of beer annually. Thielen arranged to have a refrigerated warehouse built for Falk, Jung & Borchert in downtown Oshkosh, just off Pearl Avenue near the Wisconsin Central freight depot. You'd be looking at it if you stood here back then (this is an interactive view, explore it!)….

Thielen was shooting for the higher end of the Oshkosh beer market. His imports found their way into the craft-beer bars of his day – saloons that didn’t rely on mugs of dark beer offered for a nickel a pull as their primary stock in trade. His domain was downtown. Henry Schmidt’s Opera House Sample Room was a favored outlet. Here’s a typical early 1890s newspaper ad for a Thielen import.

Not to go too far astray, but the Opera House Sample Room was located at the corner of High and Market streets. The building that housed it still stands. Here it is...

The Opera House Sample Room, as you might guess, was near the Grand Opera House. Like the Grand, it was also a William Waters design. The two buildings have a shared look. Each is constructed of cream colored brick, with similar accents and cornice work. Here they are face to face with High Avenue between them.

Enough of that, let’s get back to our man Thielen.

His next client was especially well known. In 1891, the Anheuser Busch Brewing Association was the second largest brewery in America, Pabst being the only brewery with greater output. When Thielen began importing AB, the beers of the St. Louis brewery were something of a novelty here. Budweiser had poured in Oshkosh before, but the beer had never been widely embraced by local drinkers. Thielen set out to change that.

Again, Thielen plied downtown saloons offering pricier beer. Here’s an ad that ran in the Oshkosh Northwestern during May of 1891 announcing the latest arrival of Anheuser Busch beer in Oshkosh.

There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with the beer. Budweiser and Pale Lager, forget it, it’s Tony Faust’s I’d go for. Faust was a golden-hued lager, and by most accounts a fairly hoppy one. It was  a premium brew exceedingly popular with the beer geeks of its day. And what sort of places were serving it in Oshkosh? There are a couple mentioned above to take note of.

The King Bros. Bodega was located at the corner of Algoma and Market streets on the plot next to where the sundial now sits in Opera House Square. Fred and Peter King ran a high end joint, “First-class in every particular,” featuring, “Fine wines and liquors, imported and domestic cigars” and “High grades of bottled goods.” John Thielen's sample room was cut from the same cloth.

John was Frank’s younger brother. The saloon he operated during this period was just two doors south of Frank’s place in another Waters’ designed building that’s still intact at 416 N. Main Street. John also worked as a wholesale liquor distributor. He eventually became Oshkosh’s premier maker of distilled spirits, operating the Silver Spring Distillery. His Badger Club Whiskey was especially popular. Get a load of this...

Frank Thielen’s high-end beer strategy worked even better than he probably expected. By 1893 his business was booming. Here’s an homage to the man from the book Pen and Sunlight Sketches of the Principal Cities in Wisconsin, published in 1893.
Any commercial history of Oshkosh would be incomplete without a review of one of the pioneer business houses of the city, now known under the name of Frank Thielen… He employs four clerks, and has two teams for the delivery of orders, and has a very large and rapidly increasing trade.
Unfortunately for Frank X. Thielen, 1893 also marked the peak of his career as a beer merchant. The decline began with the Panic of 1893, which cast a pall over beer sales in Oshkosh. But the greatest impediment to his success was one that he had helped to create.

Struggling with the foreign competitors that Thielen and others had brought to town, the three largest Oshkosh breweries merged in 1894 to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. By the late 1890s, OBC so dominated the Oshkosh market, that Thielen all but gave up distributing outside beer. He continued to operate his saloon, but his peak years as a beer merchant were over.

Thielen retired from the saloon trade in 1913. He died a year later at his home on Washington and Broad streets in Oshkosh. Frank X. Thielen is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

His saloon lived on. Thielen's sons Frank Jr. and Sam kept the family tavern running until Prohibition closed everything down in 1920.

Here’s a brief coda to the Thielen story I find interesting: after Peoples Brewing Company launched in 1913 in response to the domineering ways of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, the Thielen brother's saloon was among the first on Main Street to put Peoples Beer on tap. You know their father would have liked that.

Thanks to Ron Akin and Steve Schrage for help with this post.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #45 – ​Dog Daze IPA with RJ at Bare Bones Brewery

This week, we head back to Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh to taste Dog Daze IPA with brewmaster RJ Nordlund.

Monday, April 18, 2016

When the Big Breweries Converged on Oshkosh

It’s 1891. The beer scene in Oshkosh is changing fast. The city’s breweries are struggling against a tide of beer sent in by large, shipping breweries. Here’s the Oshkosh Times to sets the scene...

... nearly all the large brewing companies of the country have established or will soon do so warehouses and branch offices here.

The Christian Moerlein Company, of Cincinnati, built a warehouse last fall. Falk, Jung & Borchert of Milwaukee, also have a branch establishment here and the erection of warehouses will be commenced immediately by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis, Pabst Company, of Milwaukee, and Schlitz Company, of Milwaukee.

These beer warehouses are called coolers and need little ice owing to the formation of the walls which are two feet in thickness and consist of alternate dead air spaces and layers of sawdust.
     -- Oshkosh Times, March 29, 1891

The Times neglected to mention that Miller Brewing would also soon join the march on Oshkosh. The inundation of beer would have a devastating effect on the breweries located here. In 1891 there were four breweries producing beer in Oshkosh. At the close of 1894 there were two.

I covered the Schlitz blitz a couple weeks ago and over the next few weeks I’ll get into the other breweries mentioned here. But let’s start with the Christian Moerlein brewery.

In 1890, Moerlein was the largest brewery in Cincinnati and the 14th largest in America. The Moerlein brewery was launched in 1853 by Bavarian immigrant Christian Moerlein. He was still at the helm of his brewery when it put down stakes in Oshkosh. Here’s a look at the man...

The Oshkosh branch Moerlein built in the fall of 1890 was a fairly small affair. The only picture I’ve seen of it is this one, circa 1892. You'll see the Moerlein sign and building on the left side of the image...

This building was located near the southwest corner of what is now Commerce and Pearl streets. Here’s a map from 1890. Moerlein’s warehouse was situated right about where the red star has been stamped.

Here’s that same area today…

Let’s dial this in. Here’s the 1890 map overlaid with the current aerial view.

These beer warehouses and bottling plants were all clustered in the same area. The Falk, Jung & Borchert, Miller, Pabst and Schlitz branches were within a two block radius of the Moerlein branch. The railroad spurs that criss-crossed this part of town made it an attractive destination for breweries shipping in beer by rail.

Moerlein appears to have made the smallest dent of any of these breweries. The 1893 City Directory, which came out a couple years after the Moerlein warehouse went up, doesn’t even list the brewery or mention it having an agent in Oshkosh.

When you consider the size of the city, it’s fairly amazing that so many breweries would show such an interest in Oshkosh. The city’s population in 1891 was approximately 23,000. But its reputation was known far and wide: Those Oshkosh folks consume heroic quantities of beer!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #44 – ​Barley John's Old 8 Porter

Barley John's Brewing Company opened its brewery in New Richmond, WI. last August. This week, we’re drinking Old 8 Porter, the first of Barley John's beers to reach Oshkosh.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bottling Schlitz in Oshkosh

In last week’s post about the Schlitz blitz in Oshkosh I mentioned the extensive bottling plant Schlitz built at what is now Commerce Street between Pearl and High. This week, I want to take a look at the folks who were running it and some of the bottles that came out of the place.

First, let’s get our bearings. If you were to head over to Commerce Street today searching for the Schlitz bottling plant, here’s what you’d see. The bottling plant was located just about smack dab in the middle of the building where 4 imprint is located.

Here again, is the 1903 map I posted last week showing the layout of the Schlitz facility.

The Schlitz bottling plant was completed in 1891. Schlitz would send wooden kegs full of beer by train to Oshkosh where the local plant manager was responsible for getting it into bottles. Often those bottles were imprinted with the name of the man running the plant.

Charles Maulick
The first manager of the Schlitz branch in Oshkosh was Charles Maulick. He also ran the Schlitz Beer Hall (now Oblio’s Lounge) during this period at what is now 432-434 N. Main Street. Here are a couple of the early bottles that came out of the Schlitz bottle works in Oshkosh.

Next, we have something incredibly rare. In fact, it may be one of a kind. This is a recently discovered bottle from the Maulick era embossed with the Schlitz name. The green/blue tint is caused by iron in the sand from which the bottle was made. These bottles weren’t used long by Schlitz. After the turn of the century, the brewery used brown bottles exclusively for its beer to “Protect its purity.”

Here’s the stopper used to cork that bottle. It’s imprinted with the Charles Maulick logo.

Peter Henrichs
Maulick bailed on the bottling business either in the latter half of 1898 or early 1899. He was succeeded as Schlitz’s primary Oshkosh agent by a man named Peter Henrichs. Though Henrichs appears to have run the plant for a year or more, I’ve neither seen nor heard of any bottles bearing his name.

Louis Plate
By 1902, Plate had assumed bottling operations for Schlitz in Oshkosh. This was a heady period for Schlitz. It had just surpassed Pabst as the largest brewery in the world, producing more than 1 million barrels of beer annually. Here’s an ad from May 1902 featuring the Schlitz man in Oshkosh.

By 1903, Plate had left the bottling plant to run Schlitz Hall at the corner of State and Washington streets in Oshkosh. Bottles embossed with his name are exceedingly rare. Here’s one that’s in great shape.

Emil Thom
Lifelong Oshkosh resident, Emil Thom took over the Schlitz branch after Plate departed. The first notices for Thom as the Schlitz agent began appearing in 1903. Here’s an attractive ad for Schlitz that ran in the Oshkosh Northwestern during Thom’s tenure. You’ll notice his name at the bottom.

A couple of Thom bottles filled in Oshkosh and embossed with his name.

William F. Ganzer
By 1908, William Ganzer was running the Schlitz branch here. He remained at the helm longer than any of his predecessors. The onset of Prohibition cost him his job.

Here’s an ad from 1913 when Ganzer was peddling Schlitz (you’ll see his name near the bottom). In this one, Schlitz is trash talking the John Gund Brewing Company of La Crosse for its use of clear bottles.

A couple of nice looking Ganzer bottles, brown of course.

Schlitz shuttered its Oshkosh branch just prior to Prohibition beginning in 1920. The property was sold by the brewery in 1928. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Schlitz beer returned to Oshkosh. But it was no longer bottled here. Gone were the days of the Schlitz agent roaming the city on a clattering wagon packed with blob-top bottles of beer filled in Oshkosh.

Thanks, in a big way, to Bob Bergman and Steve Schrage for help with this post. Their input was invaluable.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #43 – Irish Red at the Ruby Owl

This week we’re drinking Milwaukee Brewing Company’s Wolfhound Imperial Irish Red Ale  and getting an early look at the Ruby Owl Taproom, a gastropub opening soon at 421 N. Main Street in downtown Oshkosh.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

History Happy Hour at Oblio’s

Folks from the Wisconsin Historical Society are tromping around Oshkosh this week sharing stories and lore concerning the history of Wisconsin. You can find the full calendar of events HERE, but there’s one in particular that’ll be of interest to the beer-minded among us (which is pretty much all of us).

Thursday, April 7 at 5:30 p.m. author Jim Draeger of the WHS will be at Oblio’s for a history happy hour. Draeger, the author of Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin's Historic Bars and Breweries, will talk Wisconsin tavern history and have signed copies of his book on hand.

There will also be displays of Oshkosh and Wisconsin brewery memorabilia from the collections of three local collectors. Some of this stuff is truly amazing.

To round things out, I’ll be giving away free samples of my homebrewed clone of pre-Prohibition Schlitz. The recipe for this beer is something I’ve been working on for a while. I finally managed to find the missing pieces in a couple of old brewery trade publications this past winter.

The last time this beer was poured in what is now Oblio’s, was about 100 years ago when the place was owned by Schlitz and called the Schlitz Beer Hall. How’s that for history! Hope to see you there...