Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wharrgarbl 2017

The first locally-brewed, fresh-hop beer of the year gets released today at Bare Bones Brewery. It’s named Wharrgarbl 2017. The beer was brewed 11 days ago. It’ll go on tap this afternoon.

Bare Bones head brewer RJ Nordlund with Wharrgarbl 2017.
It’s the second fresh hop beer Nordlund has made at Bare Bones. The hops for last year’s batch came from Michigan. This year’s cones are from Gorst Valley Hops in Nekoosa. The farm is about 80 miles west of Oshkosh.

Gorst Valley Hops
“We were out there on the Friday, the day they were picking them,” Nordlund says. “We got to see them feeding them through the harvester.”


“We brought them back that same day and brewed the next morning.”



More than 100 pounds of freshly picked cascade went into the 15-barrel batch. It all went into the kettle during the last 20 minutes of the boil.


I had a chance to try the beer yesterday as Nordlund was taking it from the fermentor into kegs. It tastes vibrant. Just as you’d expect from something so fresh. The flavor is unlike that of dried hops. It’s a full, rounded flavor with an earthiness I can’t put my finger on. That word “green” kept coming back to me. There are no sharp edges. The bitterness is mild. It has a ripe, soft character.

“Doing it this way where all the hops are backloaded towards the end of the boil worked pretty well,” Nordlund says. “You're not throwing any of the wet hops away for bitterness, you're just pulling all the flavor out of them.”

At 7.2% ABV, this year’s Wharrgarbl is stronger than last year’s batch. “I wanted a little more alcohol this year,” Nordlund says. “It balances out because there's no strong bitterness from the hops.”

Balance is the right word. Without balance this type of beer is wretched. I’ve had my share of those. They taste like swamp water.

For these to be good, that fresh-hop flavor has to work in tandem with the malt. But balance seems to trip people up. There's a misplaced expectation that fresh-hop beers should carry the same concentrated hop flavors as beers made from pelletized hops. That's not the case. Freshly picked hops are a different thing. They produce different flavors and aromas. Less intense, but when used right, more interesting.

Wharrgarbl is just what a good fresh-hop beer should be. And the best time to experience a beer such as this is at peak. That would be right now.



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Juice Cloud

Last week, Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah released Juice Cloud, a New England Style IPA (NE IPA). It’s the first time a commercial brewery in Winnebago County has produced this style.


This is a golden, densely cloudy beer under creamy white foam. It’s powerfully aromatic. You can smell hops before your nose gets near it. The aroma is a swirl of sweet citrus fruits with grapefruit and some onion coming in at the back end. The flavor of Citra hops drives this beer. Clearly, there’s a lot of it in the dry hopping. I couldn’t help but think of orange juice when I was drinking it.

This is a beer that upends your expectations. The mouthfeel is soft and creamy, but with so much hop flavor you anticipate a punch of bitterness will follow. It never arrives. For a beer that appears anything but clean, it finishes exceptionally clean. What bitterness there is rapidly dissipates. People who aren't much into IPA might like this quite a bit. If you’re already into hops, Juice Cloud is a must. It’s one of the best examples of an NE IPA, I've had. Hands down the best version I’ve tried from a Wisconsin brewery.

Until now, the NE IPA has barely made a dent around here. But the style has been around for a while. Some trace it back to 2003. That’s when The Alchemist, a Vermont brewery, first brewed Heady Topper; arguably the first iteration of the style. It's developed over time. In the past three years, the style has gone from an obscure novelty to the most talked about American craft beer.

It’s also proven to be controversial. Much has been made of the extreme haze. Some find it off-putting. Others take it as a signifier of raw hop flavor. Others yet would say it’s just an unfiltered IPA. I don’t buy that. These beers are made in a way that sets them apart.

Alex Wenzel is the brewmaster and owner of Lion’s Tail Brewing. He dug deep before releasing his take on the NE IPA.

Alex Wenzel of Lion's Tail Brewing
After several trials, Wenzel found he could produce the flavors, texture, and appearance he wanted. He uses a combination of water adjustment, grist, yeast and dry hopping. Juice Cloud employs a fairly standard malt bill supplemented with starchy adjuncts – flaked oats and wheat. But Wenzel believes the haze has more to do with the hopping regimen.

“The trick to achieving sustainable haze is introducing a sizable charge of hops during active fermentation,” Wenzel says. “The so-called biotransformation is a reaction the yeast have to the hop oils during fermentation, it ruins their ability to flocculate and drop out of solution to dormancy. I did do quite a bit of experimenting with a centrifuge and found that this biotransformation thing is pretty legit. Even when you add bio fining or anionic chemistry like carrageenan, there's still a good portion of the haze that will not drop out of solution.”

It’s not just about haze, though. Juice Cloud’s low bitterness (15 calculated IBUs) is another point of deviation from conventionally hoppy beers. Because nearly all the hops are introduced on the cold side – during and after fermentation – little bitterness is produced. But hop flavor is still captured. At 6.3% ABV, Juice Cloud retains the strength of the modern IPA, but the gentle bitterness makes for a beer that’s easier drinking than the West Coast style IPAs that have been dominant in recent years.

Wenzel is still tinkering with the recipe, but appears happy with what he’s come up with. He should be. Juice Cloud recently did well at the inaugural Wisconsin IPA Fest in Milwaukee. It won the award for being the first keg to kick.

Right now you can get Juice Cloud at the Lion’s Tail taproom in Neenah. And in Oshkosh, it’s currently on the tap lists at Ruby Owl Taproom and Bare Bones Brewery.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Slack September

September will be slower than usual around here. Instead of the usual blogging, I’ll be off working on a chapter for a book that should see release in 2018. As you can probably guess, my contribution will have something to do with Oshkosh and beer.

I’ll try to squeeze in a blog post here and there. In the meantime, you can find me over at the Oshkosh Beer page on Facebook.

Here’s something pretty to look at until next time. One of my favorite beer labels. Isn't she lovely?



Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Year in The Cellar

In 2009, Dave Koepke opened The Cellar Brew Shop in Fond du Lac. A year ago, he moved his store to Oshkosh.

1921 S. Washburn St., Oshkosh.

Koepke decided to relocate the store for an obvious of reason. "The initial idea was all about reaching a larger population," Koepke says. But along the way, things changed. "It quickly became more about building a community."

That sense of community is becoming ever more crucial in Koepke's line of work. The rise of online retail has been devastating for some traditional homebrew suppliers. Local shops, once the cornerstone of the hobby, are being driven under. But The Cellar appears to be thriving.


Koepke's store is as well stocked as any homebrew shop you'll find. And he's been quick to pick up on what online retailers can't provide: direct contact with fellow homebrew enthusiasts. His own enthusiasm for the hobby is manifest.

"I'm an opinionated son of a bitch, I know that, "Koepke says. "But it's not about me. I love beer. This is such an awesome thing. It's giving people who aren't artists a chance to be artists. That's the way I look at it."

Dave Koepke
His zeal animates The Cellar. Homebrewers seem drawn to it. Koepke’s shop quickly became the hub for brewing activity here. Over the past year, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers has held a couple of their club events at the store. Local homebrewer Tim Pfeister has been teaching beer-making classes there. Koepke has even drawn in professionals from area breweries, wineries, and distilleries.

"That's the weird thing that kind of blows my mind," says Koepke. "I don't know how many other shops have people from breweries and meaderies coming in. They're just supplementing small amounts of minor stuff; bottle wax, a couple of mesh bags for dry hopping. It's just small stuff. We can't take care of everybody all the time, but we like that they're coming to us."

Part of the draw is Koepke's background. He’s been involved in nearly every aspect of craft beer. He’s a graduate of the Siebel Institute’s Diploma Course in Brewing. He brewed professionally at the former Appleton Brewing Company (which became Stone Arch Brewpub). He's run a bar and worked in beer distribution. "I'm not just a homebrewer,” he says. “But, am I a homebrewer first and foremost? Absolutely."

After more than 20 years in the profession, he still brews on a regular basis. "There aren't many who homebrew as much I do," he says. "I've brewed about 45 batches in the last two years."

Most are pilot batches. He's usually testing out a new kit or ingredient. He wants to know what he's selling. "When we get something new I have to try it," Koepke says. "For example, right now we have about 70 hop varieties in stock. I think there's only five of those that I haven't tried."

Much of what he brews he shares with customers. There's usually a few kegs on tap in the keezer at the back of the store. "The proper way to ask if you can have a beer is just to say 'Hey what do you guys have on tap?' It's that simple. As long as I'm stocked on glasses, sure, you can have a beer. The whole point is to brew with the stuff and test it out and let customers come in and try it."

The Cellar Keezer.
All of this a distinct change from what has long been the norm in Oshkosh. The modern homebrew movement arrived here in the early 1990s. Since then, the only local option for homebrewers has been stores selling a limited range of supplies as a sideline to another business.

The most recent of them was Nutrition Discount Center (NDC) on Main Street. Their dabbling came to an abrupt end in June. NDC is about to establish a second location on Witzel Ave. But they have no intention of getting back into selling homebrew supplies.

"There was no way they were going to keep up with what we can stock," Koepke says. "I'm not saying I had it all figured out. I'm a terrible businessman. We stock way too heavy and our prices are too low. But that's the game. You have to. Our biggest competitor is Amazon. And that's how we have to think. A lot of people don't want to leave their house. But when we get them to come here they find out they can get answers to their questions. Homebrew stores are different. People have relationships with the people in the store. It's not like going into a Walmart."

If you've been to The Cellar, you know it's nothing like that. In fact, it's not like any other store I've been in. Koepke is voluble. He'll talk beer with you all day. The discussions often range beyond methods or ingredients.

"The whole thing comes down to attitude," he says. "What are you here for? Are you here to make the best beer? I tell people, I can make some of the best beer in the world and I don't mean that as an ego thing. It's me and you and we share one thing in common. We own the brewery. We can tailor our beer to our own tastes. We control the freshness. You go to the store and almost everything there is three, four months old. My stuff has been in the keg 10 days. You can't get beer any fresher. I don't know, I'm not even talking about the shop. There are guys coming in here now that are going to have careers in brewing. I want to see them flourish. I want to see them make great stuff!"

No, that's definitely not Walmart. And it's definitely not a UPS driver dropping a brown box at your door. It's better than that. It's the way it should be.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Forgotten Oshkosh Beers: Schoen's Old Lager

Here's one nobody remembers. Schoen's Old Lager Beer. Brewed and bottled by The Peoples Brewing Co. Oshkosh Wisconsin.


Schoen's Old Lager wasn't native to Oshkosh. How it arrived here is something of a mystery. Here's what I know...

Schoen's Old Lager was named for Louis Schoen, born in  Bavaria in 1876. He came to the United States in 1892. Schoen went to La Crosse. He became brewmaster at G. Heileman Brewing.

Louis Schoen
Schoen was an old-world sort of brewer. He insisted his lager be aged nine weeks before it left the brewery. His exactitude was acceptable before Prohibition hit in 1920. But when the dry years were over, Schoen's meticulousness became problematic.

When Prohibition ended in 1933, G. Heileman Brewing came roaring out of the gate. It would grow to become the largest Wisconsin brewery outside of Milwaukee. That growth wasn't compatible with Schoen's ethos. At Heileman, they couldn't wait nine weeks for a batch of beer to be finished. Schoen had to go. They canned him at G. Heileman in 1934.

Schoen went to Wausau. In 1934, he helped launch Wausau Brewing Co. There he produced Louis Schoen's Old Lager Beer. It wasn't just his name on the label. His picture was there, too.



Louis Schoen died in 1965. By that time, the beer with his name on it was already in the hands of others.

Wausau Brewing Co. had closed in 1961. Its brands were immediately scooped up by Rhinelander Brewing Co. Rhinelander began producing its version Schoen's Old Lager Beer. You can bet your life they weren't aging it nine weeks in Rhinelander.


In 1967, Rhinelander Brewing Co. bit the dust. The Rhinelander labels were purchased by Huber Brewing of Monroe. But Schoen's Old Lager didn't end up in Monroe.

Here's a label said to be from 1972. What the hell was Schoen's doing in Eau Claire?


And why was this beer ever in Oshkosh? And when? I'm guessing it landed in Oshkosh sometime after the fall of Rhinelander Brewing Co. in 1967.

If that's the case, it wasn't here long. When Peoples Brewing was sold in 1970, the brewery's portfolio made no mention of Schoen's Old Lager Beer. I wonder, though, if the omission was an oversite.

Peoples Brewing closed in 1972. It seems a little too coincidental that Schoen's Old Lager Beer would surface that same year in Eau Claire. But that's sometimes how it goes with these vampire brands. Strange things happen when a beer won't stay dead.



Monday, August 21, 2017

The Night They Raided Oblio's

August 26, 1921. It was a Friday. The night began like a low comedy.

At 7:50 p.m., a pack of Prohibition officers arrived in Oshkosh. There were nine of them in all. Five were federal agents. The other four were state cops.

They came by train. There were supposed to be two cars waiting for them at the Chicago & Northwestern depot on Broad Street. There were no cars. The nine agents scurried into a thicket of trees behind the train station. Grown men hiding behind trees.

Chicago & Northwestern Depot with trees in the background.
Prohibition began in 1920. By 1921, Oshkosh’s cops were already notorious for their lax enforcement of the dry law. The feds didn’t trust them. They didn't include Oshkosh police in their plan for the evening’s raids. Now that plan was in jeopardy. The cars still hadn’t arrived. The nine agents huddled in the brush trying to figure out what to do next.

An Oshkosh patrolman had spotted them sneaking off into woods. Something was wrong here. From the train depot, he called for support. The Prohibition agents were still hiding when the back-up arrived. The Oshkosh cops shagged them out.

After the Prohibition agents had explained themselves, their cars finally arrived. Off they went. There was no time to lose. Word would quickly spread that they were in town.

Minutes later the agents arrived downtown. They headed directly for one of Oshkosh’s most conspicuous speakeasies. A Main Street cafe with a sardonic name. The Annex Thirst Parlor.



Before Prohibition, before it had transformed into the Annex Thirst Parlor, it was the Annex Sample Room. Today we know it as Oblio’s Lounge.



In 1921, Albert H. Steuck was running the place. Steuck was born in Oshkosh in 1872. In 1900, he took over the Schlitz Beer Hall on Main St. He was 28. He’d recently quit his job working for the streetcar in Milwaukee. He’d recently gotten married. He’d recently moved back home to Oshkosh.

Right away, Steuck changed the name of the place. The old Schlitz Beer Hall became the Annex Sample Room.

1903 Oshkosh City Directory.

Wine was fine, but his butter and bread were the mugs of Schlitz he sent sliding down the bar. Steuck attracted a boisterous crowd. Young “sports” who liked to gamble and drink. They’d hang around waiting for the boxing results Steuck would announce as they came in over the phone. They'd hang out the front door and hurl insults at people walking down Main Street.

"A.H. Steuck was called before the (saloon) committee and notified that young men who frequented his place were accustomed to passing remarks concerning people who passed, particularly the policemen.”
  - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 20, 1908.

Steuck was warned to rein it in. If he didn’t, they’d pull his license.

In 1920, he did lose his license. Same as every other saloon keeper in town. Prohibition was on. But nobody went dry. Steuck bought a license to sell soft drinks. The pretense was laughable.

A license to serve non-intoxicating "liquors" in Oshkosh issued to Al Steuck.

On that August night in 1921, they weren’t drinking soda at the Annex Thirst Parlor. They were having whiskey. And then the Prohibition agents barged in. Steuck didn’t even try to hide it. There was nothing he could do. They arrested Steuck. The raiders moved on.

The agents had split into two groups. They quickly spread across town going after bars either owned by or connected to breweries. Steuck’s place was owned by Schlitz Brewing Company.

A few blocks south on Main they arrested Fred Rahr. His saloon had been tied to the Rahr Brewing Company

Fred Rahr's saloon at the corner of Ceape and N. Main streets.

On the south side, they busted August Witzke. Witzke’s saloon was owned by the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

The Witzke Saloon at 1700 Oregon St.

At 17th and Iowa, they arrested August Ziebell. Ziebell was another one connected to the Rahr Brewing Company.

The saloon run by August Ziebell at 17th and Iowa. Now the TNT Tap.

The agents hit a dozen suspected speakeasies that night. Most of the raids came to nothing. It may have had something to do with the botched start and being outed by the Oshkosh police.

“In a number of instances, they found the saloons closed and dark. The officers expressed surprise this morning, inquiring since when do the saloons close at 9 o’clock in this city?”
  - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; August 29, 1921.

By midnight, everything was done. The following morning the agents delivered their liquid evidence to city hall for safe keeping.

The old Oshkosh City Hall at the northwest corner of Otter and State streets. 

They were met at city hall by Oshkosh Mayor Arthur C. McHenry. The mayor wasn’t happy. He lit into the raiders. “Mayor McHenry quite forcibly stated that the ‘city of Oshkosh’ was not in sympathy with prohibition enforcement,” The Northwestern reported. Welcome to Oshkosh.

Most of those swept up in the raids paid their fines ($200-300) and went on their way. Not Al Steuck. He decided to take his chances in court. At first, that strategy worked.

District courts, like the one in Oshkosh, were often lenient in their treatment of dry-law violators. Steuck took advantage of the situation. He initially appears to have walked away from the charges against him without being punished. Then the feds stepped in again.

A month after Steuck had been busted, a federal grand jury was convened to address the non-prosecution of Prohibition violations occurring in Wisconsin's district courts. Steuck’s name was on the list when the grand jury handed down its first set of indictments.

On October 31, 1921, federal agents arrived in Oshkosh and arrested Steuck again. This time, they took him to Milwaukee. Now he was in deep. Steuck was arraigned in federal court. He pleaded not guilty and was released on a $1,000 bond.

There was no getting out of it this time. On November 15, Steuck changed his plea to guilty on all five counts against him. They threw the book at him. Rarely were first time violators given jail time. Steuck got three months in the house of corrections.

When he returned to Oshkosh in 1922, Steuck went back to the Annex Thirst Parlor. But things were never the same. Another violation would have put him away for years. He couldn’t chance it.

The Annex ground slowly to a halt. Steuck finally closed the doors in 1927. Steuck sold off the bar’s fixtures and moved on. A decade would pass before another bar went in what is now 432-434 N. Main Street.

In February 1928, the new Eagles Club opened on Washington Ave. Al Steuck became its first manager.

Oshkosh Eagle's Club brand cigar box, circa 1928.

Albert H. Steuck died in Oshkosh on December 4, 1947. He’s buried in Lake View Memorial Park.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

A City of Breweries

On Friday, August 4, HighHolder Brewing Company brewed its inaugural batch of beer. It was the first time since 1972 that beer has been made on the south side of Oshkosh by a commercial brewery

The first batch. Shawn O'Marro (left) and Mike Schlosser of HighHolder Brewing.

HighHolder joins a lineage of south side brewers going back more than 150 years. To get at what that means, you have to begin with the river.

The Fox River splits Oshkosh in two. It forms the border between the north side and south side. That division has sometimes been more than just a geographical feature. The river once delineated the segregation of separate cultures.

In the early years, the north side of Oshkosh was referred to as Athens. The south side was called Brooklyn. The north side was initially the province of the Yankee settlers who founded Oshkosh. The south side became the locus of European immigrants, primarily Germans and Bohemians.

1858

Each side of town had its own heritage. And its own breweries. How those breweries developed was representative of the contrast and eventual blending of the north side and south side cultures. It began before Oshkosh had even incorporated into a city.

In the summer of 1849, the Oshkosh True Democrat newspaper was peppered with beer ads reflecting the dominant Yankee influence. The north side Yankees favored English-style ales. It was a taste they brought with them from the east. In Oshkosh, the Yankees drank Detroit Ale and London Porter. Both were common here. But that was about to change.



Brewing on the North Side
The first brewery established in Oshkosh was on the north side. It was launched by Jacob Konrad. In July 1849, he began building a brewery on the east side of Lake Street just south of Ceape Ave. Konrad established what came to be known as the Lake Brewery.

1858 map showing location of the Lake Brewery on Lake St. just south of Ceape Ave.

Jacob Konrad was born in Germany. He was trained as a brewer there. Since Konrad didn’t advertise his product, nothing definitive is known about the beer he was making. Considering his background, though, he was almost certainly brewing German-style beers. His impact was immediate.

By the summer of 1850, German-style beers were as common in Oshkosh as the English-style ales that had first been prevalent here. Throughout this period, the north side was the brewing hub. Between 1849 and 1865, five more breweries were launched north of the river. All of them were initiated by German immigrants.

The German-style lagers that flowed from those breweries washed away the ales and porters. Lager beer saloons sprung up along Ferry (now N. Main St.) and Kansas (now S. Main St.) streets. The two sides of town had their differences, but they came to share a taste for German-style beer.

The Rise of the South Side
The first production brewery on the south side was started by Leonhardt Schwalm in 1865. In 1865 Schwalm purchased land on the east side of Doty St. just south of W. 16th Ave. Schwalm partnered with his brother-in-law August Horn. Together, they launched Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery.

The original Horn & Schwalm Brewery.

In 1867, Franz Wahle, another German immigrant, built the second south side brewery. It was on land now occupied by Glatz Park. In 1869, Wahle sold his brewery to John Glatz and Christian Elser. They named it the Union Brewery.

The Union Brewery
The two south side breweries differed from their north side counterparts. The north side breweries tended to be neighborhood based. Often, their beer was sold directly from the brewery to people living nearby. Brewery tap rooms were common on the north side.

The south side breweries took a more ambitious approach. Their model was to sell beer to saloons. Oshkosh’s saloon culture was just beginning to take hold. The city directory of 1866 lists six saloons. The 1876 directory lists 20. Each year that number grew. With it grew the fortunes of the south side breweries.

By the late 1870s, Oshkosh’s south side breweries were the largest producers of beer in the city.


South Side Dominance
By 1889, just two breweries remained north of the river. In 1893, one of those breweries – Kuenzl’s Gambrinus brewery – merged with the two south side breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. With that, Rahr Brewing Company became the north side’s lone brewery. The others had failed.


The south side juggernaut continued. In 1912, the Oshkosh Brewing Company built a large brewery on Doty St. In 1913, Peoples Brewing Company opened on South Main St. Collectively the south side breweries were capable of producing well over 100,000 barrels annually.


After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Oshkosh's breweries picked up where they had left off. The south side breweries continued their rise. But on the north side, Rahr Brewing struggled. In 1953, Rahr Brewing closed. For the first time in more than 100 years, the north side was without a brewery.

By the late 1950s, the combined production of Oshkosh’s south side breweries was near 90,000 barrels of beer annually. In terms of sheer output, the south side breweries were at their peak. It had taken 90 years to reach that point. It was undone in a decade.

The Fall and Rise
There was no single reason behind the collapse of Oshkosh’s south side breweries. There were many reasons. Predatory pricing by larger breweries. Loss of focus on the local mark. Mismanagement. The Oshkosh Brewing Company crashed in 1971. Peoples Brewing failed in 1972.

When it came to beer, 1973 was a bleak year here. Oshkosh was without an active brewery for the first time since 1849. There seemed little chance that would change. The city was awash in cheap, industrial lager.

An ad for Ray’s Beverage Oshkosh, 1117 W. New York Ave. September 1973.

Much of that beer wasn’t very good. All of it came from somewhere else. And so it remained for the next 22 years. Then, as if history were repeating itself, brewing returned to Oshkosh.

Fox River Brewing Company
When Fox River Brewing Company launched in 1995, it had more in common with its north side counterparts of the 1850s than it did with the south side breweries that came to dominate Oshkosh.

Like the early north side breweries, Fox River relies heavily upon on-premise sales. The beer is produced in small batches. Traditional, all-malt beers are the norm. The model may be an old one, but it’s driving the brewing renaissance taking place here today.

Bare Bones Brewery.

When Bare Bones opened in 2015, the north side gained its second brewery. Its approach also more closely aligns with that of Oshkosh's early breweries.

Now with HighHolder up and running, the south side is back in the mix.

Fifth Ward Brewing Company will be the next brewery to open in Oshkosh. Fifth Ward will be located on the south side, but takes its name from a north side brewery that opened in 1857. That’s as fitting as it is ironic. We’re coming full circle.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Granary Brewpub

The Granary Brewpub is on pace to open in Oshkosh this October at 50 W. Sixth Ave. Here’s what we can expect at The Granary when it comes to beer.


The Granary will launch with 30 beers on tap. “We're going to do it differently from a lot of people,” says Dave Toman, a partner in the new venture. “We're going to do all Wisconsin beers. We're not doing anything from out of state. And we're going to bring in some of these smaller breweries that self-distribute, like Lion's Tail (Neenah),  Knuth (Ripon), and Lazy Monk (Eau Claire).”

As more Oshkosh breweries come on line, Toman expects to also include their beers in The Granary line-up.

As for the brewing side of the brewpub, Toman says an in-house brewery will not be part of the initial launch.

“We'll be applying for a brewpub license, but making it all happen could be a year or more down the road,” he says. “If it comes to pass, it’ll be a smaller system. We wouldn’t distribute the beer. It would just be for the brewpub.”

Toman’s partners in the business are Todd Ceman, Jeff Conger, and Chet Wesenberg. Toman and Ceman currently operate Dublin’s Irish Pub in Oshkosh and West Bend. “We want to create a comfortable, local pub kind of environment,” Toman says. “We want everybody to feel comfortable coming in there.”

The interior will have a familiar feel to those who remember the original Granary, which closed in 2004. “It won't look exactly the same,” Toman says, “but the structure is going to be pretty close.” Much of the woodwork and back bar is being preserved, he says.

The dining side will feature tapas, wood-fired pizza, and pub-style comfort food, Toman says. “We should have something for everyone.”

Built in 1883, the former flouring mill, was designated as an Oshkosh Local Landmark in 2015.

The outdoor seating plan.

Follow The Granary Brewpub’s Facebook page for updates.

Monday, August 7, 2017

When Carrie Nation Smashed into Oshkosh

A regressive movement needs its geek. Prohibitionists had Carrie Nation.

Carrie Amelia Nation
Born in 1846, Nation was strong, six-foot tall, and often unhinged. When she turned violent she grew famous. Her act was to smash saloons. It began in 1900 in Kiowa, Kansas. She said God told her to go there and throw bricks at taverns. So she did.

Nation moved on. She attacked saloons in Wichita and Topeka. The press loved it. She refined her game. She began using a hatchet. Her tool of choice came to symbolize her one-woman war against saloons and alcohol.

A Carrie Nation Souvenir Hatchet
By 1901, Carrie Nation was known nationwide.  She took her act on the road. It was inevitable she'd hit Oshkosh. She was said to have grumbled it was the wickedest city in the State of Wisconsin, if not the entire Northwest. She'd never been to Oshkosh. She'd heard stories, though.

Oshkosh came to Nation's attention early on. In 1901, she'd met James G. Clark, vice president of what is now Oshkosh B’Gosh. Clark was visiting Kansas. At the time, Nation was being held in a Topeka jail for running amok in saloons there. Clark went to see her.


"I was permitted to do my talking through the iron bars of her cell. She asked me about Oshkosh, and I told her that it was a beautiful city… and that it is true that we have saloons, both good and bad ones... I told her the rumors that she had heard about ladies dancing on hotel tables in Oshkosh must have originated in the fertile brain of an outsider... I told her there are some of our saloons that are disreputable places and had brought disgrace on the fair name of our beautiful city."
   – James G. Clark, Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; March 16, 1901

Carrie Nation praying in her Topeka jail cell.

A year later, Nation paid a visit to the “wicked” and “beautiful” city of Oshkosh.

In the summer of 1902, Carrie Nation came barnstorming Wisconsin. Oshkosh was on her list. Her sojourn here was arranged by E.E. Downs, manager of the Winnebago Traction Co. He paid her $50 a day to spend a Saturday and Sunday – July 19 and 20 – in Oshkosh. Downs acted as her booker. He scheduled two speaking events for her in parks owned by the Traction Company. Nation would give her spiel, meet the locals, and make some cash selling her trinket hatchets.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; July 15, 1902

As the date approached, anticipation grew. "The saloon smasher of Kansas is coming to Oshkosh," the Daily Northwestern bellowed. "This may cause the some odd-127 saloon proprietors of this city to lock up their places and take to the tall timber." Carrie Nation was on her way.

She limbered up for Oshkosh by throwing a tantrum in Fond du Lac. There, she frothed rabid about Wisconsin drowning in beer. "Every German in Wisconsin should be blown up with dynamite," she raged.

Nation marched down Fond du Lac's Main Street hissing at saloon men and their patrons. At the E. J. Schmidt saloon, she produced a hatchet and smashed a bottle of whiskey. It was all show. Schmidt grabbed her axe and threw her out. Next morning, she headed north by rail.

Commemorative sign at Main and Division in Fond du Lac.

Carrie Nation arrived in Oshkosh on a rain-soaked Saturday; July 19, 1902. She checked in at the Athearn Hotel as "Carrie Nation, the Home Defender."


Nation took a room on the second floor. She was preparing for a nap when a reporter from the Northwestern came knocking. She immediately put him at ease. "Her smile was enough to reassure him if he had any misgivings as to her temper.” But it was all downhill from there.

"I wish I could find a hotel here with no bar in it," she groused. "There are none here? That is what I expected. You have a very beautiful city here. I understand, though, that it is a very bad, wicked city."

It rained all morning. The weather kept Nation confined to her room. By noon her mood had cratered. In the Athearn dining room she went ballistic when a waiter handed her a menu that included a wine list.

"This aroused her wrath and in loud tones she gave an argument in favor of prohibition and said it was a shame and a disgrace that hotels sanctioned the serving of liquors in the dining room or anywhere else... She said it was ruining the girl waiters, making bartenders out of them. She 'roasted' a group of men for ordering liquor served with their meal."
   – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; July 21, 1902

While the staff scrambled, she barked at a group of men drinking beer at a nearby table. Finally, someone found a menu without a wine list on it. Nation momentarily quieted.

After eating, she spewed more insult. Nation railed at a young lady working the Athearn's cigar case. She said it was "A shame that a handsome girl should hand out cigars to vile smokers." She accused the girl of  "Helping to wreck the lives of the men."

She abused a bartender then turned to a clerk demanding to know if he was a Christian. The clerk wasn't intimidated. He smiled at her and said he thought he was. Nation stormed out.

It kept raining. Her first public appearance was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. at Sub-Station Park (at the intersection of County Rd. JJ and Breezewood Lane). But the weather was too harsh for it. The event was hastily relocated to Armory B Hall at the northeast corner of Merritt and Jefferson streets.

Armory B Hall
The crowd was smaller than E.E. Downs and the Traction Company hoped for. Rev. Edward H. Smith of the First Congregational Church introduced her. Nation took the stage at 8 p.m. She wasn't there to make friends.

"These brewers are nearly all Germans," she roared at a city heavily populated with German immigrants. "They come over here and are drugging the American people. Tonight this city is a place of crime, of murder. Even your hotels trap men and murder them with the drink they furnish."

She pulled out the Athearn menu that had set her off earlier in the day. She recited its wine list and the names of the different beers offered.

A 1902 ad for the Athearn Hotel, including its beer list.

It was a floundering mess of a speech. The Daily Northwestern remarked, "She is not a literary woman and her lectures are more or less rambling and disjointed."

Sunday was supposed to be better.

Nation was scheduled to appear at Electric Park in the afternoon and evening. Until then, she had time to kill in Oshkosh.

Around noon, her anger flared again. From the steps of the Athearn she could see Oshkosh paid no heed to Sunday closing laws. Saloons were running wide open. Nation had been threatening to go "slumming" since coming to town. It was time she hit the pavement.

From the front door of the Athearn she could see the Opera Buffet, a saloon run by William Bedward. Nation made a beeline across Opera House Square.

Opera House Square – later known as Monument Square – with Bedward's saloon indicated.
For Carrie Nation’s purposes, the ideal saloon was a hellish dive roiling with immigrant drunks slurring in their native tongue. Bedward's place was the antithesis of that.

William Bedward was born in Wales in 1852. He was in his early 20s when he reached Oshkosh. He worked as a railroad brakeman before going into the saloon business about 1899. The saloon Bedward ran on Opera House Square was anything but a dive. It was well appointed. He catered to the downtown clientele and business travelers.

Inside Bedward's Opera Buffet Saloon.
Carrie Nation was fuming as she advanced over Opera House Square. The Bedward place was in her sights. Nation later admitted she "had a mind to smash the place." She barged through doors and broke into a temperance rant. Bedward would have none of it.

As his patrons looked on, Bedward took Nation by the arm and led her back out the door. He told her he never allowed women in his saloon. And that she was no exception.

Nation turned tail. She headed north and up High Ave. This was more her style. The saloons and hotel bars along lower High were the sort of places Nation made a career out of railing against. Among them was the William Koch saloon across from the Grand Opera House. Koch had long been a sponsor of alcoholic mayhem. Serving minors was among his specialties.

But Carrie Nation couldn't make a go of it strolling on High Ave.  She stopped to harangue saloon keepers along the way, but each time was rebuffed. They told her to keep moving. None would let her inside. Worse yet, they seemed to view her with amusement.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; July 21, 1902.

Any remaining illusions Nation may have had about her standing in Oshkosh were finally shattered when she ran into a beer peddler. Seeing a beer delivery on the Sabbath triggered her. Nation lit into the man, spitting that he was a fool. The beer man gave it right back. “Well, you are a damned fool,” he shouted at her.  “And everybody knows it.”

Nation's High Ave. campaign ended near the corner of Jackson St. at the home Rev. James O'Malley of St. Peter's Church. At the time, O'Malley was the leading light of Oshkosh's beleaguered temperance movement.

James O'Malley
The conversation Carrie Nation had with James O'Malley went unreported. And O'Malley’s opinion of the Kansas Saloon Smasher remained his own. At least publicly. Others in the local anti-liquor brigade were not so reserved.

"The sentiment of most of them is probably contained in the remark made by one of the leading ministers of the city, who is an earnest temperance worker. Said he: "No. I did not go out to hear the famous Mrs. Nation. I have no sympathy with her since she allowed herself to become a dime museum freak and is endeavoring to exhibit herself for the money there is in it." 
   – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; July 21, 1902

After her visit with O'Malley, Carrie Nation headed back to her room at the Athearn. It began to rain again.

Her afternoon appearance at Electric Park was supposed to be the highlight of her Oshkosh visit. The amusement park just south of the city would be an ideal fit for her routine. "Farmers for miles around are planning to see her," the Northwestern reported. "The crowds that will gather to hear her lecture and get a sight of her will undoubtedly be very large."

Electric Park, later known as White City.

Carrie Nation never made it to Electric Park. The rains proved too severe. Again she was moved to Armory B Hall. The farmers stayed home. The audience was sparse. Oshkosh had heard enough from her.

Newspapers across the country had followed Nation as she made her way to Oshkosh. Expectations ran high. The "wicked city" with the unruly saloons was bound to send her off the deep end. But folks in Oshkosh didn't take the bait. When they weren't laughing at her, they ignored her. Disappointment followed in her wake.

"Carrie Nation didn't draw well In Oshkosh, which indicates two things. First, that more people might have gone to hear her had it not rained, and, second, that Oshkosh people are not so blamed anxious to be humbugged as one might think to look at them."
   – Janesville Gazette; July 29, 1902.

When she left town Monday, the weather improved. The clouds followed her. Her next stop was in Madison. While giving a speech there, the stage she stood on collapsed.

Carrie Nation blundered away and into obscurity. She died in Kansas in 1911. Her obituary in the Northwestern was perfunctory. The paper made no mention of her failed visit to Oshkosh. Did anyone remember?

William Bedward was still behind the bar at the Opera Buffet when Carrie Nation died. And at the Athearn the menu still featured plenty of beer and wine. The saloons and hotel bars on High were still thriving, and the beer peddlers still made Sunday rounds. The Kansas Smasher came and went. She didn’t even leave a dent.

“Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition. She Hath Done What She Could.”