Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Firkin Tonight at Gardina’s

Chapter 13 of Gardina’s Beer Bar Series is on tap tonight (Tuesday, October 21). This time they’ll crack into a firkin of Central Waters Honey Blond Ale that’s been spiced with lavender in the cask.  The floral notes from the lavender ought to go well with the honey used in the beer. Just one way to find out: get yourself down to Gardina’s and have a few splashes. The firkin will be tapped at 6 p.m.

Another thing. In conjunction with the last couple firkin’s they’ve tapped, Gardina’s has been putting together a special dinner menu to pair with the beer. They’ll be doing that again, tonight. Sounds like a plan...

Monday, October 20, 2014

An Online History of Beer in Oshkosh

I’ve been chipping away at the Oshkosh Beer Timeline for over three years now. The idea is to have an online space dedicated to the history of beer and brewing in Oshkosh. I’ve just completed a large number of updates to the site, making it far more comprehensive. There are still some gaps in the history presented there, but I’ll be addressing those before long.

The timeline presents a simple, fairly streamlined overview of beer in Oshkosh from 1849 to the present. Most entires have links to pages that explore topics in-depth. Currently, there are more than 70 linked articles.

Also included are a couple of guided tours accessible as downloadable PDF files. You’ll find those in the upper right sidebar. One is for touring Oshkosh’s brewing sites. The other is a beer-based walking tour of Riverside Cemetery.

The Oshkosh Beer Timeline is still a work in progress, but it’s also the most complete online source for beer history related to Oshkosh. There's plenty there, but if you crave more you can always check out The Breweries of Oshkosh.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Couple of Hometown Brews

There’s a couple of excellent Fox River Brewing Company lagers pouring exactly right now at Fratellos in Oshkosh. They’re rich and hearty and a nice buffer to this cool damp that’s hovering about. Let’s check ‘em out...

Here’s Fox River’s entry into the Oktoberfest stream. I need to have a couple more, but this might be my favorite American Oktoberfest for this year. I’ve drank a lot of them over the last two months and have come across too many that are overtly sweet. While the malty character of this style might suggest sweetness, the beer ought to end up being relatively crisp and dry. This one gets it right.

It’s a bronze beer that sends a waft of Munich-malt aroma out of the glass. I get a lot of clean malt flavor from this. I kept thinking bread crust and caramel with a dash of pepper from the hops. The finish has a snappy bitterness that’s a good counterweight to the malt flavor.

Here’s something for the homebrewers. I got in touch with Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at Fox River, and he was kind enough to share all the basics on this beer. It goes like this:

Original Gravity: 16.2° P
Terminal Gravity: 3.9° P
Lovibond: 12°
ABV: 6.2%
IBUs: 22.2

Malt Bill
Munich 1 & 2
Bonlander Munich
Caramunich 3
Dehusked Carafa 3

German Select
German Hallertau

Schwarzbier literally means black beer. Back in the day, they used to call this style Kulmbacher. It was once a popular style in Oshkosh with the local brewers producing it year round. Fox River’s take on the style is somewhat of a throwback to those earlier beers. Most schwarzbiers you find these days are somewhat whispy. They’re often like a pils with a neutral coloring malt to blacken the beer. This one is more substantial.

It’s definitely a black beer with foam that’s sticky and tan. There’s a hit of roast in the aroma that follows through in the flavor. There’s a fat note of licorice here. I enjoy that. It’s a full-bodied beer. Very pleasing in the mouth. I was shocked when I learned that it’s just 4.1% ABV. It seems much more substantial. It’s a beer to drink by the growler! I really like this one.

Once again, here’s Kevin with the specs:

Original Gravity: 11.5° P
Terminal Gravity: 3.5° P
Lovibond: 48°
ABV: 4.1%
IBUs: 17

Malt Bill
2 row
Munich 2
Caramunich 2
Dehusked Carafa 3

German Magnum
Czech Saaz

Something else you might want to know: Fratellos has Ale Asylum’s KINK on as their guest beer right now. I haven’t had it, but I’ve heard good things. It’s a 7.4% Blegian-style Abbey ale. According to Ale Asylum it’s, “Creamy and smooth with a thrust of spice in the aroma and a climatic finish.” Sounds dramatic.

Here’s the full board showing what’s pouring at Fratello’s as of yesterday.
Click the pic for easier reading. Prost!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Last Saturday, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers and the Fox River Brewing Company got together for a group brew at Fratellos in Oshkosh. Working with Fox River brewmaster Kevin Bowen, the SOBs helped make a 375-gallon batch of Buffalo Mike’s Pumpernickel Rye.

This is a beer that Mike Engel of the SOBs has been brewing and serving at festivals around here for years. And this is the second time, Mike has had his beer made on a commercial scale. He describes the brew as tasting almost like liquid rye bread. That’s about right, I’d say. I’ve had Mike’s homebrewed version a few times. I’m looking forward to seeing how the FRBC brew compares. It’s not so easy ramping these small batch brews up to this size.

Look for Buffalo Mike’s Pumpernickel Rye to begin flowing from the draught lines at Fratellos in Oshkosh sometime around mid-November. I’ll send a shout out here when it hits.

Personally, I’m glad this happened. There was a period after the brewery opened in 1995 and extending into the 2000s when the SOBs and Fox River Brewing had a fairly tight bond. That gradually eroded as circumstances changed for both the club and the brewery.

It’s time for that relationship to be rebuilt. The SOBs are a large and influential homebrewing club and Kevin Bowen at Fox River is a two-time World Beer Cup Medal winner. It’s great to have them come together.

Here’s a few shots from the brew day, courtesy of Mike Engel. As always, click to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A German Beer Sampler

Until yesterday, this blog sat idle for three weeks. There’s a good reason for that. I was in Germany. You can probably guess what I was doing there. Drinking beer, of course. Lots and lots of beer. It was wonderful!

The beer scene I encountered in Germany is quite different from ours in Oshkosh. Better in some regards; lacking in others. The experience left an impression on me. It’s altered the way I looked at what we have here. Let me explain...

We toured the eastern half of Germany starting in Southern Bavaria, into the Czech Republic and ending in Berlin. So, I doubt my impressions would be valid for the country as a whole. That said, the first thing I noticed is how deeply engrained beer drinking is there.

You encounter beer almost everywhere and at every time of day. There seems to be little of the weird anxiety that hounds public beer consumption in America. At every restaurant or cafe, we’d notice a good number, if not most, of the people around us also enjoying a glass of beer with their meals. A couple days after returning to Oshkosh, we had lunch at Becket’s. There was neither beer nor wine on any of the other tables. It was one of those moments where your happiness on returning home turns to dust.

What you don’t see in Germany is the incredible variety of beer you find here. That’s not saying that the beer is all the same there. It isn’t. It’s just that the choices are within a narrower spectrum. What dominates, unsurprisingly, are traditional German styles of beer. Weizens and dunkelweizen, pilsners and helles, bocks, märzen, dunkels and schwarzbiers, alts and Kölsch... there’s plenty of variety overall and a world of variation within each style. But you don’t find the incredible range of beer styles that are easy to come by in Oshkosh.

You also don’t see many places with a dozen different beers on tap. Typically, just a handful of beers are offered. Often we found just two or three being served, a pale and a dark lager along with a wheat beer. Does that sound boring? It wasn’t to me. More often than not, the beers we had were so beautifully flavored that the limited choice meant nothing.

Maybe the best beer I had was a kellerbier, a simple unfiltered lager we drank in Kulmbach. It was rich with a bitter/sweet balance and absolutely delicious. I could live on that beer. But if I were a dedicated IPA drinker I might not have been so easily satisfied. Good luck finding IPA in Germany. Or a bourbon-barrel aged stout. Or a pumpkin imperial porter. Or a 15% ABV barleywine. I wasn’t gone all that long, but I can’t say I missed any of those.

Coming back to Oshkosh and meandering again through the beer scene here was an unreal experience. There’s just so much. And so much of it lacks context beyond the whims of “radical” brewers and marketing hacks. It’s occurred to me how difficult it must be for people who are just getting into this. Where do you start?

After time away, the craft beer scene looks faddish to me. So many of the beers, especially the stuff you see in bombers, seems pretentious, overwrought, self-involved and complex for no good reason at all. I’m all for choice, but at the moment the gaudy, circus-like aspect of craft beer appeals to me not in the least. Is this what travel is supposed to do for you? I’m glad to be back home. But I have some adjusting to do.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Charles Rahr Goes Home

Charles Rahr
In June 1908, Oshkosh brewer Charles Rahr returned to his homeland after 52 years on American soil. When Rahr boarded the ship bound for Germany, he was 72-years-old. He had prepared for the journey by becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen four months prior to his departure. And just two months before leaving New York for Hamburg he had retired from brewing and turned the Rahr Brewing Company over to his son, Charlie. Yet on the ship’s manifest, Rahr still listed his occupation as brewer.

Rahr, his wife Caroline and several Oshkosh friends would spend more than three months traveling though Germany. Their trip included a three-week excursion down the Rhine River that took Rahr back to Wesel, the city of his birth.

But the world Rahr was returning too was quite unlike the one he had left behind. When Rahr left Wesel in 1856, the city was part of Prussia. It was an isolated fortress city racked by years of war. German unification in 1871 made Wesel part of the German Empire. It was followed by the city’s modernization and redevelopment.

Charles Rahr had changed, too. He had fought and was wounded in the American Civil War. And after working at several other Wisconsin breweries, he had launched his own brewery in Oshkosh in 1865. Rahr had come from a brewing family and had probably been involved in beer making in Wesel prior to his leaving for America. But the beer he would have found in Wesel upon his return would have been quite unlike the beer he remembered.

When Rahr lived in Wesel, the region surrounding the Lower Rhine was dominated by small breweries producing dark ales. That was beginning to change as Rahr came of age. By the time Rahr returned to Wesel, he would have found most of the dark ales of his youth being supplanted by pale lager beer produced by large, industrial breweries. In fact, the beer Rahr returned to in Wesel may have more closely resembled the beer he was producing in Oshkosh than the beer he recalled from his younger days.

I wonder if that disappointed him. Perhaps not. He may have felt validated by the popularity of the new beer in Wesel. Lager breweries had begun to take hold in the region around Wesel in the 1840s and the impact of that change seems to have influenced the Rahr family of brewers. Three members of the Rahr family left Wesel and launched breweries in Wisconsin during the 1800s. Each of their breweries made lager beer. Rahr must surely have noticed the irony. In the 52 years since his departure, Wesel had given itself over to the type of beer he had invested his life in brewing 4,000 miles from home.

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!