Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Visitors Guide to Good Beer in Oshkosh

We’re welcoming a lot of guests to Oshkosh this week for the EAA Fly-In. These folks need sustenance. These folks need beer! If you’re new to our town, here’s the lowdown and where to get your share of the good stuff during your stay with us.

Brewpubs
That shouldn’t be plural, we have just one brewpub here. Fratellos Waterfront Brewery & Restaurant at 1501 Arboretum Dr. is the home of Fox River Brewing Company. Established in 1995, the current brewmaster is Kevin Bowen, who over the past few years has won two World Beer Cup Awards for his brews. Here’s the list showing what their current line-up looks like. The restaurant side at Fratellos is a several cuts above your typical pub fare with a large and varied menu.

Beer Bars
As you make your way around Oshkosh, you’ll notice there’s no shortage of bars. This has always been the case here (even during Prohibition!). Most of our “corner bars” have at least one or two craft beers available – New Glarus Spotted Cow being the most common. But there are three Oshkosh bars in particular that have made a point of emphasizing good beer and offering a wide variety of it.

Oblio’s Lounge 434 N. Main St.
The craft beer revolution in Oshkosh began at Oblio’s Lounge in the mid-1980s. They haven’t let up a bit. With 27 beers on tap, there’s always an abundance of choice brews on hand. Located within a beautifully restored building, Oblio’s is also one of Oshkosh’s most historic taverns. Good beer has been pouring from this spot since 1885.

O'Marro's Public House 2211 Oregon St.
Just a couple blocks east of Wittman Regional Airport, you’ll find the celebrated O'Marro's Public House. Shawn and Brandy O’Marro maintain 19 tap lines and almost all of them are dedicated to craft beer. If none of those suit you, their bottle list is the best in town, with well over 100 rare and unique beers available.

Peabody's Ale House 544 N. Main St.
Peabody's Ale House has been pouring craft beer for years. The bar features 13 draught lines inside and a couple more outside in their Sideyard, an excellent urban beer garden. Their varied selection usually includes a number of choices from nearby breweries such as Central Waters and O'so and is backed-up by a good-sized bottle list.

Bar / Restaurants
These three Oshkosh restaurants also double as bars. They each feature full bars that are ideal spots for enjoying a few pints.

Becket's Restaurant 2 Jackson St.
At the heart of this modern restaurant is a long sleek, bar where 15 taps are in flow. All of those draught lines are given over to craft beer and cider and they do a great job of keeping the list interesting. With a view of the river and a patio on the river, this is an ideal setting to whet your appetite with a few pints as prelude to a terrific meal from the menu of award-winning chef Mike Buckarama.

Dublin's Irish Pub 2070 W. 9th Ave.
This place will warm the heart of any beer geek. Dublin's 30 tap lines feature an excellent cross section of quality ales and lagers, many of which you’ll rarely find elsewhere. They’ll also fill growlers with beer drawn from their taps. The food is also excellent with a menu that features Irish pub fare

Gardina's Wine Bar and Cafe 448 N. Main St.
Don’t let the name fool you, they’re plenty wise to beer at Gardina’s. The emphasis here is often on rare and hard to find beer. With a bank of 12 tap handles, all of it craft and most of it high-end craft, you’re certain to find a beer or two you’ve been wanting to try. The food is of a similarly high quality. Oh, and as the name suggests, they have plenty of quality wine; in case you happen to have one of those folks in your crowd.

Shopping for Beer in Oshkosh
People from out of state are often surprised to see that beer is sold virtually everywhere here. Gas stations, drug stores, grocery stores, coffee shops... if you can’t find beer, you’re not looking. That said, if you're on the hunt for something better than macro beer, there are four primary outlets.
   
Festival Foods 2415 Westowne Ave.
This grocery store has a separate liquor department offering the largest selection of craft beer in town. A good selection of Wisconsin craft beer is backed by a fairly typical selection from well-known national craft brewers. They also feature several shelves of bombers. Festival has a decent, if not exactly inspiring, selection.

Gardina's Wine Bar and Cafe 448 N. Main St.
Yes, they also have a store at Gardina’s. Located in the rear of the building, the retail beer section here is far and away the best spot in Oshkosh when you’re looking for something special. A nice cross section of elusive Belgian and American craft beers are offered with no space given over to pedestrian brews. You won’t find many of the beers offered here anywhere else in the Fox Valley.

Pick 'n Save Stores
North Side: 1900 Jackson St.
South Side: 1940 S Koeller St.
With two stores, Pick 'n Save is convenient, but nothing to write home about. A fairly typical selection of craft beer, these places will do in a pinch. That’s about the best I can say about these guys.

For a city of it’s size, Oshkosh is great beer town with a long and hallowed history of beer and brewing. Make yourself at home and have a great time while you’re here. Prost!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A New View of Peoples Brewery

Click on Image to Enlarge
Here’s a picture of Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh that I recently came across. This appeared in The Wisconsin Brewing Story, a book published by the Wisconsin State Brewers' Association. The book doesn’t give a publication date, but judging by the breweries that are included, it appears to have been written in 1964.

The picture of Peoples brewery isn’t dated, either. My guess is that it was taken in the 1950s. If you look at the sign in front of The Melrose Tavern, you’ll see that it lists Old Derby Ale. Peoples, which brewed Old Derby, discontinued the brand in the early 1950s. It’s possible that the tavern was slow to update its signage, but doubtful that it would have been left that way into the 1960s.

This is also the best picture I’ve seen of the Melrose Tavern. What became the Melrose started out near the end of Prohibition as the Lakeside Lunch. It was launched in 1932 by a former traveling salesman named Louis E. Clute. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Clute began offering beer with lunch. In 1936, Clute went all in. He converted his lunch counter into a proper saloon with a full kitchen. He added a tap room and a bar and renamed it Ye Old Colonial Inn. A year later, Clute was trying to sell the place.

Clute found a buyer in 1943. His name was George Hannes. The son of a German immigrant and a WWI Vet, Hannes had been operating the Melrose Tavern just west of Oshkosh on Highway 21. When he took over Ye Old Colonial Inn, Hannes changed its name to The Melrose Tavern and hung that prominent sign out front advertising the beer of his next-door neighbor. Hannes went on pouring Peoples Beer at 1518 S. Main until his retirement in 1965.  

The Melrose Tavern was followed at this location by Steine’s Bar (1965-1970) and then Jabbers Bar (1970-1980). It was at Jabbers on November 14, 1972 that Theodore Mack, the president of Peoples Brewing, announced that the brewery had halted production. Mack had to hold his press conference in Jabbers because the power and heat had been cut off in the brewery. Two years later, the demolition of the brewery began.

Jabbers held on a little longer. The bar was shut down and the building was torn down in 1980. By that time, there was a Pabst sign hanging over the door. The days of the little tavern in the shadow of the brewery had ended.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hopped Up for the Weekend

They always seem to arrive in bunches. A gush of good beers have come streaming into town over the past week. Among them are a bunch of newish (to our area) beers that emphasize hops. I’m feeling in a hoppy kinda mood, so lets get into those. Here’s a trio of hop-forward beers to crash against your palate this weekend in Oshkosh.

Toppling Goliath Light Speed Pale Ale
If you put your money down on just one beer in this group, make it this one. And make your move quick, because there’s a limited amount available and it’s going fast.

Toppling Goliath Brewing of Decorah, Iowa (pop. 8,127) is a darling of the geek set. Beer traders lose their nut over this stuff and it’s as rare as hen’s teeth in Wisconsin. We’re getting it in Oshkosh thanks to Adam Carlson of Gardina’s. He’s been trucking down to Madison, making a connection and hauling a few cases back home. This time he’s landed a perfect, summer-weekend beer.

First off, it’s a pretty thing: golden amber with a lacy, white head. It almost looks innocent. The aroma brings a distinct watermelon scent that makes you want to drink it in big, sloppy gulps. Go ahead, it’s just under 6%, it isn’t gonna kill you. That melon note comes bursting out as you draw it in. It’s sweet and candy-like with a slithering bitterness behind it that gradually drives everything else from your mouth. It’s a delicious beer. Gardina’s is offering Light Speed in 22oz. bombers for $9.99. If you don’t see it on the shelf, make sure to ask for it. And if they run out, ask if they have any of Toppling Goliath’s PseudoSue still available. Never know, you might get lucky.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Here’s a beer that hasn’t been available in Oshkosh since 2011. When Dogfish Head brought their beers back to Wis. last December, their flagship brew was conspicuously absent. Word out of the Milton, Delaware brewery was that they couldn’t brew enough of it to keep up. Another expansion later and now they can. Their 60 Minute IPA returned on draught last week at O’Marro’s Public House and it’s now selling in 6-packs at Festival Foods and Gardina’s.

I have an affinity for this beer. It represents everything that Dogfish Head is supposedly not about. There’s nothing “radical” or “off-centered” about it. This is a flavorful, workmanlike IPA with a broad nose of citrus-like hop aromas. I get a lot of grapefruit, skirted with a hint of sugar. It’s surprisingly light-bodied with a firm bitterness riding over a semi-sweet malt flavor that makes me think of Vienna malt. The finish is fast and dry, leaving the palate clean and refreshed. It’s no wonder this is the Dogfish Head’s bestselling beer. Unlike most of their other beers, this is one you might want to drink a few of. At 6.0% ABV, that shouldn’t present too much of a problem. There’s just one drawback: the price runs to the high side. At Festival it’s going for $10.99 a sixer. I’m not sure what Gardina’s is charging, but I imagine they’re in the same ballpark. Oh, what the hell, you only go around once.

Tallgrass Ethos IPA
Here’s the sleeper. This beer triggered a memory for me. The first IPA that really grabbed me was Tyranena’s Bitter Woman IPA. That was back in the fall of 2003, I think. I hated it. But I kept going back to it. All of a sudden, I couldn’t get enough of it. Ethos IPA reminds me a lot of what I used to and still do like about Bitter Woman.

The beer has tingling, pine-forest aroma that charges up from the glass. It’s like putting your nose into a brew kettle just after a big dose of cascade or centennial hops have gone in. The flavors are strong and direct. There’s a sticky, caramel-like malt note that’s immediately shredded by a bitter grapefruit flavor. They come together beautifully. The finish is bitter, lingering and very enjoyable; if you enjoy such things. And sometimes, I do. And this time I did.

They’re selling Ethos IPA in 4-packs of 16-ounce cans at Festival Foods in Oshkosh for $7.99. Every once in a while, I find something at Festival that keeps me coming back. Here’s another one. I haven’t given up on that dump, yet. But I probably should.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A New Draught System at Fratellos in Oshkosh

A quick note about the beer at Fratellos in Oshkosh. Earlier today (Tuesday), they installed a new draught system in the restaurant bar. I dropped in for a couple pints with a friend tonight and I can tell you there’s a noticeable difference. The beer tasted amazingly fresh. The first beer I tried was 1853, a dark lager that I’ve always enjoyed. Tonight it tasted fantastic with its toasty malt flavor shining. I followed that with a creamy and roasty Trolley Car Stout and was equally impressed. When you get a chance, make a point of checking this out. You might be surprised by what you find there.

Monday, July 21, 2014

August Horn’s Epic Spree

Lets go back about 119 years and do some palling around with a happy man. It’s our old friend August Horn and he’s out on a spree. But before we hook up with Horn, let’s take a look at why he’s so pleased to be throwing money over the bar as he pub crawls his way around Oshkosh.

The story begins in 1893. Times are tough for the brewers of Oshkosh. The Panic of 1893 has had a crushing effect on the local economy. Competition for beer dollars has grown fierce. There are four breweries in Oshkosh and they’re undercutting one another trying to get a leg up.  Worse yet, big breweries from Milwaukee and beyond are putting the squeeze on. There are a half-dozen agents from Milwaukee breweries operating in the city. They’re buying saloons and establishing distribution facilities for their beer in Oshkosh. The brewers here are under siege.

On May 15, 1893, three Oshkosh brewers meet to plan a counter-attack. Lorenz Kuenzl of the Gambrinus Brewery, August Horn of Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, and John Glatz of of the J. Glatz & Son Union Brewery team up in an attempt to stop the bleeding. The agreement they draw up fixes the price of a barrel of beer at $8. They also agree that when visiting Oshkosh saloons, they won’t spend more than 25 cents treating others at the bar. Finally, “none of the parties shall attend any dancing parties held in connection with any saloon by or for the benefit of the keeper of such saloon.” You know they mean business when they quit dancing.

August Horn
Essentially, it’s a price-fixing scheme. It wasn’t exactly amicable and it wasn’t exactly illegal in 1893. It also wasn’t effective. Less than a year later, Glatz, Horn and Kuenzl decided there was just one thing left to do. To contend with mega-brewers such as Pabst and Schlitz they would need to join forces in a more substantial way. On March 21, 1894, the trio merged their breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Horn became the president of the brewery and the dancing parties returned. Once again, August Horn was in his element.

The restriction on treating people at the bar must have been a particularly onerous one for Horn. He was a titan of the South Side and well known for being a soft touch. After the dust had settled and the Oshkosh Brewing Company was up and running, Horn returned to the Oshkosh saloon scene. It seems he had some pent up generosity that needed releasing.

Oshkosh’s barflies must have loved seeing Horn walk into the saloon, but back at the brewery the company’s treasurer, William Glatz, was less than pleased. Glatz often chided the brewery’s principals for being too lenient with saloon keepers. He was especially irked by Horn’s spendthrift ways and recorded every nickel that Horn spent when “treating” at the bar. Apparently, Horn couldn’t have cared less.

Glatz’s penny-pinching is our gain. The ledger’s he kept give us a glimpse of August Horn carousing through Oshkosh saloons. It wasn’t at all unusual for Horn to visit 30 or more saloons on one of his runs. But his spree of May 22, 1895 was truly epic. Horn made his way through 41 saloons on this jaunt. The record isn’t clear how long it took Horn to accomplish this, it may have been spread over several days, but it remains an impressive crawl, nonetheless. Consider also, that at this point Horn was less than three months shy of his 60th birthday, had poor vision and was hard of hearing. You get a sense that Horn was dedicated to his fun.

Most of the saloons that Horn visited during this session have either been torn down or are now occupied by other types of businesses. But there are a few of them where the beer still flows. If you’d like to get a feel for Horn’s saloon trotting, here’s a mini-tour of a few of the places where he bellied up to the bar to buy a round for his countless friends.

As a South Sider, we’ll assume Horn began his journey on that side of town and headed north. Here we go.

Park Avenue Bar. 358 W South Park Ave.
Horn only bought four beers at Bernhard Domann’s saloon. This place was just a few blocks from Horn’s house, so maybe he was still getting warmed up. Domann, by the way, also had a cigar making business running out of the back of his saloon. Wouldn’t it be nice to see something like that in Oshkosh again.

Andy's Pub & Grub. 527 W. 9th Ave.
Horn bought five beers here. At the time, this place was known as Frank Bruehmueller’s Wisconsin Central Railroad Sample Room. Bruehmueller also had a beer garden connected to his saloon. A good place to whet your whistle while you waited for the train.

Ohio St Station. 815 Ohio St.
Back when Horn stopped in, this was the saloon of Joseph J. Nigl. Horn paid for 14 beers at his old friend’s bar. Nigl would eventually take issue with the Oshkosh Brewing Company. After Horn’s death in 1904, William Glatz became president of the brewery, which didn’t please Nigl. Glatz and Nigl would go to battle in 1913 when Nigl, among others, helped launch the Peoples Brewing Company.

Walleye's Pub. 458 W 6th Ave.
Unfortunately, Walleye's is now shuttered, so you won’t be able to do as Horn did. Again, Horn split after buying just five beers. Back then it was a grocery store and saloon operated by John Christian Heise.

Over the river we go, to the corner bars. Yes, they were the corner bars even back then.

Mable Murphey’s. 701 N Main St.
This is more like it. Horn buys 15 beers at the saloon run by Albert Thom and his sons, Rheinhold and Emil. There was no Mable in sight.

Calhoun Beach Club. 695 N Main St.
Horn crosses the street and buys five beers at the saloon run by John C. Voss. Back then CBC was known as Bogus Corner. I think I like that name better.

Distillery Pub. 515 N Main St.
Horn’s holding up pretty well. He buys 10 beers at the sample room of A.E. Mantz, a “A fine bar of wines, liquors, cigars and fresh beer.” I was at D-Pub a couple weeks ago. The beer is still fresh.

There you have it. You’ll have to add 37 more saloons to the list if you want to pit your stamina agains’t Horn’s. All in all, Horn spent just over $33 on his crawl, which would amount to 660 beers at a nickel a piece. It’s easy to see why Horn had so many friends.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Old Chub and a Pack of Other Phat Beers at Gardina's

Yesterday, I spied a flock of beers recently added to the shelves and draught line-up at Gardina’s that I thought I’d pass along. The list is long, so let's get to it.

Oskar Blues Old Chub Nitro. A big Scotch ale in a 16-ounce can with a widget. If ever there was a beer that benefited from being nitrogenated, it’s this one. A creamy beer under normal circumstances, on nitro it’s like whipped cream. It pours deep brown with a cascading head that settles into a one-finger cap that’ll put a tan mustache of foam on your lip. Without the CO2 pushing up the aroma, there’s not a lot happening in the nose, but the flavor certainly isn’t lacking. It oozes rich, caramel malt flavors from stern to bow with some tobacco, molasses and roast coming along with it. Hops? Forget it. This beer is all about malt and mouthfeel. The texture is smooth and lush; it paints your tongue. It’s a sweet beer, but not overly sticky. Old Chub has never really been my thing, but in this format it’s an altogether different animal and, to me, much better. You’d never guess it’s 8% ABV, so watch your step with this beer.

O'so Restless Soul. This is the Plover brewery’s Dank Imperial Red Ale aged in oak barrels with Brettanomyces. I’ve had this one. It’s along the lines of a hoppy Oud bruin with a pronounced wine-like character that’s different and enjoyable. O’so keeps doing interesting things.

Dark Horse IPA Variety Pack. The Michigan brewery’s flagship Crooked Tree IPA brewed four different ways, each using a different hop. I believe Gardina’s is selling individual bottles from the 12-pack. A very limited run.

Summit Brewing’s Southern Cape Sparkling Ale. A pale ale brewed with a good hit of Southern Hemisphere hops and malts from Australia and Chile. It’s hop forward and just 4.4% ABV. Sounds like a good summer quencher.

Snarling Badger Berliner Weisse. A 7.5% ABV Berliner Weisse? Nobody needed to do this, but Grand Teton Brewing of Victor, Idaho did. Another example of an American brewery taking an ossified beer style and upending it... ain’t nothing wrong with that.

OK, if you head over to Gardina’s there’s also a few beers on draught you might want to press to your face. Below is the updated list... check out that New Belgium beer. The geeks at RateBeer are practically shitting themselves over this one. Fat chance you’ll meet it again anytime soon....

• New Belgium Le Terroir Dry-Hopped Sour Ale
• Hinterland Rye Whiskey Barrel-Aged White Out Double IPA
• Duvel Single Belgian Pale Ale
• Black Husky Equinox Howler Imperial Pale Ale
• Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron Imperial Brown Ale
• Deschutes Black Butte Porter
• O'so Rusty Red Ale
• New Glarus Yokel Zwickelbier
• Titletown Johnny "Blood" Red Ale
• Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
• Finch's Threadless IPA
• Steven's Point Brewing Nude Beach Summer Wheat Ale

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Oshkosh Riverwalk Bike & Beer Tour


I posted something similar to this about year ago, but now that we’re heading into the heart of the summer biking season I think it bears repeating.

What I’ve mapped out here is ill advised, potentially illegal and a lot of fun. All I can say is use your best judgement.

This is a 5-stop bike tour of the best beer spots located along the Fox River where it slices through the City of Oshkosh. Let’s hit the road.

We're going to start on N. Main St.

Just before the bridge on the west side of North Main, you’ll notice a ramp that snakes along the side of the new Waterfront Hotel. This will lead you onto the Riverwalk and take you to the first of our stops.

Beer Stop #1: The Ground Round at River's Edge / 1 North Main St.

Not exactly a destination point for good beer, but they do have a swank patio on the river and they have been keeping a couple decent Wisconsin-craft beers on tap. Sink a pint, take in the river view and get back on your bike.

Bike: A couple dozen pedal strokes west along the Riverwalk will take you to one of the finest beer spots in Oshkosh.

Beer Stop #2: Becket’s / 2 Jackson St.

Becket’s has 15 draught lines dedicated to craft beer and cider. You'll have no problem finding something good here. Their patio on the river is an ideal place to enjoy a couple pints. Check out their tap list HERE.

Bike: Saddle back up and continue peddling north about a half mile. As you reach the Wisconsin Street Bridge you'll see the new...

Beer Stop #3: Mahoney's Restaurant & Bar / 30 Wisconsin St.

Mahoney's has outdoor seating and 8 draught lines, the majority of them dedicated to Wisconsin-brewed craft beer. If you haven't eaten, yet, you may want to grab a bite here. The food is good and you've got a ways to go.

Bike: Follow the Riverwalk as it leads you under the Wisconsin St. Bridge and onto a paved path that continues along the river at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh Campus. This path ends at Rockwell Ave., but leads directly into the start of the Wiouwash Trail. Follow it to where it merges with Summit Ave. When you reach Summit, look dead ahead and you’ll see the sign for the Fox River Brewing Company at Fratellos.

Beer Stop #4: Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant / 1501 Arboretum Dr

When you hit Fratellos, plant yourself on the patio with a beer and soak it all in. The brewpub typically keeps 9-10 of their own beers on tap with a few bottles of past favorites and specialty beers in the cooler near the main bar.

Bike: After you leave Fratellos you’ll have two options. You could either peddle back in exactly the same direction you came; or you could take the Congress Ave. bridge over the river and peddle the back streets that lead towards the Oshkosh Seniors Center at 200 N Campbell Rd. There you can hook back up with the paved trail that is snug to the river (Check out the map below for more precise directions).  Whichever way you go, you’ll want to end up passing through the south tunnel under the Wisconsin St. Bridge to hook up with the southern side of the Riverwalk. This section of the Riverwalk dead ends at Michigan St. Take Michigan to 6th Ave. and hang a right (east). Follow 6th for about four blocks and keep an eye towards the river, where you’ll see...

Beer Stop #5: Dockside Tavern / 425 Nebraska St.

Dockside has a patio on the river with a great view. And some good beer to go along with it. They usually have a decent smattering of crafts on draught and a not-too-bad selection of bottled beer. Not an enormous range of choices, but you’ll find something that’ll work for you. As you enjoy your beer, think about whether or not you have a second lap in you. Of course you do!

Bike: Get back on 6th Ave. and head towards S. Main St. (east). Take the S. Main St. Bridge back over the river and enter the infinite loop. Don’t forget to keep that helmet strapped on. You’re gonna need it.

Below is  a Google biking map, so it doesn't exactly jibe with the biking routes described above, some of which are off the Google grid. This will help if you get lost, but unless otherwise noted, use the directions given above.

To view a somewhat more accurate interactive map go HERE.



Monday, July 14, 2014

More Fun with August Horn

I’m a sucker for these little stories about the misadventures of brewers that pop up from time to time in old Oshkosh newspapers. August Horn of Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, and later the president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, seems to have been a particularly ripe subject for Oshkosh newsmen back in the day. Here he is again in the summer of 1882 giving the hacks something to scribble about.

Backed Into the River
On Saturday afternoon the brewer Mr. Horn drove his large beer wagon to the Northwestern freight depot after some bales of hops. In backing down the inclined plain from the depot platform he cramped his horses too much and backed off the platform into the slip beside the depot. The horses and wagon with Mr. Horn on top of them went plunging into the water below. The men at the freight house ran to the rescue, but the rub came in getting the team out. The horses plunged and reared and pitched, as they could just touch bottom with their hind legs. It was with great difficulty that the team was unhitched from the wagon. As the team could not be lifted out of the slip on account of the piling, the horses had to be let loose and compelled to swim quite a distance, being driven by men in boats. I took some three hours to get the team and wagon out of the slip.
      -Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Monday, July 10, 1882

In case you’re wondering, the Northwestern freight depot was located on the south shore of the Fox River near the crossing of the new CN Railroad bridge.

But my first question when I saw this was whether or not the hops had been loaded onto the wagon before Horn plunged his rig into the drink. Did Horn drown all those lovely hops? Tells you where my sympathies lie. And what kind of hops were those and where were they sent from? Wouldn’t you love to know? These newspaper guys always leave out the important stuff.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Deschutes Arrives in Oshkosh

From 2008 to 2011, we saw a steady stream of out-of-state craft brewers pull their products from Wisconsin. Allagash, Avery, Boulevard, Dogfish Head, Fort Collins, Stone and Two Brothers were among those that left the state.

Most of those brewers cited lack of capacity as the reason for their departure. As often as not, though, their exit from our state coincided with the placement of their beer in another. What none of them said, but everyone knew is that Wisconsinites have a tendency to be tribal about their beer.

That’s been the case for years. It’s the reason Wisconsin held on to so many of its regional breweries well into the 1960s; a time when most other states had long since seen their local brewers driven under by the likes of Pabst, Schlitz and Budweiser.

But a number of brewers are now betting that our bias for local beer is easing. Late last year, Dogfish Head came back and this year saw the return of Avery. They’ll soon be joined other out-of-state breweries including Ballast Point and Surly. The latest brewery to dive into Wisconsin is Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon.

Deschutes was established in 1988. It’s the sixth largest American craft brewery. They’ve been on a massive push recently to expand their reach, going into the Midwest and eastern states. Last week, they hit the shelf in Oshkosh. Let’s see what they’ve got.

Right now there are four Deschutes’ beers available here: Black Butte Porter, Chainbreaker White IPA, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Twilight Summer Ale. Gardina’s and Festival Foods are selling all four, with Gardina’s bringing Deschutes in on draught in the near future. Their porter and pale ale are the beers to go for if you want to get a feel for what this brewery is all about.

Black Butte Porter is a classic robust porter. Very dark brown with a chunky tan head, the beer gives off an aroma of moist brownies backed by light roast. Full bodied with a silky texture, Black Butte’s malt flavors dominate – the main thrust coming from mildly sweet caramel malt. There’s a slight undertow of roast that leads to a somewhat dry, powdery finish. I’ve been into porters lately and have been drinking a lot of them. This one shines. It’s an exceptional beer.

Mirror Pond Pale Ale is another ideal example of a beer style. American pale ales are changing, trending ever more heavily towards hop flavor. This beer is a portrait of what the American pale ale was prior to the recent tendency of brewers make it into a minor-league IPA. It’s a deep-golden ale with a fluffy white head that lingers down the glass. The piney smell of cascade hops is impossible to miss. The citrus-like hop flavor is prominent, but spread evenly over enough bready malt to balance the beer. There’s a satisfying bitterness in the finish that is especially likable. If you’re a homebrewer looking to nail this style, here’s a beer you ought to study.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Deschutes does around here. Their prices are just a bit higher than most other craft beers, but their quality is exceptional. I’m thinking they’ll do fine. These are flavorful, well-made ales that ought to find favor with anyone who loves a good beer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Heard It Through the Hopvine

A quick blast of news, notes and rumors rumbling through the Oshkosh beer scene.

Speaking of scenes, the July edition of the Oshkosh SCENE is now out and all about town. This time, my Oshkosh Beer Garden column covers a flight of summer beers produced by Wisconsin breweries. But there’s one beer mentioned therein you’ll have a hard time finding. New Glarus announced last week that it was pulling its wonderful Berliner Weiss from store shelves after receiving complaints that the beer was over-carbonated. What? A Berliner Weiss is supposed to be carb loaded. What the brewery didn’t mention is that bottles were exploding. Check out this BeerAdvocate forum where folks are sharing their experiences with Berliner-Weiss bottle bombs.

Speaking of New Glarus, Dublin’s will host a beer dinner featuring the much-loved brewery on August 14. Details are now being hashed out, but I’ll post something here when tickets become available.

Speaking of Dublin’s, they’re also working on plans for their Third Annual Craft Beer Festival. That one will land in September. Once the date is fixed, I’ll pass it along here. Word is that this year’s fest will even feature some homebrew. We all know that’s where the best beer really comes from.

Speaking of Homebrew, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers have set the date for their Third Annual Cask & Caskets Homebrew Event for Charity. This year, the homebrew flows on November 1 at the Oshkosh Convention Center. Check out the Facebook Event Page for more.

Speaking of brewing your own, NDC in Oshkosh is planning on expanding their food section and moving their brewing supplies to the second floor of their building at 457 N. Main St. I hope that means they’ll expand their selection. If you haven’t been to NDC in a while for brewing supplies, you ought to check them out. It’s not the perfect homebrew shop by any means, but they usually have some pretty good deals, especially on bagged malt. If you go today (Wednesday, July 9) Take THIS COUPON in and get 5% off on anything you purchase.

Speaking of stores, we’re going to have a new place to buy craft beer in Downtown Oshkosh. Ski's Meat Market is preparing to open downtown at 502 N. Main St. (where Great Estates used to be). And they say they’re going to have a selection of good beer available. I doubt that’s just happy talk. The folks behind this venture are the same people who bring you Beckets. They know what they’re doing when it comes to craft beer. The opening date has yet to be announced, but their website promises that it’s coming soon.

Speaking of craft beer, rumor is that Ballast Point Brewing will soon be distributing its beer in Wisconsin. This San Diego brewery is known for producing hop-forward ales including the coveted Sculpin IPA, which gets much love from the geeks. Look to see Ballast Point around here in early Fall.

Speaking of early Fall, time for me to get my ass out of this chair and get outside before summer slips by. Prost!