Monday, July 16, 2018

Lost on Ceape

Forget Sawdust City, they should have called it Saloon City. From the jump, Oshkosh was crowded with beer joints. There have been hundreds of them. They all have their stories. Do a little poking around into any of the old places and all sorts of peculiar stuff comes oozing out.

On the north side of Ceape Avenue between Court and State, was a forgotten place that used to burst with local color. You’d never guess it was once so. What’s there now is nothing. It’s a parking lot. The red rectangle shows the location...

That lot was home to a series of saloons. The first of them was run by a Canadian expat named George Condie. He began slinging beer around there in the late 1860s. Condie lived at the saloon with his wife, Wilhelmine, and their four kids. They seemed to do okay. In 1874, Condie bought the bigger building next door and moved his saloon in there.

A. Ruger's 1867 Bird's Eye View of Oshkosh. The red dot is at the doorstep of Condie's Saloon

Condie's new saloon got burned out six months after he moved into it. The fifth and worst of Oshkosh's great fires ripped through the city on the windy Wednesday of April 28, 1875. The fire started at the Morgan Brothers mill on the Fox River. From there it ran east in a quarter-mile-wide column all the way to Bowen. Almost everything between Ceape and Washington was torched. Condie's Saloon was leveled.

The path of the 1875 fire.

The aftermath of the 1875 fire.

Condie rebuilt. Bigger and better. The new place was brick, two-stories with the saloon below and rooms above. It cost them $4,000. I've been hunting for a picture of the full building and haven't found a thing. That's not too surprising. Condie's saloon was not the sort of place that would have attracted photographers. In the 1870s, this was a gritty part of town. That stretch of Ceape was lined with cigar factories, saloons, and mills. Lots of smoke. Muddy streets decked with horse shit and plenty of drunks.

The rotten ambiance may have gotten the best of the Condies. George and Wilhelmine could not get along. George appears to have been something of a layabout. Wilhelmine was anything but. Born in Prussia in 1829, she was eight years older than her husband. Wilhelmine was independent. She sometimes used her maiden name - Gustavus. She had an outside job running the saloon at the International Hotel on 7th and South Main. Their marriage seems to have been on the skids even before the great fire. The relationship came permanently undone in the spring of 1877. The Daily Northwestern made a comedy of it.

There was a husky time in Justice Sarau's office in the afternoon. It seems that Mrs. Gustavus, who runs the International Hotel, had a falling out with her husband, Geo. Condie, and bounced him out of the house. George took possession of the horse, and the present case was brought on by a replevin sworn out for the return of the animal. Mrs. G. was exceedingly wrathy, and she applied to her liege lord and master all the invectives and scathing epithets that the female tongue is heir to — and it is sometimes a million-heir in such cases.
    - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 17, 1877

Wilhelmine meant business. For the next four months, she ran notices like this one in the Daily Northwestern.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 16, 1877.

The divorce of George and Wilhelmine Condie was finalized in 1879. Wilhelmine got the saloon. She and her daughter Amelia ran it through the remainder of the 1870s and into the 1880s. It was one of the few times before the turn of the century that an Oshkosh saloon was owned and operated by women. They presented it as a contrast to the crude barrelhouses commonplace in Oshkosh's old Second Ward.

An ad from the 1880 Oshkosh City Directory showing the old address.

It was all good until the winter of 1883. Around Christmastime, Wilhelmine became ill. She had cancer. She transferred ownership of the property to her children in April 1884 and died a month later in her room above the saloon. Wilhelmine Gustavus was 55 years old.

Her kids held onto the saloon, but now someone else was running it.

Wisconsin Telegraph, October 10, 1884.

Charles Maulick was a 26-year-old German immigrant with no prior saloon experience. He'd been working at an Oshkosh tannery before settling in on Ceape. He changed the name of the bar to Mechanic's Home, an homage of sorts to the laborers, often referred to as mechanics, working in the neighborhood. At the same time, Maulick maintained the upscale burnish. The Wisconsin Telegraph advert says something like, “The house is completely new and comfortable in the center of the city and offers all the modern conveniences.”

Maulick remained less than a year. He left in the Spring of 1885 for a new building on North Main Street designed by Oshkosh architect William Waters. Maulick, with the help of Schlitz Brewing, would create something of a minor empire based on beer there. Today we know that place as Oblio's Lounge.

After Maulick, the saloon at what was then 47 Ceape went through a couple proprietors and a couple years of flux. The upscale aspirations were discarded. There was no sense denying that this place, in the heart of an industrial district, was not much of a lure for free-spending business travelers. The furnished rooms above were converted into a cigar factory. An 1885 insurance map shows the saloon boxed in by large-scale manufacturing facilities. The red arrow points the way in...

Wilhelmine Gustavus' children decided to cash out. In July 1887, the saloon was sold to an Irish Immigrant named John O'Brien.

O'Brien arrived in Oshkosh in the early 1860s when he was in his 20s. He spent the next couple decades working as a drayman trucking freight around town on a horse-drawn wagon. He was 50-years old when he bought out the Gustavus family. John O'Brein's Saloon was a workingman's bar through and through. A train spur ran right past its front door. And contraptions like this one boomed and blew smoke next door...

In that image, you can see the east side of O'Brien's Saloon with an indecipherable beer sign hung on the corner of his brick building. The picture is from the early 1890s. No doubt, we're seeing a number of  O'Brien's clientele standing there.

John O'Brien's son Edward was 11 when the family moved in above the saloon. When he came of age, Edward began working the bar and when John O'Brien died in 1909, Edward took over. Shortly after, he was approached by the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC).

In 1909, OBC had a stranglehold on the beer business in Oshkosh. Its dominance was built on deals the brewery made with local saloonkeepers. In the case of the O'Brien Saloon, OBC proffered a series of low-interest loans. In return, "the occupant of the first story of the building upon said premises shall use exclusively the beer of the Oshkosh Brewing Co. for the purpose of running the saloon therein." The O'Brien saloon was now tied to OBC.

Signs like this one were often displayed in Oshkosh Brewing Company tied houses during this period.

When Prohibition arrived in1920, it killed the saloon George Condie had built. In the end, it was being run by a man named Bert Gough, who had a long and wonderfully odd career as a saloon man in Oshkosh. When Prohibition hit, Gough moved a couple doors east and opened a speakeasy in a place some may recall as the Court Tavern. Meanwhile, the old saloon at 47 Ceape was swallowed up and gutted by its neighbor, the Universal Motor Company. Later on, beginning in the 1940s, it became a soda bottling plant. By then Wilhelmine Gustavus had been in the ground for 50 years. It's all long gone.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


“Oshkosh brewery and factory whistles expended several thousand pounds of steam in announcing that legal beer will be available within 15 days.”

Oshkosh Brewing Co.

March 22, 1933
More than eight months before the repeal of Prohibition, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act. Beginning on April 7, 1933, the new law would allow for the sale, manufacture, and transport of beer that was 4% ABV or less. Oshkosh rejoiced. Here’s the full report from the evening edition of the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of March 22, 1933.

A half holiday will be declared for Oshkosh on the day that beer can again be sold legally, Mayor T.G. Brown announced today.

He asserted the holiday will start at 12 o'clock noon, in order that Oshkosh may celebrate the return of what he termed one of its major industries in the reopening of its breweries, of which there are three busily preparing for the great occasion.

“I am calling a holiday, not only because people want good whole-some beer at a moderate price and the government needs the revenue but, because this marks the return of one of the Oshkosh major industries.

"This will employ men locally, has already resulted in expenditure of money, and it, also will supply a market for the farmer’s grain in this vicinity. Thus it is a benefit not only to industry but to agriculture and will furnish, in some measure the relief to agriculture which must form a basis of any sound recovery."

The mayor stated the city has under consideration regulatory local measures for the present soft drink parlors, automatically to become "taverns." He said he is under the impression the state will give considerable leeway to the local governments in this matter.

The city executive obtained actual facts and figures from the local breweries as to the effect of the change in law upon their operations.

The Peoples Brewing company, he said, informed him 20 to 25 men will be hired, 40,000 to 50,000 bushels of barley will be consumed in a year, and about $40,000 already has been expended for new equipment. The Oshkosh Brewing company reported it will hire 50 to 75 men has expended between $30,000 and $40,000 for new equipment.

The Oshkosh Brewing company reported it will hire 50 to 75 men, has expended between $30,000 and $40,000 on new equipment, and will use 60,000 to 80,000 bushels of grain.

The Rahr Brewing company will hire 12 to 15 men and. will use nearly 50,000 bushels of grain a year, they have estimated. They are expending $25,000 in new equipment.

Oshkosh brewery and factory whistles expended several thousand pounds of steam in announcing that legal beer will be available within 15 days. News of the signing of the beer bill was received by The Northwestern at 1:03 p.m. and the message was promptly relayed.
     – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, March 22, 1933

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

HighHolder Brewing Company of Oshkosh

March 21, 1894. That was the last time Oshkosh had four breweries. Today, there are four breweries here again. HighHolder Brewing Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin is up and running.

HighHolder brews have made a couple of previous, albeit brief appearances recently, but this past weekend the beer became more widely available. On Friday, HighHolder’s Bloody Sixth Irish Red Ale went on tap at both O'Marro's Public House and The Roxy.

HighHolder is the brainchild of Mike Schlosser and Shawn O'Marro. “We started this idea like 10 years ago,” says Schlosser. "We were really naive.”

Shawn O'Marro (left) and Mike Schlosser

After a name change, a muddle of lawyers, and a tangle of permitting issues, HighHolder received the final piece of its licensing puzzle in February. The brewery is located in the suite behind O'Marro's at 2211 Oregon Street in the Lake Aire Center.

HighHolder becomes Oshkosh's first nano-brewery. Schlosser designed and built the brewery’s one-barrel system. "What we’re trying to do is proof of concept,” says O'Marro. "If this works out the way we think it will, then we’ll take it the next level."

For now, O'Marro's Public House is your best bet for finding HighHolder beer. The next beer up will be a German Altbier. Once the brewery settles into a consistent production schedule, its beers will likely begin pouring in other Oshkosh area bars. Don’t wait for that. Get it now!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Miller's Famous Bock Beer

On this day in 1905...

The Miller bottling plant was near the SW corner of Market and Pearl Streets; about where City Center now is. J.C. Voss was elected mayor of Oshkosh in 1909.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Colorful Past #2

Here’s more from Oshkosh artist Paul Nickolai, who has taken a series of vintage Oshkosh brewery photos and added new life to them. This is the second installment of photos. The first can be seen here. Let’s get on with this.

Here’s the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh at the turn of the century.

And here’s the Rahr brewery some 40 years later. Demolition of this brewery began in 1964.

Long gone is the old Gambrinus Brewery that once towered over Harney Avenue. It was torn down in 1914.

This next one goes back even further. The original Horn & Schwalm Brooklyn Brewery was built on Doty Street in 1865. It was destroyed by fire in 1879.

Further south was the Glatz Brewery at the end of Doty Street. Glatz Park is there now. Here’s the Glatz staff with one of the brewery’s beer rolls. The Glatz Brewery was taken down in 1915.

That’s all for this time. But there’s more to come. Thanks, Paul!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Winn. Co. Brewing History Talk

There are reasons I've been so negligent in getting anything posted here. In addition to writing that damned book about the history of brewing in Winnebago County, I've been preparing for talks that I scheduled before agreeing to write that damned book. A couple weeks ago, I gave a talk for Learning In Retirement about the history of Prohibition in Oshkosh. That one wasn't open to the public. This next one is.

On Tuesday, February 20, I'll be talking about the history of Brewing in Winnebago County. It begins at 6:30 p.m. in Reeve Union Theater on the UW-Oshkosh Campus. This presentation is free and open to the public. There's more info here. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When Inky Drank Beer

Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth died January 21, 2018. After digesting that news, I thought about how much I enjoyed the time I spent talking with him. I wish there had been more.

I first met Inky in 2010. It was shortly after I started this blog. I contacted him to tell him how much I liked his books. I told him what I was doing. I said if he ever felt like writing anything about beer, I’d be happy to post it here. He invited me to his home.

My wife and I went to see him on a warm Saturday at the start of summer. The first thing I asked was how he got his nickname. I worked in printing. I thought with a nickname like Inky maybe he had too. “No,” he said laughing. “I was so small as a kid they called me incubator baby. They shortened it to Inky.” After that, practically all we ever talked about was beer.

“I just loved beer," he told me. “The local beers were the best!” He grew up next door to Steckbauer's tavern. He said that was his usual place. But he added, “I’ve been in every tavern in Oshkosh.”

Inky, on the left, having a beer at Steckbauer's. Mid-1950s.

"Beer drinkers of my generation tended to stick with one brand of beer," Inky said. "You’d stick to the beer that satisfied you.” His favorite was Chief Oshkosh out of the eight-ounce Cub bottle. He said something to the effect that the small bottle made him look bigger. He laughed at that idea

By the time I met him, Inky wasn't drinking beer anymore. He was 90 then. At that point, he hadn't had a beer in 20 years. But he still seemed to relish his memories of it.

"My uncles got me drunk for the first time when I was 12," he said shaking his head and laughing. He talked about his grandpa and uncles. How they made beer in their basements during Prohibition. He said their homebrew was his first taste of beer.

I asked him if it would be okay to record him talking about this stuff. He was for it. He told all kinds of stories. I liked the ones that were slightly crude. One of those was about his uncles delivering beer in growlers to Oshkosh factory workers in the 1920s. I put the audio of Inky telling that story into a video.

After our first conversation at his home, Inky and I talked on the phone from time to time. He'd call from his office at Oshkosh Truck. He said he was thinking about writing a short history of beer. I said if he'd write it I'd post it on the blog. In June 2010, he sent me A Brief History of Beer by Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth.

Inky had an idea for another blog post. It was about when he was in the army in 1944 and got beer for Christmas. He titled that one Beer for Christmas By Clarence "Inky" Jungwirth.

Inky, 1944.
Last January I finally got around to putting together another short video with narration by Inky. This one was about beer and homebrewing in Oshkosh during Prohibition.

A couple years ago, I met up with Inky at an event for the Winnebago County Historical Society. I mentioned that there was a new brewery trying to get started on the south side. That it was going to be named HighHolder Brewing. "Good, Good!" he said. He like that reference to the Highholders. They were beer-loving immigrants who lived in the old “Bloody 6th Ward” where Inky grew up.

On the day Inky died, HighHolder Brewing came out with the new logo it plans to use. It's an image of a boy totting a couple growlers of beer, just like Inky had talked about his uncles doing.

At that time, I didn't know Inky had passed. I downloaded the logo to my phone. I was going to show it to him the next time we met. That won't happen now. But I'm sure Inky would have loved it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Return of Adler Brau Beer

For those of us who prefer out history wet... This Friday, January 26, Stone Arch Brewpub in Appleton is releasing a recreation of the 1946 version of Adler Brau Beer.

Adler Brau was the flagship beer of Appleton’s George Walter Brewing Company. It was first brewed in the early 1900s. The beer was a mainstay in the Fox Valley until the brewery closed in 1972.

Now it’s back. At least for a little while. This version is a one-off, 7-barrel batch brewed in commemoration of George Walter’s 170th birthday. The beer will be available Friday beginning at 4:30 pm at the pub and in a limited run of four-packs (scratch that, they've decided because of the limited run to sell single bottles, only).

To whet your appetite, check out this history of the George Walter Brewing Company. The Author of the article, Brian Zenefski, is also the guy who discovered the 1946 recipe Stone Arch used. I’ve had a look at the recipe. It’s in-line with the sort of pale lagers being brewed before Prohibition. Should be an interesting beer.

Post-Release Update...

I don’t normally post updates to beer events, but this one came off so well I thought I should make mention of it. The highlight was that so many members of the Walter family came out for it. Here they are enjoying an evening and beer in honor of their forbear George Walter.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017: Oshkosh’s Year in Beer

It was another good year for beer in Oshkosh. The big news, of course, was the opening of Fifth Ward Brewing Company. But this year was significant in a number of ways. In chronological order, here are a few of the local highlights from 2017.

The Return of Canned Beer
On February 7, Bare Bones became the first brewery to can its beer in Oshkosh since 1972 (the year Peoples Brewing closed). Bare Bones used a mobile canning unit to package Double Dog Dazed, an 11% IPA. It was also the first time an Oshkosh brewery packaged its beer in 16-ounce cans or sold beer in four packs. Bare Bones had additional canning runs in May and December.

The Opening of Fletch's Local Tap House
Fletch's Local Tap House opened on May 6 at 570 North Main Street. Owner Jeremy West also runs the neighboring Varsity Club. Fletch’s launched with 24 draft lines in a newly remodeled space. The building dates to 1902. With the addition of Fletch's, there are now approximately 200 craft-beer draft lines in the bars along North Main Street between Irving and the river.

Fletch's Local Tap House

Juice Cloud
In September, Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah released Juice Cloud, a New England Style IPA. It was the first time the style had been produced by a commercial brewery in Winnebago County. Juice Cloud has gone on to become the brewery’s best selling beer.

Historic Fresh-Hop Beers
For the second year in a row, both Bare Bones and Fox River produced fresh-hop beers. Bare Bones' Wharrgarbl was brewed on September 9. All of the hops that went into the beer were Wisconsin grown. This hasn't been done by a brewery in Oshkosh in more than 100 years.

Bare Bones head brewer RJ Nordlund selecting hops at a Gorst Valley Hop Farm in in Nekoosa, Wisconsin.

Fox River's Big Ed's Hopyard Ale was brewed on September 13. The bulk of the hops used were grown in a Winnebago County hopyard cultivated by Scott Clark and Steve Sobojinski. This year's harvest included hops raised from cuttings of wild hops growing on the site of a former hopyard established in the late 1840s in Allenville. This site appears to have been the location of Winnebago County's first hop farm. The Fox River beer is the first commercial beer since 1879 to use hops from this lineage.

Big Ed’s Hopyard
Fox River Leading the Pack
Production at local breweries has been strong all year. By the end of October, Bare Bones, Fox River, and Lion's Tail had each produced more beer than they had in all of 2016. At Knuth Brewing in Ripon, production has more than doubled. The final numbers aren't in yet, but it appears likely Fox River will unseat Stone Arch this year as the largest brewer in the Fox Valley.

The Return of Casks and Caskets
After a three-year hiatus, Wisconsin’s first and only all-homebrewed beer festival returned to Oshkosh on November 4. Sponsored by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers, Casks and Caskets was suspended after state revenue officials deemed the club’s 2014 festival unlawful. This year, the SOBs staged the festival as a free event to conform to the latest interpretation of Wisconsin’s homebrew law. The $6,000 in donations collected at the festival went to the Oshkosh Hunger Network.

Casks and Caskets, 2017
The Opening of Fifth Ward Brewing Company
On November 8, Fifth Ward Brewing Company opened at 1009 South Main Street. It marked the first time since 1956 that three breweries have operated simultaneously in Oshkosh. Co-founded by Ian Wenger and Zach Clark, the brewery had been in planning since 2012. The first beers issued by Fifth Ward were Burl Brown, a brown ale made with cinnamon and molasses, and Hades’ Secret, a porter brewed with chocolate and mint.

Zach Clark (left) and Ian Wenger, opening day at Fifth Ward Brewing.

The Opening of the Granary
The Granary Brew Pub opened in early November. The craft-beer bar and restaurant began with 30 Wisconsin-brewed beers on tap. All four Winnebago County breweries were represented. In all likelihood, this was the first time beer from four separate Winnebago County breweries has been served on tap in the same bar.

The coming year is bound to be interesting. On the tavern side, I doubt we’ll see the launch of another full-fledged craft beer bar. We may have reached a saturation point there. But on the brewery front, we’ll likely see more development. HighHolder Brewing, which has been threatening to open for months, may finally break through. Let’s hope so. New breweries are also slated for Omro and Menasha. If each comes to fruition in 2018, we’ll have seven breweries in Winnebago County. That hasn’t happened since 1894. The beer scene here is maturing. Room for growth remains. Onward!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fox Valley Winter Beer Fest

A few years ago, a beer festival like the one coming in January would have been impossible. We didn't have the breweries for it. All that has changed. It's time we celebrate the revival of our local beer culture.

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, Bones Brewery in Oshkosh will host the Fox Valley Winter Beer Fest. There's been nothing like this in our area before. All of the beer poured at the festival will be from local breweries. Eight of them in all: Appleton Beer Factory, Bare Bones, Fifth Ward, Fox River, HighHolder, Knuth, Lion's Tail, and Stone Arch. Rushford Meadery and Winery will be there, too, pouring cider, mead, and wine.

This marks the first time these breweries (and winery) have worked together on an event like this. So, of course, they're going to do something different. Each of the breweries will present beers that deviate from their core line-up. There'll be a host of barrel-aged beers, cellared beers, and one-offs brewed for this event.

There’s another thing we haven't seen before. A beer festival held outdoors in winter. The fest will take place in the parking lot at Bare Bones. It ought to be cozy enough. There'll be a bonfire, games, music, and barbecue from DD's BBQ Company. Wear your boots and let it rip. And when it's over there'll be an after party at O'Marro's Public House where The MadPolecats will play from 7-11 p.m.

OK, here's the where, the when, and the how of it....
Fox Valley Winter Beer Fest
January 13, 2018, at Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh.
General Admission tasting runs from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
VIP tasting begins at 1 p.m.
General Admission tickets are $40.
That ticket includes 20 - 5oz samples and a commemorative glass.
The VIP ticket is $60.
VIP includes early access to the festival, 25 - 5oz samples, the commemorative glass, and access to the VIP lounge, better known as the taproom.
Tickets are now available at all the participating breweries. You can also get them up online at Brown Paper Tickets.

This has been a long time coming. See you there!