Monday, March 30, 2015

Then and Now: Oshkosh’s Southside Breweries

Click the image to enlarge it.

Here's a couple of pictures of Southside Oshkosh taken about 85 years apart.

The top picture is from 1925. It shows the looming presence of Oshkosh’s two largest breweries: Peoples Brewing Company and the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC).

The lower picture is a satellite image from 2011 courtesy of Google Earth. Both breweries were long gone by the time this view was captured.

Construction of the OBC brewery shown here began in 1911 and was completed in 1912. The brewery closed in 1971. Demolition of the six-story OBC brewery began in 1986.

Construction of the Peoples brewery began 1912. It was completed in 1913. Peoples Brewing closed in 1972. Demolition of its four-story brewhouse began in 1974.

In 1925, these breweries dominated the Southside skyline. But that’s about all they dominated. At the time of this picture, Prohibition had been in effect for five years. Each brewery had become a shadow of its former self.

Peoples was limping along producing soda, malt tonics and near beer. At OBC they were selling malt extract, near beer, soda, and using portions of the brewery to pasteurize and process eggs.

Unlike most American breweries, though, these two managed to survive the dry years. When Prohibition ended in 1933, both breweries abandoned their stopgap ventures and went back to doing what they were made to do – they brewed beer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

April Beer

My new Oshkosh Beer Beat column is up at the Oshkosh Independent. This time, it’s about beer events coming to Oshkosh in April. Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Growing Oshkosh... with Homebrew

Homebrewers, Growing Oshkosh wants to compost your spent grain.

Growing Oshkosh is an Oshkosh-based urban farm and garden located on Bay Shore Dr. It’s a nonprofit, grassroots effort with a down-to-earth mission: “to raise awareness and educate citizens about the numerous benefits of fresh, healthy, all-natural and sustainable food and food production.

If you’re an all-grain homebrewer, you can help them out.

Just bring your spent grain to the Growing Oshkosh farm/garden located at 530 Bay Shore Dr. They’ll direct you where to dump it. If nobody is on site, you can leave the grain by the garage door on the parking lot side of the property (which can be approached from the alley behind the 530 Bay Shore Dr. address). By this weekend, they hope to have a bucket or barrel labeled for spent grain out to make the drop off quick and easy.

It’s a shame to throw all that spent grain away when a group like this can put it to good use. The homebrewing season is kicking in. The next time you brew, keep Growing Oshkosh in mind.

Monday, March 23, 2015

If You Drink Beer, Why Not Oshkosh Brewed Beer?

This post is the fifth in a five-part series. If you’d like to read the earlier related posts, here are links to them: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The Truce
When the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) was formed in 1894, the brewery’s goal was to take control of the Oshkosh beer market. Within five years of its launch, OBC had done just that. But the brewery’s fierce domination of the Oshkosh beer market led to a revolt among Oshkosh saloon keepers. In 1913, the saloonists retaliated by launching a cooperative brewery: The Peoples Brewing Company.

In the run up to the opening of Peoples, OBC attacked the upstart brewery with claims that it would produce inferior beer and damage the city’s brewing industry. The stage appeared to be set for a beer war in Oshkosh.

But that war would never be waged. In 1914, Oshkosh’s three breweries – Rahr, OBC and Peoples – came to the agreement that their real enemy wasn’t within.

Beginning in January 1914, Oshkosh’s breweries collaborated on a series of advertisements to persuade the people of Oshkosh to buy no beer but that made in their hometown. In their appeal to Oshkosh drinkers, the breweries here rallied around a common enemy – Milwaukee.

Oshkosh’s breweries had good reason to be nervous. The world’s largest producer of beer was just 90 miles south of the city. Worse yet, Milwaukee had drawn a bead on Oshkosh. In the months after Peoples Brewing opened, Milwaukee breweries launched an aggressive campaign aimed at Oshkosh’s beer drinkers. With the introduction of Peoples, OBC’s near-total domination of the Oshkosh beer market had come to an end. The Milwaukee brewers smelled blood in the water. Miller, Schlitz and Pabst grew tenacious.

Daily Northwestern, July 16, 1913
Each of these three Milwaukee breweries began running large, sometimes full-page, ads in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern. The ads were ornate, polished and dominated the page. The much smaller ads from Oshkosh’s breweries appeared insignificant and antiquated in comparison. Ads for beer from both cities often appeared on the same page. The juxtaposition favored Milwaukee.

The Oshkosh brewers rallied. The first of their responses to the Milwaukee onslaught occurred just six months after the opening of Peoples. With text-laden, half-page ads, the breweries of Oshkosh leveled the same sorts of claims against Milwaukee’s big breweries as OBC had made in its earlier attack on Peoples: the beer was inferior.

“...some of the big outside brewers employ expert chemists to provide substitutes for high priced materials and to find ways of artificially aging beer so that it can be sold as soon as made. This, of course, means a big saving to the brewery that produces hundreds of thousands of barrels of beer yearly, but the beer is never the same.”
     - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, January 17, 1914

The appeal to localism was explicit.

"Why not specify home beer? It's as pure and wholesome as a drink can be made. You get just as much for your money and the same service from the man who handles the home beer as from the agent of the outside brewery. You are helping boost your own town."

Miller, Schlitz and Pabst each had distribution centers and agents located in Oshkosh.

The Oshkosh brewery's collaborative ads ran under a banner that asked, “If you drink beer, why not Oshkosh brewed beer?” And ended with the homey refrain, “Just specify Beer Brewed in Oshkosh. It’s a little thing to ask for, but it’s a big thing after it’s done.”

It worked. Selling beer brewed in Oshkosh to the people of Oshkosh wasn’t a difficult task. For the previous 66 years there had been a marked preference here for beer made in this city. The old loyalties were still vital in 1914. That aspect of our beer culture didn't change substantially until the 1960s. When it did, our breweries went into swift decline.

In 1914, the thought of Oshkosh not having a brewery was unimaginable. In 1972, it was a reality. Rahr, OBC and Peoples were gone. Miller, Pabst and Schlitz were everywhere.

But there was a time when it made sense to ask...

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Oshkosh Homebrewer Goes Pro

This story also appears at the Oshkosh Independent.

Some people seem destined to make beer. Cullen Dunn is one of them. This week, Dunn arrived at the next level of the craft that’s chosen him. He’s joined the staff of brewers at Fox River Brewing Company in Oshkosh and Appleton.

Cullen Dunn
None of this was planned. Dunn shakes his head, amazed by how quickly things have progressed. Did he suspect he’d be a professional brewer six months ago? “Not even remotely,” he says. “It's ridiculous. It's blindsided me.”

Maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. When you look at where Dunn came from, the progression seems entirely natural.

Dunn, 26, grew up in Oshkosh; the son of a homebrewing father. “I remember him having carboys filled with fermenting beer in our basement when I was 10 years old,” he says. But it would be another decade before Dunn would take up the hobby himself.

After graduating from college, he moved to Minneapolis. There he landed a job at Northern Brewer, the nation’s largest supplier of homebrewing equipment and ingredients. Surrounded by a homebrew vortex, Dunn decided to try his hand at beer making. “That's what really got me into it,” he says.

After almost two years at Northern Brewer, Dunn moved back to Wisconsin with his fiancĂ©e. When he returned to his hometown he was surprised by the changes he found. “I'm an Oshkosh guy born and raised,” Dunn says. “But from when I left for Minneapolis to when I got back, it was like night and day here. The beer culture here  has just blown up.”

Brewing a Barleywine
Meanwhile, his homebrewing father had told the owner of the The Cellar homebrew shop in Fond du Lac, that his son was making his way back to Wisconsin. “I was a customer down there at The Cellar,” says Brian Dunn. “I told him what Cullen was doing up in the Cities. When I told him Cullen was moving back down here, he told me to have Cullen contact him right away.”

With little more than a year’s worth of homebrewing experience under his belt, Dunn went to work at The Cellar. He soon became the store manager. Dunn says the daily flow of customer questions about beer and homebrewing required him to develop his knowledge of the craft. “It was such a steep learning curve,” he says. Part of that education has been directed at becoming a better judge of beer flavor.

Dunn is currently enrolled in the Beer Judge Certification Program, an international, standards-based course that certifies and ranks beer judges through examination and monitored tastings. The course is known for its rigor. Dunn says the experience has been eye opening. “It brings you into a whole other realm,” he says “When you start tasting things with people who have been judging beer for a long time you begin to realize how little you've picked up and how much you've been missing. It's kind of a rude awakening”

The skills he’s acquiring should serve him well in this new phase of his career. “I hate leaving the Cellar, but I can't pass this up,” Dunn says. “I'm excited for the opportunity to take the next step forward.” This ought to be a good time for a young brewer to join Fox River Brewing. The brewery is in an expansion mode with a new distribution agreement and a new bottling line that will be installed at the Appleton location.

Though he’s stepping up to the next level, Dunn wants to maintain his homebrewing roots. “I can’t just quit now,” he says with an ironic laugh while brewing a Barleywine on the  three-vessel system he recently built. “I just finished this thing. I’ve got to use it!”

And to keep himself supplied with the beer he likes best, he’ll have to continue making it himself. Dunn enjoys traditional, English styles of beer, especially Ordinary Bitter, a balanced, flavorful ale that’s rarely produced commercially in America.

“It's such an easy drinking beer, but you can't find it around here,” he says. “It's phenomenal fresh, but you can't get it fresh anywhere. That's one recipe that I've been tweaking and getting dialed in.”

There’s yet a more important reason for Cullen Dunn to hang onto his hobby after he goes pro. “It's just something I love to do,” he says.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Unquenchable Thirst For Hops

People are going to look back on this era of beer and say, “Damn, they were hopping the hell out of everything.”

It’s not the first time this has happened. If you dig into the English beers of the early 1800s, you’ll find that, across the board, they were hopped in a manner that makes American craft brewers look conservative.  

Whether you like this trend or not, I think there’s no denying that American brewers are becoming more adept in their promiscuous use of the brewer's spice. For every shit-tasting Belgian IPA I drank five years ago, there are now two great ones available.

Here’s yet another example of a traditional style of beer that gets the American treatment to good effect. This beer is a liquid snapshot of the current scene.

Ale Asylum Hummmane
Back when they called them microbrews, Brown Ales were ubiquitous. Now they’re few and far between. Perhaps this is how the lowly style will be resurrected.

Ale Asylum takes the traditional, English-style Brown Ale and marries it to the American Pale Ale. They’ve managed to do it without destroying what makes a good Brown Ale so appealing.

The beer has the biscuit-like maltiness you expect from a Brown Ale with an aroma full of dark sugar and molasses notes. It’s companioned with a vivid, citrusy hop scent that doesn’t overwhelm the malt’s aromatics. The flavor is much the same. The semi-sweet maltiness is spiced by a hop flavor that’s reminiscent of oranges and grapefruit. As I drank it, I thought again and again of orange-oatmeal cookies. It’s delicious. The bitterness is quite firm, but certainly not overwhelming. It’s a great example of why this current mania for hops is sometimes not such a bad thing.

The only place I’ve seen Hummmane in town is at Festival Foods where they sell it in six packs. Keep you’re eyes open for it. I imagine this’ll start popping up at other locations soon.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Peoples First Draft

I didn’t intend for this to happen, but the last few Monday posts here have shared a common theme. I’ve been pecking away at The Oshkosh Brewing Company’s command of the Oshkosh beer market in the early 1900s and how it led to a backlash that culminated in the formation of Peoples Brewing.

I have a couple more posts that’ll continue to explore that theme. Today I want to take a look at the first beers that Peoples Brewing released when the brewery opened for business in June 1913. Next week, I’ll get into 1914 and how the breweries here reacted to the arrival of Peoples.

If you’d like to catch up with the previous posts in this series, here’s where to find them.

1) The Oshkosh Brewing Company comes to dominate the Oshkosh beer market. HERE.

2) Oshkosh saloon keepers fight back. HERE.

3) The Oshkosh Brewing Company’s angry response to the Peoples revolt. HERE.

Ok, let’s get on with the next part of the story...

Introducing Peoples Beer
In 1912, a year before Peoples Brewing began releasing its beer, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) had begun a smear campaign against Oshkosh’s new brewery. “We are informed that the new brewing company, so-called People's Brewing Company, has brought into this city an outside beer which is offered for sale for less money than the actual cost of production of high grade beer,” was among the charges OBC leveled at Peoples prior to the brewery’s launch.

When Peoples finally began selling its beer in June 1913, it was clear that the swipes OBC had taken had not been forgotten by the folks at the new brewery. Though Peoples would never explicitly address the attack, the brewery made a point of countering OBC’s claims. The issue of beer quality was primary in Peoples ads during the first years of its operation. The shadow of OBC’s allegations loomed.

Common Sense will tell you what is good for you and what is not. That beer is good for your health is a fact, but that BETTER BEER is made here in the city you will find out in a fair test. 
Try “Asterweiss” give it a fair test and see if it does not give better satisfaction.
          - From an ad for Peoples beer, January 1915

Asterweiss was Peoples premium bottled beer. This was a pasteurized beer sold in clear bottles, each wrapped in tissue paper to shield the beer from light. The beer was described as being golden in color with “sufficient” body. Asterweiss was brewed with Wisconsin malt and imported Bohemian hops.

At $1.40 for a case of 12oz. bottles it was a somewhat expensive beer, but exactly the same price as OBC’s premium brand, Oshkosh Special Old Lager. In today’s money that would breakdown to just a bit more than $8.50 for a six-pack.

The clear bottle is an interesting feature. This was the era of Upton Sinlcair’s The Jungle. Purity in all things food and beverage was paramount. Peoples advertising would often stress the purity of its beer. The clear bottle would eventually be done away with by Peoples, but early on the use these bottles was meant to be symbolic of the “unadulterated” nature of Peoples' product.

Standard was the second of Peoples two beers. This beer would fuel the success of the brewery. Standard was an unpasteurized draft beer “for those who desire un-steamed beer.” Advertisements for Standard were somewhat vague about what went into the beer, but more than likely it was a standard American adjunct lager. Despite the brewery’s claim that it was “Made from the best materials and thoroughly aged” Standard was the low-cost alternative to Asterweiss.

In Oshkosh saloons, Standard was poured from wooden kegs at a nickel a glass. In stores, it was offered in 16 oz. brown bottles at 50 cents for a 12-pack (or the equivalent of about $4.50 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles in today’s money). If ordered directly from the brewery, the beer would be “Delivered free of charge to your home. Always delivered ice cold.”

Within a couple months of its introduction, Standard was on draft in more than 30 Oshkosh saloons. Most of those had previously been pouring the product of OBC.

The popularity of Peoples beer in Oshkosh saloons would grow as the years went on causing OBC to loose its absolute control of the Oshkosh beer market. A new era for beer had arrived in the city

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gardina’s and the Growing Downtown Beer Scene

My new Oshkosh Beer Beat column is up at the Oshkosh Independent. This time it’s about the upgraded beer section at Gardina’s. Check it out HERE.

Hops Springs Eternal

I was out scouting around for something to pair with this long-lost warmness that’s settled in and found this...

New Glarus Hopster
Can’t go wrong with a beer that has a green rabbit bouncing across its label. Remember Crack'd Wheat from New Glarus? This is that beer rebranded. These days you gotta have something about hops on the label if you want it to sell.

In a nutshell, Hopster is a Bavarian-style Hefeweiss with a hop treatment that’s more like an American Pale Ale. You get the dense aromatics and esters of German Weissbier yeast threading into the pungent bite of American hops. In this case, Amarillo hops. It’s an odd coupling that works better than it probably should.

Hopster pours to a pale gold under a billowing, white head that’s sticky as gum. A burst of clove leads the aroma followed by  spice notes that made me think of pumpkin-pie. Amazing what yeast can do. The hops are definitely in attendance with a lively, lemon-zest citrus scent, but if you’re looking for IPA style aromatics looks somewhere else.

The beer is medium bodied with a creaminess that’s very pleasing. There’s an almost sweet, breadiness to the malt flavor that provides a good cushion for the sharper phenolic flavors of the yeast and the bright, citrusy bitterness of the hops. I love that balance.

The beer ends with a clean bittering that makes for a surprisingly crisp finish when you consider all of the flavor that comes before it. Probably the best marriage of American hops with this kind of yeast profile I’ve tasted. A beer that’s especially fitting for this spring-like weather we’re having.

No mention of ABV on the label, but I’m guessing it’s on the high side of 5%. They’re selling sixers of Hopster at Festival Foods in Oshkosh for  $7.99

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ale Asylum Tap Takeover and No Green Beer at O’Marro’s Public House

Starting tomorrow and running into next week, O’Marro’s Public House will be going full tilt.

Things kick off tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 11) with an Ale Asylum tap takeover at the pub. The ales of Ale Asylum start flowing at 7 p.m. No word on what exactly will be running from the faucets, but you can’t really go wrong with any of the beer from this Madison brewery. The takeover will go until 9 p.m. with live music starting around 8 p.m.

Then on Friday night, March 13, St. Patrick’s day festivities get rolling at O’Marro’s with live music from Copper Box and the Mad Polecats.

That’ll lead into Saturday morning when O’Marro’s will have its 10th Annual St. Patrick’s Celebration. The Pub opens at 11 a.m. and will be serving Irish breakfast all day. There’ll be live Irish music, Irish dancers, a Bag Piper... and, of course, plenty of actual Irish beer. This year, they’ll again have the “2 Gingers Trolley” running between O’Marro’s, Dublin’s, Molly Maguire’s and Mahoney’s, so you can make Oshkosh’s Irish circuit without having to navigate it yourself.

On St. Patrick's Day, Tuesday, March 17, they’ll dust themselves off and start all over again. The pub will open at 11 a.m. for Irish breakfast with Paddy’s day celebrations going on throughout the day. There’s going to be some sore livers in Oshkosh by mid-week next week...