Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Short Pours

Here’s a few items that’ve been floating around the Oshkosh beer-o-sphere as of late. I need to make this quick, so let’s get right to it.

Casks & Cash
If you were at the Society of Oshkosh Brewers’ Casks & Caskets festival on November 1, then you already know what a great time it was. But that good time was also in support of a good cause. The SOBs announced last week that once the dust settles, the club expects to donate in the neighborhood of $12,000 to the Oshkosh Hunger Task Force. The SOBs were aiming to raise $10,000 for the charity this year. They’ll easily beat their goal. Don’t let anybody tell you that drinking beer doesn’t pay.

Antiques for Beer Freaks
I was loitering around in a couple of local antique shops last week and was surprised by how much Oshkosh-based beer memorabilia these places had on hand. Both Folklore and Originals Mall of Antiques have quite a bit of locally sourced breweriana. Most of it’s from the Oshkosh Brewing Company and Peoples Brewing. If you have a beer lover/history freak on your gift list, these might be the places to start looking. Be forewarned, though, some of these items get expensive. For example, the 6-pack of Chief Oshkosh stubbies pictured here was found at Folklore with an $80 price tag hanging from it. At least the bottles are full! Wouldn’t you love to know what the beer inside those bottles tastes like?

The Re-vamped Varsity Club
The Varsity Club on N. Main went through a fairly thorough renovation this past summer/fall. If you haven’t checked the place out in a while, you might want to now. In addition to the remodel, they’ve  added 10 more tap lines bringing their total to 16. Aside from the couple of light beers they have on tap, the rest of the line-up leans heavily towards the craft side of things. I was there recently and had a Luna Coffee Stout from Hinterland and the IPL from Leinenkugel’s. Both beers tasted fresh and clean. Obviously, they’re caring for their draught lines. The beer was served a little too cold for me, but patience fixes that. It’s great seeing more taverns in Oshkosh getting wise to the fact that good beer brings people through the door.

Clark Pitching the Fifth Ward Brewing Co.
The Fifth Ward Brewery
Fellow SOB and UW Oshkosh student Zach Clark took second place and won $500 in the school’s fourth annual Pitch Contest. His pitch: The Fifth Ward Brewing Company. Sound familiar? It should. Cool seeing a young guy referencing an Oshkosh brewery that went out of business more than 100 years before he was born. But Zach is a sharp guy. I first met him a couple years ago when he and his brewing cohort, Ian Wenger, joined the SOBs. You might also be familiar with them. Clark and Wenger are the guys who plan and prepare the menus for the beer dinners at Dublin’s. Remember those names. I think we’ll be hearing more form them in the future.

The Ongoing Decline of the Festival Foods Beer Aisle
Have you noticed it? The main beer cooler is becoming more and more a showplace for AB/InBev product. About 2/3 of the open cooler that comprises the largest portion of their premium beer space has been swallowed up by imported macro-swill such as Corona, Labatt’s, Stella... all the usual big-beer bummers. Meanwhile, the domestic craft beer gets pinched into a narrow section at the end of the cooler or booted onto warm shelves at the opposite end of the aisle. Quite the vision they’re developing over there. Just another reason to do more of your beer shopping at Gardina’s and Ski’s.

Damn, there was more I wanted to throw in here, but I gotta run. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Case of Peoples Beer for Thanksgiving

Click to enlarge image
I haven’t put up an Oshkosh beer ad in a while. Time to fix that.

This bit of hype appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on Tuesday, November 26, 1935. Thanksgiving was two days away. In a state of high anticipation, comes this well-fed fellow with beer in hand urging Oshkoshers to, “Let the Peoples Brewing Co. play a part in making the Thanksgiving celebration a success.” I like the line below that one encouraging imbibers to “find a new thrill in drinking beer.” What’s wrong, the old thrill wasn’t good enough? Maybe I’m simple, but it still works for me.

What’s slightly odd about this ad is that the name of the beer is never mentioned. In 1935, Peoples flagship beer was named Würtzer Brew. You wouldn’t know that from reading this ad. I wonder if the folks at Peoples were already starting to feel anxious about using such an explicitly German name for their beer. By the fall of 1935, the Nazis had adopted the swastika and introduced the Nuremberg Laws limiting the civil rights of German Jews. Not the kind of thing an American brewery would want to hitch its wagon to. Of course, it would only get worse. And by 1945, Peoples had abandoned the Würtzer name altogether. From that point onward, the brewery simply referred to it as Peoples Beer.

On a friendlier note, we see that Sitter’s Beverage Company is mentioned at the bottom of the ad. Sitter’s Beverage was located on the north side of Harney Ave. near the corner of Harney and Eveline streets. The Sitter family had been involved with the beer business in Oshkosh since the 1880s when John Sitter was the bottler of beer for Lorenz Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery. Later, Sitter bottled beer for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. As the breweries gradually took all of their bottling business in-house, Sitter turned to distributing beer. Some day I’m going to have to dig deeper into the Sitter story. I’ll bet there’s some interesting stuff waiting there.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Couple of Beers From Our Old Friends at Lakefront Brewery

Jim Klisch, the co-founder of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, has been romping around up here in Oshkosh recently. He was in town for the Beckets beer dinner last week and was here again on Tuesday for the firkin at Gardina’s.

It’s kind of like old times. Lakefront was among the first microbreweries to bring their beer regularly to Oshkosh. Soon after the brewery opened in 1987, Lakefront beers were going on tap at Oblio’s. At that time, Lakefront was doing their own distribution. Sometimes one of the Klisch brothers would haul the beer up to Oshkosh; other times Todd Cummings or Mark Schultz from Oblio’s would run down to Milwaukee for the beer. We were lucky to get it. In its first full year of operation Lakefront brewed just 89 barrels of beer.

That, of course, has changed dramatically. Last year, Lakefront produced over 33,000 barrels and now distributes its beer in 35 states as well as Canada and Israel. With all that growth, it’s good to see we’re still getting the personal touch in Oshkosh. Here’s a couple of Lakefront brews that’ll go along nicely with our early winter...

Holiday Spice Lager Beer
First brewed in either 1991 or 1992 (I’ve been given conflicting dates from the brewery) the pet name for this beer at Lakefront used to be Holiday Rocket Fuel. The picture here is of the first label for the beer, which they printed at a local copy shop and then applied by hand to each bottle. The label has since been dressed up considerably (personally, I’d like to see the old one revived), but the beer inside is as potent as ever. At 9.4% ABV this is a winter warmer if ever there was one. Holiday Spice is a ruby colored beer with a rich aroma that reminds me of a Christmas fruitcake made with a shot or two of booze. It smells delicious. The beer is brewed with a substantial amount of honey and spiced with cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg and orange peel. The flavor veers towards that fruitier side, somewhat like a doppelbock with spices. The spices and honey are all prevalent, but mellow enough to merge well with the booziness of the beer that comes up in the finish. The mouthfeel is full and lush. Take a couple of these this weekend as you’re freezing your ass off.

Eastside Dark
This has long been a favorite of mine. It’s a simple, flavorful, dark lager that you can drink several of without getting bored, burned out or bombed. Since 1992, this beer has been raking in awards. In 2011, a beer panel assembled by the New York Times picked it as the second best dark lager among a selection of 20  beers of the style from both Europe and America. And just a couple weeks ago, Eastside Dark won gold in the Bohemian-Style Schwarzbier category at the prestigious European Beer Star competition in Germany.

This is a dark beer a few shades short of black that pours under a tan lid of thick foam. Its malty aroma bounces between biscuits and nuts with a wisp of coffee in there, too. The beer is wonderfully quafable with subdued notes of chocolate, coffee and bread crust, none of which are even close to being overbearing even after several glasses. There’s a slight tang from the hops that finishes the beer and urges you to return the glass to your mouth. This is a tasty, easy drinking beer.

Both of these Lakefront beers are easy to come by in Oshkosh, Ski’s Meat Market, Festival Foods, and the Pick n’ Save stores being solid bets. Holiday Spice is sold in 4-packs, Eastside Dark in sixers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Firkin Tapping Tonight at Gardina’s

Here we go, beer freaks: there’s going to be a cask tapping at 6 p.m. this evening (Tuesday) at Gardina’s in the heart of beautiful Downtown Oshkosh. This time they’ll tap a one-off cask of Lakefront Brewery’s Fuel Cafe Stout that’s been resting on raw coconut and milk sugar to create something wonderful.

On hand for the tapping will be Lakefront Brewery’s co-founder Jim Klisch, who launched the brewery with his brother Russ way the hell back in 1987. Jim is a very personable, approachable fellow, so don’t be shy about saying hello (or congratulating him on the gold medal Lakefront just won for its Eastside Dark at the 2014 European Beer Star competition).

See you tonight at Gardina’s!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Then and Now: The Oshkosh Brewing Company

Click the image for a better view.

The top photo shows the Oshkosh Brewing Company, ca 1915.
The photo beneath it was taken yesterday at the same location: the east side of Doty St. south of 16th Ave.

The tall building in the forefront was the brewery of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Construction of the brewery began in 1911 and was completed in 1912. The Oshkosh Brewing Company closed in 1971. The brewery was demolished in 1986.

The building in the background was built in 1879. A portion of that building remains. It had formerly been Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery. It became part of the Oshkosh Brewing Company when the business was incorporated in 1894. After completion of the new brewery in 1912, the older building was converted into a bottling plant and offices.

For more on the Oshkosh Brewing Company and the history of beer and brewing in Oshkosh, visit the Oshkosh Beer Timeline.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dogfish Head Tap Takeover Tonight at Dublin's

A quick note about tonight’s Dogfish Head tap takeover at Dublin’s. The takeover runs from 5-7 p.m. They’ll have six different DFH beers pouring, most notably the ever elusive 120 Minute IPA. Here’s the full rundown:
• 120 Minute IPA
• 90 Minute IPA
• Palo Santo Marron
• Sixty-one
• Burton Baton
• India Brown Ale
Dillon Beyer, a regional sales manager for DFH in Wisconsin, will be on hand doing the sort of things regional sales manager do. Get it while you can, beer freaks!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Couple Ways to Have Fun With Your Mouth This Weekend in Oshkosh

I planned on putting something else up here today. Then I ran into a couple of beers that blew that crap out of the water. Get a load of these...

Bière de Seigle by Door County Brewing
Here’s an edgy saison out of sleepy Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin. Actually, while the beer this brewery sells on draught at its tap house is made at its Baileys Harbor brewery, its bottled product is brewed and packaged (using part of the old Peoples bottling line) in Black River Falls at Sand Creek Brewing. Makes sense? Don’t worry about it, this here is an excellent beer. But it took me a few gulps to realize that.

This is not a smooth beer. Its flavors are aggressive and penetrating. It’s a typically cloudy, straw colored, farmhouse ale with a rocky, white head and a yeasty aroma that’s peppery and sharp. And it goes wild in your mouth. The beer presents a wide range of flavors: ginger, honey, grapefruit rind, bubblegum, vinyl, lemon... Does any of that sound good together? You’d be surprised. There’s also an assertive hop bite to it that comes together in a good way with the spicy character of the yeast and the sharpness of the rye malt used here. There’s nothing mellow about this beer, but it’s insistence is wonderful. It took me half a bottle to get the hang of it. By the end, I liked it so much I had to immediately open another. Imagine my delight when I discovered it was 7% ABV.

Door County Brewing’s Bière de Seigle is being sold in 4-packs at Ski's Meat Market in downtown Oshkosh. Price: $7.99.

Twelve-Dog Imperial Stout by Black Husky Brewing
Black Husky Brewing out of rural Pembine, Wisconsin might be my favorite small, Wisconsin brewery. Everything I try from them seems to shine. And thanks to Adam at Gardina’s, Oshkosh is one of the few spots in the state that gets a consistent flow of Black Husky beer. If you’ve yet to get wise to this brewery, this nearly 9% imperial stout would be a great way to get acquainted.

It pours pitch black under a relentless cap of frosting-like foam that’s deep tan. The aroma and flavor are perfectly in tune, the one matching the other note for note. Dark chocolate, sweet caramel, coffee and roast all come swirling together. The mouthfeel is lush, almost slick, and coating. For all of it’s rich flavor, though, the beer is not over imposing. That’s the art of this thing. Too many American craft brewers like to ratchet up this style of beer to a point where it becomes an obnoxious muck in your mouth. None of that here. This stout lacks nothing when it comes to flavor while maintaining a balance that keeps it from being overbearing. It’s a great beer, especially for this time of year.

Black Husky’s Twelve-Dog Imperial Stout is available in 22oz bombers at Gardina’s in Oshkosh. Price: $10.99

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Beer Dinner at Becket's

I should have had this up here earlier, but it’s still not too late to claim a seat at the beer dinner happening at Becket’s tomorrow night (Wednesday, November 12).

The five-course dinner begins at 6:00 p.m. with each course paired with a different beer from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery. Becket’s Chef Mike Buckarma and Lakefront Co-Founder Jim Klisch will be on hand to host the event and give you the ins and outs about what’s on your plate and in your glass.

The menu looks delicious:
• Lamb Chimichurri Salad
• Harvest Squash Soup
• Fresh Skate Wing
• Cornish Game Hen
• Tiramisu with Cinnamon-Almond Ice Cream

Tickets for the dinner are $50. You can pick them up at Becket’s or by clicking HERE.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beer Can Collecting in 1970s Oshkosh

If you were a Wisconsin kid growing up in the 1970s, there’s a good chance you had a beer can collection. And if you did, your bible may have been the slim volume written by an Oshkosh school teacher named James Gropp. Published in 1974, Gropp’s Beer Can Collector's Handbook helped fuel the American beer-can collecting craze of the 1970s.

Gropp was a seventh grade science teacher at Webster Stanley Middle School in Oshkosh. He had been introduced to beer can collecting by his son Jeff and was urged along by Clarence Dallman, a fellow collector and Oshkosh science teacher. By the early 1970s, beer can collecting – especially among young boys – had become immensely popular in Oshkosh. Beer can clubs had formed at Merrill, Perry Tipler and Webster Stanley Middle Schools. The book Gropp began working on would become the ideal primer for the young collectors he encountered every day.

It took Gropp six months to complete the book. He began by compiling a list of extant breweries. He wrote letters to state officials requesting information on breweries and the brands they produced. From the Federal Government he obtained a list of breweries authorized to operate as of July 1, 1974. That list, fleshed out with information he received from individual breweries and other collectors, formed the basis for Gropp’s book.

Beer Can Collector's Handbook wasn’t the first book about beer can collecting, but it was unlike other books on the subject. Its most salient feature was its focus on American breweries that were still in business. Other beer can guides were more concerned with rare cans, the most valuable of which had been issued by breweries that had closed sometimes decades earlier. Gropp’s emphasis on the cans of existing breweries made the hobby accessible to younger people without the resources to take part in what could otherwise be a very expensive pursuit. For Gropp, this was a main point. He said that the nearly 400 cans in the collection he and his son built cost them less than $10. The book’s cover price of $1 was in-tune with that theme.

James Gropp and his son Jeff in 1975
Gropp’s handbook could not have been more unassuming. Sold in small shops, liquor stores and taverns, it was just 32 pages long with a simple, card-stock cover. After a brief introduction, the book amounted to a series of lists of American breweries and their current line-up of 12 oz beer cans. At the time, there were just 117 U.S. breweries in operation. Perhaps to keep the book from being too thin, Gropp gives several breweries multiple entries. For example, Schlitz Brewing, which then had breweries in seven states, is listed seven times with the same three beer cans – Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, and Schlitz Malt Liquor – under each entry.

Looking back on it today, Beer Can Collector's Handbook is a bleak snapshot of the American brewing industry as it was approaching a low point. Big, national breweries were in the process of eviscerating regional brewers. Within a decade of the release of Gropp’s handbook, the deed was done. By 1983 there were just 51 brewing companies operating in the United States with more than 90% of all beer being produced by the six largest.  

But at the time, Gropp’s book appeared to be anything but discouraging. At least it wasn’t for me. It was the first beer book that I ever bought. I was all of ten years old. I poured over it compulsively; to the point where I could rattle off which brewery produced any of the hundreds of cans listed inside. More importantly, Gropp’s book was inspiring. It roused me and my friends to learn the art of dump scouring. I spent hours digging through dumps with that beat up handbook shoved into my back pocket.

Today, a book like Gropp’s would be nearly impossible. With so many small breweries opting to package their beer in cans, such a book would be out of date before the print dried. And it’s doubtful that a teacher today would be comfortable involving kids in a hobby that has anything to do with beer, much less encouraging them to bring their empty beer cans to school. In some ways, it really was a simpler time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Beer From Here & Faraway

We’re flirting with winter, but the beer scene isn’t cooling down any. There are a lot of interesting choices to explore this weekend in Oshkosh. We’ll start with some local brew and head out from there...

Buffalo Mike’s Pumpernickel Rye @ Fratello’s in Oshkosh
Now this is truly an Oshkosh beer. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers teamed-up with Oshkosh’s Fox River Brewing Company to brew this ale. Oshkosh homebrewer Mike Engel supplied the recipe and Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at FRBC, directed the brew day. If you dig rye bread, get in on this one. This beer is always a hit at local beer fests. I’m looking forward to trying it off the big system.

Fox River Brewing Company Barrel-Aged Beers
I had heard that a few barrel-aged beers were on the way from FRBC, but didn’t realize the scope of what they had in the works. This stopped me in my tracks. We have five, new barrel-aged beers to pick from. They’re packed in bombers and you can grab them at either Gardina’s (nice to see a local shop carrying local beer) or at Fratellos. Here’s the list...

Zinful Triple. A 10% ABV golden strong ale aged in a red zinfandel barrel.
Zinful Abbey. FRBC’s Belgian dubbel aged in a red zinfandel barrel.
'Merican Beauty. A Scottish ale aged in a Four Roses Bourbon barrel.
Bohemian Rap. A Scottish ale aged in a Korbel Brandy barrel.
Barrel Brothers. A blend of Fox River’s bourbon and brandy barrel aged Scottish ales.

Where to start? I’ll eventually dip into all of them, but I think my first couple picks are going to be the 'Merican Beauty and the Barrel Brothers. I may not get much done this weekend.

Central Waters Headless Heron
Head to either Gardina’s or Ski’s for bombers of this beer. It’s an 8.5% ABV bourbon-barrel aged beer dosed with pumpkin pie spicing. Consider taking it in with a few gingerbread cookies as a satisfying finish to a weekend feast.

Dos Deschutes Brews
Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon began flowing a limited selection of their beer into Oshkosh last July. Just now we’re starting to see a wider sampling of their wares. Here’s two more Deschutes Brews now available at Gardina’s.

Chasin' Freshies 2014 is a wet-hopped, 7.4% IPA. This year, the hop of choice is mosaic. Here’s the brewery’s hype: “At harvest, we rush the hops from the vine to our kettles to ensure we capture the purest, juiciest essence of the hop flower in every beer.” That either moved your soul or you’re not a hop head.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout. Consistently chosen as one of the world’s best stouts, this beer is legendary. It’s rare you see a beer that’s just 6.4% ABV gain this sort of reputation. Chocolate and roast notes predominate. The creamy mouthfeel leads to an easy, dry finish. At some point in your life, you ought to try this beer.

AleSmith Decadence 2014 Wheat Wine
Ski’s is selling this in foil-wrapped bombers. An incredibly rich, 10% ABV ale that’s meant for sharing. It’s sweet and full bodied with loads of caramel and dark fruit notes. If you’re the patient type, consider picking one of these up and cellaring it for a year.

Germans at Gardina’s
Adam at Gardina’s has recently brought in a number of excellent German imports. A couple of them have blown me away.

Sünner Kölsch. An appellation of the specialty ales brewed in Cologne, Germany, Kölsch beers are pale, light-bodied ales.
Sünner is one of the classic examples of the style. Light gold with a big, pillow-like head, it’s slightly fruity and dry with a beautiful nobel hop aroma. A subtle and great beer.

Julius Echter Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel. A perfect, dark wheat beer. Hazy and deep, deep red, its caramel and banana notes (produced by the yeast) create an absolutely delicious combination of flavors. I could drink this beer every day and never tire of it.

There’s more I’d like to include, but I’m out of time. I just noticed something that I want to point out, though. I didn’t once mention the big-box, corporate stores that, until recently, have dominated the retail beer market here. It just worked out that way. The game has moved beyond those places. The local option has grown significantly in Oshkosh. I’m liking that.