Friday, December 19, 2014

Beer Dinner and a Free Growler at Fratellos

Fratellos in Oshkosh will end the year with a beer dinner. On New Years Eve, they’ll offer a five-course dinner, each serving paired with a different Fox River Brewing Company beer.

Tickets for the dinner are $55 and if you get them before Christmas, they’ll throw in a free growler of beer from Fox River’s Bago Brew series.

The dinner begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31. To make a reservation call (920) 232-2337.

And here’s the menu…

Course 1
Honey glazed bacon wrapped dates and cayenne almond
Paired with cask-conditioned Anniversary Red Ale

Course 2
Black and white bean soup served table side
Paired with Imperial Pilsner

Course 3
Scallop on a bed of taro root puree, Parmesan tweal and zucchini, red pepper and onion brunoise
Paired with  Abby Normal (a Belgian-style dubbel)

Course 4
Filet mignon in a pumpernickel rye marinade garnished with a buerre blanc served with napa cabbage potato puree and zucchini and carrot oblique
Paired with Buffalo Mike’s Pumpernickel Rye

Course 5
Three-layer white, dark and milk chocolate mousse
Paired with Zinful Triple (a Belgian-style strong ale aged in a red zinfandel barrel)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Twelve Beers for Christmas

The time is here to start picking beers for your Christmas cavorting. Here’s a few ideas to get you thinking about what to stuff into those beer stockings this holiday season.

The beer for when you’d rather take your dessert in liquid form.
You’ve gorged yourself on the holiday ham to the point where you’re breathing has become labored. Then out comes dessert. Another bite might cause you to reveal the contents of your gut to those assembled. You wouldn’t want that to happen. But you don’t want to miss dessert, either. In moments like this, grab a bottle of  Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout. It’s a gooey, sweet stout with booming notes of milk chocolate. Perfect for dessert. And besides, liquid foods like beer are an aid to digestion. How’d we ever allow such essential knowledge to slip from our minds?
(Available at Festival and Ski's)

The beer for when your palate needs wrecking.
Some people just can’t cook. They do it anyway. Especially during the holidays. Being the polite sort, you end up shoveling heaps of their grub into your inner being. When the deed is done, your mouth is left with a tar-like taste that could be permanent. That’s the time to crack open a bottle of Scream IIPA from New Glarus. It’s fruity hop flavors and blistering bitterness will scour that bad taste from your moth. At 9% ABV, it may even cause you to do something rash. Like going back for seconds.
(Available at Festival, Gardina's, Pick N' Save and Ski's)

The beer to share with that person who thinks your beer fixation is just an elaborate excuse to guzzle more alcohol.
Aunt Tilly isn't fooled by all your high falutin’ beer nonsense. She believes you’re nothing but a common drunk. This Christmas prove her wrong. Sit her down with a bottle of Anchor Brewing’s Saaremaa Island Ale and explain to her the art of beer. As you pour the pretty, golden ale, tell her how the brewer travelled to Estonia to capture the native yeast used to ferment this beer. Point out it’s delicate flavors of spiced apple, ripe pear and clove. Tell her about the beer’s modest strength of 6% ABV. Sink the hook by slipping her a slice of smoked gouda while she imbibes. Lay it on thick enough and you might just gain another drinking partner. A lush like you needs as many of those as possible.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for that Lite beer drinker who refuses to try anything new.
Some people will not budge. They’re the ones who sputter non-sequiturs like, “I don’t like that dark stuff, it’s too bitter!” You’ve tried to relieve them of their ignorance. Now it’s time to have some fun with it. Evil Twin’s Molotov Lite comes in a big blue can with the word “Lite” in prominent bold type. Behind the trademark infringement is a double IPA with loads of tropical-fruit hop flavors. Hand your “Lite” beer fanatic one of these. Tell them you bought it just for them. Encourage them to take a big slug. Then watch their face twist like it’s being reflected in a funhouse mirror as the bitterness darts into their jowls. Laugh uproariously at their misery. You can’t be nice all the time during the holidays. You’ll turn to mush.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for that person who’s ready to go all the way in.
You know the type. They like Spotted Cow. They buy Blue Moon from time to time. They’re ripe for your type of holiday evangelism. Preach the word by pouring them a foaming glass of Dual Artisanship, a dry-hopped saison brewed by Perennial Artisan Ales of St. Louis. The delectable pineapple flavors created by hops mingling with fruity, Brett funk aren’t over imposing, but at the same time, they aren’t exactly mild. A single glass ought to do the trick. Welcome your new initiate to the realm of good beer.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for the guests who prefer wine.
You know next to nothing about wine. But there’s wine drinkers coming over to your house for the holidays. What to get them? Beer, of course. A good lambic ought to do. Boon Kriek is a Belgian lambic fermented on cherries. It’s wine-like notes of cherry, oak and spice will be familiar to the wine-o’s palate. And the corked and caged bottle will make them feel right at home. It certainly beats the shit out of the Miller Genuine Draft they served you the last time you visited their house.
(Available at Festival)

The beer for the Untappd addict.
You’ll probably be doing time with a few of these insufferable people over the holiday. They take one sip from a beer and before it’s done dribbling off their chin, they have the phone out registering their latest taste on Untappd. It’s not the type of behavior that should be encouraged it could be fun to see them soil themselves as they flail to earn their badge after that first sip of Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12, a/k/a Black Oil. This rare beer is an Old Ale made by the Harviestoun Brewery of Scotland. It’s aged in malt whisky casks and comes in numbered bottles. It’ll please you’re anti-social, social network fanatic to no end.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for the road.
If you’re traveling this holiday season, you can take a jug of home with you by picking up a growler of Vanilla Vixen, Fox River Brewing’s holiday seasonal beer. This year’s Vixen is excellent and it’s probably something your out-of-town hosts haven't had before.
(Available at Fratellos)

The beer for when the celebrating is going to go on for a while.
I can’t say I’m much of a fan of the so-called “session IPA” but I guess they do have their place. As the celebrations stretch on you can give your liver a reprieve by soaking it with something a bit-less alcoholic than the traditional seasonal brews. Lagunitas Brewing’s Daytime IPA is one of the better of this ilk. It’s a good, hoppy beer with just enough mouthfeel to keep if from being watery. At 4.65% ABV you can drink this in multiples without making a complete fool of yourself. You can save that for later in the day.
(Available at Festival)

The beer for the guest who’s already had too many, yet insists on having another.
It happens, especially this time of year. One of your guests gets a little too happy and wants to be happier still. Here’s the beer for these awkward moments. John Smith's Extra Smooth is an English pale ale brewed by The Caledonian Brewery of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s just a wee thing at just 3.8% ABV, but its creamy texture (courtesy of the nitro-widget can) and light hop and caramel flavors make it seem more substantial than that. And the pint-sized can will keep your burdensome guest busy for a while. Just make sure to shoot some video while they’re in their compromised state. You’ll have fun with that with later.
(Available at Ski's)

The beer for that late-night wave of nostalgia.
When the guests have left and you want just one more as you sit quietly in the afterglow of time spent with family and friends. Anchor Brewing revived the Christmas beer tradition with the first release of their Christmas Ale in 1975. This years version is their 40th and it’s smooth spicing and toffee flavors are the perfect compliment to the season. The years go by so fast. Take some time to reflect on how lucky we are to be beer drinkers in this time and place. Years from now, people will look back on us with envy.
(Available at Ski's)

The beer for the morning after.
The hangover: it happens to the best of us. When the morning after is rougher than you anticipated it being, there’s little you can do other than ease your fall. Delirium Tremens is a Belgian strong ale, named for the extreme version of your predicament. The little pink elephants that dance on its label will make your hallucinations seem innocent. At 8.5% ABV, it’ll halt your jitters and make you feel like your old self. As your significant other mocks your sorry state, croak the words of the immortal Oscar Wilde. “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” Then try to go sleep it off.
(Available at Ski's)

Happy Holidays, beer fiends!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Last Call for The Breweries of Oshkosh

A couple years ago, Oshkosh Breweriana collector Ron Akin and myself gathered our resources and wrote a book about the history of beer and brewing in Oshkosh. The people of Oshkosh were especially kind to us and The Breweries of Oshkosh sold well. Ron kept a couple of boxes of books in reserve to sell at breweriana trade shows and now he’s releasing those remaining books to anyone who would like a copy.

The Breweries of Oshkosh, Their Rise and Fall tells the complete story of beer and brewing in Oshkosh from 1849 to the present. It’s a hardcover book printed on high-quality paper and includes more than 400 illustrations, many of them in color. Beer Cans & Brewery Collectibles Magazine says, “Readers will have no problem sticking around to the end of this entertaining book... highly recommended, and not just for Cheeseheads.” It would make a great gift for that beer and history lover in your life.

The Breweries of Oshkosh is available for $39.95 at the following locations in Oshkosh:

  • Camera Casino
  • Caramel Crisp
  • Jansen’s Restaurant
  • Originals Mall of Antiques
  • Paper Tiger Book Store
  • Star Gallery Art & Antiques
  • Or you can call (920) 233-0865 for free local delivery

This is the last call for this book and there won’t be a reprint.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Firkin Tonight at Gardina’s

It’s that time of the month... Gardina’s Beer Bar Series rolls on tonight (Tuesday, December 16) with their 15th round of rare-beer tappings. At 6 p.m. they’ll crack into a firkin of Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout specially prepared by Tallgrass Brewing of Manhattan, Kansas.

They’ve gone the full-on holiday-ale route with this one, conditioning the beer on blueberries, chocolate, cinnamon sticks and brown sugar. I’m fighting the urge to bore you to tears with the history of these spiced and flavored holiday ales, but I’ll spare you. If you’re feeling masochistic, you can get your fill of that gibberish HERE.

Where was I... In addition to the beer, Gardina’s will also have a special menu selection made to pair with tonight’s beer. Just ask the server. So, if you’re one of those unfortunates with a significant other who doesn’t find your beer habit endearing, you can get him/her through the door under the guise of dinner and then feign surprise at the sight of that lovely cask full of beer setting on the bar. Of course, it’ll work.

And in case you’ve yet to be initiated into the whole cask ale thing, here’s a short and informative clip that’ll show you what it’s all about.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Then and Now: Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery

Click on the image to enlarge it.
The top photograph was taken circa 1893. The photo below it was taken yesterday morning.

Seen in the top photo wearing a hat and with his arms resting on the fence is Lorenz Kuenzl, the owner and brewmaster of the Gambrinus Brewery. Standing beside him is his wife, Barbara. The home behind them also appears in the newer photo. It is located at 1225 Harney Avenue.

The older photo shows the Gambrinus Brewery along with its outbuildings, and the brewery’s stone and brick icehouse. The brewery was built by Gottlieb Ecke in 1868. Lorenz Kuenzl took over the brewery in 1875. The capacity of the brewery was approximately 20,000 barrel annually.

In 1894, Kuenzl merged the Gambrinus Brewery with Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery and John Glatz and Son’s Union Brewery to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Following the merger, brewing operations at the Gambrinus Brewery were gradually discontinued. Thereafter, the location was used primarily for bottling beer.

Most activities at the Gambrinus brewery had ceased by 1907. The brewery was vacated in 1912 after the completion of a new brewery by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. The buildings of the Gambrinus Brewery were demolished in 1914.

For more on the history of the Gambrinus Brewery visit this earlier post.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Couple of Holiday Seasonal Brews

For the December SCENE, I wrote a l-o-n-g column about the history and tradition of Christmas beers. If you’d like, you can read that HERE. Or you can pick up a physical copy at one of these places.

A pack of holiday beers are covered in that article, but as always there were a few beers that lack of space kept me from including. I thought I’d dig into a couple of those today. But first….

I want to mention that the December article will be my last for the SCENE. I’m leaving the SCENE to write for a new Oshkosh publication that will go online early next year. That’s about all I can say about that at the moment, but there’ll be more coming soon. Enough of that, let’s get to the beer…

Winter Welcome by Samuel Smith’s 
I first tried Winter Welcome in the early-1990s and at that time, it seemed like such a big, hearty thing. But in a beer world where 10% ABV ales have become commonplace, this 6% winter seasonal now seems almost quaint. Yet it still holds it’s own. Winter Welcome a true English ale, with all the fruity esters and caramel-malt notes that come to mind when you think of pub ale. It’s a mahogany colored beer with a thin, lingering head and a distinct cherry note in the aroma. The mouthfeel is creamy, the carbonation low. The beer glides over the tongue giving subtle flavors of molasses, plum and toffee. There’s a smooth bittering in the finish that’s almost wine-like in its expression. This isn’t a kick out the jams sort of beer, it’s a well-made ale that doesn’t need to beat you down to make its point. Ski’s Meat Market is selling 4-packs of Winter Welcome for $11.99.

Vixen’s Vanilla Cream Ale by Fox River Brewing
Here’s another beer I’ve been drinking for years, but this year’s version of Fox River’s traditional holiday brew is the best I can recall. I’m not a big fan of vanilla in beer, but this one works for me. Vixen’s Vanilla is a golden, semi-strong ale that comes in at 5.9% ABV. It’s spiced with Madagascar vanilla that immediately presents itself in the aroma. But on the draw that vanilla note merges with the beer’s orange zest spicing to creating a delicious, creamsicle-like flavor. The hops are virtually non-existent, but the beer finishes dry enough to keep its dessert-like sweetness in-check. This is the only time I’ve ever had a beer with vanilla in it, where I’ve craved a second glass. You can grab a glass or growler of Vixen’s Vanilla Cream Ale at Fratellos in Oshkosh.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Catching Up With Fox River Brewing

A smattering of odds and ends to pass along about Oshkosh’s Fox River Brewing Company and their modern-day tied house, Fratellos.

Eat for the Beasts Tonight
That’s an event title I just made up, so don’t hold it against anybody, but me. Anyway, here’s something real: if you drop in for dinner and a couple of beers at Fratellos tonight (Wednesday, December 10), they’ll donate 15% of your total bill to the Oshkosh Area Humane Society. The deal works from 4 p.m. until closing. All you need do is mention the Human Society to your server and that 15% will go to help the animals at OAHS. It’s a good excuse to have a couple/three extra beers with your meal. As if you need an excuse. You can peruse the Fratellos menu HERE and eyeball their current beer list is HERE.

Bago Brew Abounds
Back in June I wrote about Fox River Brewing’s plan to begin distributing their beer locally again. Well, that’s now well underway. Fox River is distributing three of their beers and if you’ve been to Fratellos recently you’ve seen the rebranding that has gone along with that. Caber Tossing Scottish Ale has been renamed Marble Eye. BLÜ, their blueberry fruit beer, is now BLÜ Bobber. Rounding out the trio of distro beers is 2 Dams, an unfiltered blonde ale that was introduced this past summer

If you take a look at where the beers are being distributed, you’ll see that the emphasis is clearly on places outside of town. I suppose that makes sense considering Fratellos remains the hub of their beer sales here. That distro list is interesting, though. It bears a distinct resemblance to the distribution pattern for Chief Oshkosh Beer in the late 1940s, early 1950s. It’s fascinating to see how these things tend to repeat themselves.

The South-Side Billboard

This went up this past fall near the corner of 14th and South Main streets. That’s right on the edge of the old brewing district where Peoples Brewing and the Oshkosh Brewing Company were once pounding out around 100,000 barrels of beer annually. Last year, Fox River Brewing produced 646 barrels of beer in Oshkosh and another 672 in Appleton. Needless to say, there’s plenty of room for growth around here.

Bowen Talks Brewing
Here’s a video interview from the Craft Conscious podcast with Fox River brewmaster Kevin Bowen where he talks about the intersection of beer and coffee. Beer isn’t the only thing Bowen has been brewing.



Anniversary Deal on Pumpernickel Rye
Back in October, I posted about the brew day the Society of Oshkosh Brewers had at Fox River Brewing. The beer is now out and Fratellos in Oshkosh is serving up a good deal on it. If you do that Facebook thing, check THIS out to get the deal. If you don’t do Facebook, just go to the bar, wish them a happy 20th birthday and they’ll hand you a free 10 oz. glass of Buffalo Mike's Pumpernickel Rye. They’ll also sell you a growler of Pumpernickel Rye for $5. Just say the words. The thing is, Fox River Brewing's 20th Anniversary isn't until next December. Hey, this isn't the first time an Oshkosh brewery got its launch date mixed up. These breweries are always in such a hurry to grow old.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chief Oshkosh Red Lager and the Question of Heritage

By 1993, Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was being challenged on all fronts. Leinenkugel's had recently introduced a beer that co-opted the “Red Lager” brand and was using the muscle of its parent company, Miller Brewing, to squeeze the Oshkosh beer off store shelves.

Then came the flap over the name Chief Oshkosh. A Minnesota group had taken offense to the use of Native American names in association with alcohol products. In November 1993, the Milwaukee television station WITI/TV-6 aired a segment on its evening newscast profiling the dispute. In this video we’ll see Jeff Fulbright, president Mid-Coast Brewing, tell his side of the story.



This wasn’t the first time that Fulbright had heard objections about the name of his beer. This time, though, the opposition was more formidable. They were fighting to have the Chief Oshkosh brand invalidated in Minnesota, one of ten states where the beer was distributed. The effort was part of a larger push that centered around Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, made by Hornell Brewing. Those who opposed brewers using American Indian names got their way. In 1994, the Minnesota legislature enacted a statute banning the “misleading” use of such names in connection with alcohol.

The regulation was immediately challenged. In April 1995, Twin Cities Public Television’s NewsNight Minnesota aired a feature on the court case. This segment from the program shows Jeff Fulbright being interviewed at the Pioneer Inn. The video also shows the emblem of the Oshkosh Brewing Company when it was still affixed to an outer wall at the Convention Center.



The Minnesota statute would eventually be overturned, but by then the Chief Oshkosh name was no longer an issue. The last batch of  Chief Oshkosh Red Lager had been brewed in December 1994. Sales of the beer continued through the first half of 1995, but by year’s end Chief Oshkosh Red Lager gone.

For more on Mid-Coast Brewing and Chief Oshkosh Red Lager, visit this earlier post.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Warming Quartet

The December solstice approaches. Nights are growing colder and longer. You’ll need beer that can take the chill from your bones. Here we have four brews currently available in Oshkosh that’ll thermalize your inner being. We’ll start with the beer brewed closest to home and branch out from there. Let's go...

Brewer's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout by Central Waters Brewing
Yesterday, I ran into two people at different times of the day who told me just about the same thing: this year’s Bourbon Barrel Stout from Central Waters may be the brewery’s best. Black and full bodied, the beer brings together notes of bourbon and vanilla over a base of roast and mocha-like malt flavors. As I sat with the beer it reminded me more and more of a bourbon-dosed dessert cake with a layer of thick icing. The beer is somewhere north of 9% ABV, but its booziness works well with its more lush aspects. Wickedly complex, the beer’s varying elements coalesce into something phenomenal. Get this. Four packs of Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout are available at Gardina’s for $13.99

Big Slick Stout by Ale Asylum
Ale Asylum has been brewing Big Slick for years, but this fall was the first time they’ve bottled it. I’d always heard good things about it, but had never had the chance to try it until it hit the shelves at Festival Foods a couple weeks back. It’s as good as I heard it was. Every bit as black as you’d expect it to be, the beer sends up a gush of coffee and roast-malt aromas. The roast part of it comes off almost as ashy, which may not sound especially pleasant, but it is. The mouth is smooth and creamy with a bitter/sweet suggestion of powdered cocoa and caramel flavors. This one clocks in at 7% ABV. Festival Foods in Oshkosh is selling it in 6-packs for $9.99.

3X Mild Ale by Summit Brewing
Don’t let the name fool you. What has come to be known as “mild ale” is a wispy, dark shadow of the beers that were once part of this category. The 19th century milds – and there were a number of different types of mild – were robust and generously hopped. Summit’s 3X Mild takes its cue from those earlier styles of mild.

The almost exaggerated malt flavor and aroma of 3X immediately won me over. It’s all caramel, molasses and toast. Perfectly lovely. The beer features an experimental American hop currently known as Experimental 06300 that’s supposed to give off a chocolate note, but that was lost on me. This is an unabashedly sweet beer with just a touch of bitterness enveloped by malt. It’s 7.2% ABV, but you’d never guess it. A delicious beer. Gardina’s has it in 6-packs for $9.99. If you don’t see it on the shelf, ask for it. Also, look for Gardina’s to bring this in on draught in the near future.

Alaskan Smoked Porter by Alaskan Brewing Company
This beer is a longtime favorite of mine, so I was happy to spot it the other day at Ski’s. Like the name says, this is a smoked porter and the beer represents the best of both parts of its title. The smoke shows itself at every point; from the aroma through the lingering finish. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s not reserved either. It’s just solidly there with a flavorful, savory meatiness that’s wonderful. But what makes the beer work is that at its base is an excellent porter. It has a creamy mouthfeel that delivers a balance of malt flavors with hints of toffee, raisin and char. I’ve had this beer countless times and it never fails to impress. At 6.5% ABV it’s warming without being overwhelming. Alaskan Smoked Porter is available at Ski’s in Oshkosh in 22oz bombers for $10.99.

Have a great weekend and stay warm. Prost!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tonight’s Beer Sampling at Barley’s Canceled

Just like the title says: the Barley & Hops beer sampling that had been scheduled for tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 3) has been called off. It also appears that the Barley’s sampling scheduled for February 4 will not happen either. However, Nate at Barley’s is saying that the sampling scheduled for April 1 will go ahead as planned. I guess we’ll see when the time comes. At this point, there’s little being said about the the abrupt cancellations.