Tuesday, December 12, 2017


A new one from Fifth Ward for the growler collection. This is the first time since 1956, that we’ve had three breweries in Oshkosh.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bare Bones Brewery's Cookies and Milk Stout

Bare Bones Brewery's Cookies and Milk Stout hit the shelves at Festival Foods in Oshkosh yesterday. It's the first time an Oshkosh brewery has canned its holiday seasonal beer. And it's the first beer from an Oshkosh brewery to carry the Independent Craft Brewer Seal on its label. There's more on this year's Cookies and Milk Stout here...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Century Later in Neenah

In 1917, the City of Neenah voted itself dry. A century later, that ghost has been exorcised This weekend people gathered at Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah to celebrate the brewery’s second anniversary. Long live beer in Neenah...

The taproom at Lion's Tail Brewing, Saturday, November 18, 2017.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HighHolder Breweriana

And here we have the first piece of breweriana from the HighHolder Brewing Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Drink Local

It was a great weekend for beer in Oshkosh. The sign painted on the wall at The Granary says it all.

The Granary opened with 30 beers on tap. All four Winnebago County Breweries had beer on the tap list. Three of those beers were from Oshkosh. It's the first time three Oshkosh breweries have appeared on tap together since 1956. And I doubt there's ever been a tavern that served beer from four Winnebago County breweries simultaneously.

Saturday night was the grand opening of Fifth Ward Brewing.

Fifth Ward brought out its third beer this weekend. It's a red IPA named Forman's Basement.

Ian Wenger (left) and Zach Clark of Fifth Ward with Forman's Basement.

The dry-hopping of that beer included hops grown by Tim Pfeister in Winnebago County. That makes Forman's Basement just the third beer since the early 1880s to be brewed with Winnebago County hops.

It's all coming back around. When it comes to beer here, we're living through a revival period. It's going to be looked upon with envy. Enjoy it while you can!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Opening of Fifth Ward Brewing Co.

This weekend we get to celebrate the grand opening of a new brewery in Oshkosh.

Ian Wenger and Zach Clark have been working to make this happen since 2012. For the last couple of years, they've been renovating the building at 1009 South Main in preparation for their brewery’s opening. 

On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, Fifth Ward Brewing began pouring its beer.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Book on the History of Brewing in Winnebago County

I just signed a contract to write a book about the history of brewing in Winnebago County. It’s going to cover every brewery that's operated in our county –  past and present. My hope is that’ll be released before the end of 2018.

Not the actual cover.
I'm starting on the book this week. And I’m going to try to keep this blog rolling along, too. I think I can manage both. The posts here will definitely be shorter, but there may be more of them.  We’ll see.

I was just looking at the long list of blog posts I still want to write. When I started this blog in 2010, I didn't know what I was getting into. I never imagined the beer culture of this place would prove to be so fertile. I'm closing in on 900 posts now. I don't know if I'm even halfway to being done. There are so many more stories to tell!

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Return of Casks and Caskets

After a two-year hiatus, Casks and Caskets returned Saturday night.

Casks and Caskets was launched in 2012 by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers (SOBs).  The plan was to have an annual homebrewed beer festival. All went well until the event was shut down by the state after Casks 2014.

Even though money generated from the event went to charity, the SOBs were informed that selling tickets to a festival where untaxed beer is poured would, in the future, be considered illegal. It took the club a couple years to find a way to work with that decision. The solution turned out to be fairly simple. Make it a free-beer fest.

This year, Casks and Caskets was held at the Oshkosh Hilton Garden Inn. And it remained a charity event. Money was raised through silent auctions, raffles, and donations. This year, the money will go to the Oshkosh Hunger Network.

There's not another beer fest like this in Wisconsin. There's no other that's absolutely free. And there's no other where all the beverages – beer, wine, cider, mead, soda – are homemade. It makes for an atmosphere different from any other beer event I've been to.

SOB president Mike Engel presenting Travis Sullivan his trophy for his "Best of Show" beer.

Let's hope we can all get together and do it again next year.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Peoples v. Chief, 1957

In 1957, Oshkosh’s two breweries owned this city’s beer market. Combined, Oshkosh Brewing and Peoples Brewing produced nearly 90,000 barrels of beer. The people of Oshkosh were dedicated to that beer. Other brands were available. They languished. Most folks here drank either Chief Oshkosh or Peoples.

December 1957.
In the glass, the two beers looked much the same. Each was pale-gold. Flavorwise, they were quite different. Peoples was a malt-driven beer. Lightly bitter, it was the sweeter of the two. Chief Oshkosh leaned heavier on hops. It was crisp and bitter. A true American pilsner.

The two beers were identically priced. Both were available everywhere in town. You might expect the difference in flavor to have been the deciding factor in determining who drank what. It ran deeper than that. The choice tended to cleave along socioeconomic lines. Who you were and where you drank often determined what you drank. In Oshkosh, your beer was part of your identity.

 Summer 1957.
This all gets drawn into focus by an extensive survey commissioned by the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC). In 1956, OBC hired the Chicago marketing research firm A.J. Wood & Company to conduct an extensive analysis of the Oshkosh beer market. Wood & Co. visited 5,091 homes in the Oshkosh area to ask people about their beer drinking habits. The survey results were delivered to OBC in April 1957.

The survey focused heavily on flavor. This was probably what most interested OBC. In 1956, the brewery had tinkered with its recipe for Chief Oshkosh. The beer was made even more hop-forward and bitter. OBC sought to draw a bead on what local consumers were making of the change. What the brewery got went well beyond a simple taste test. The result was the most comprehensive picture of beer drinking in Oshkosh for any single period.

The first thing that jumps out is the focus on local beer. A solid 75% of the respondents identified either Peoples or Chief Oshkosh as their favorite beer. The remaining 25% were devoted to a host of other beers including Blatz, Hamm’s, Kingsbury, Miller, Old Style, Pabst, and Schlitz. None of those beers had more than a 5% share of the market.

When it came to bottled beer, Chief Oshkosh had the edge with 41% going for Chief Oshkosh and 34% for Peoples. The numbers flipped when it came to draft beer: 41% preferred Peoples, 35% liked Chief Oshkosh. How heavily those people drank also came into play.

The authors of the survey summed it up this way, “Chief Oshkosh’s position is substantially weaker among heavier drinkers than lighter drinkers. Among light drinkers, Chief Oshkosh enjoys a significant lead over Peoples – 45% versus 33%. In contrast, among heavy drinkers, the two brands rank about equal – 38% and 37% respectively.”

Light drinkers were identified as those having had fewer than four beers in the previous two weeks. Heavy drinkers were people who drank 16 or more beers in that same time frame.

Drilling down further, the authors noted, “Peoples is somewhat overbalanced toward the working classes, while Chief Oshkosh shows greater strength among white collar people and the relatively higher income groups."

So, if you were a blue-collar worker who drank their beer in a tavern you were probably drinking Peoples. If you wore a suit to work and drank a beer from a bottle every now and then, you were likely to be a Chief Oshkosh drinker.

For the folks at OBC this had to be somewhat concerning. Especially in light of what the brewery was spending on advertising. Chief Oshkosh was the most heavily marketed beer in this area. It was advertised on TV, radio, and in print. Peoples, on the other hand, spent next to nothing on all that. They’d place a newspaper ad from time to time. That was about it.

The truly bad news for OBC came in the response to the new, hoppier Chief Oshkosh. Chief Oshkosh was the beer identified by drinkers as having the “sharpest taste.” That translated into a less appealing beer. The survey authors wrote...

“Chief Oshkosh’s lower product appeal in relations to Peoples can be attributed to the fact that drinkers consider the product to be somewhat stronger and more bitter than Peoples – an indication that recent changes have gone too far in this direction. This is particularly true of the draft beer.”

This certainly caught the eye of OBC president Arthur Schwalm. He scrawled notes across this page on his copy of the survey.

... this is a problem for a brewmaster.” That brewmaster was Wilbur Strottman, whose name Schwalm wrote on the survey. The other name, Siebel Co., is a reference to J.E. Siebel and Sons of Chicago, which did lab testing of OBC’s beer.

The response from drinkers that Chief Oshkosh had become too bitter was especially pronounced among people who drank the beer on draft. That’s not at all surprising. It was the same beer, but each was treated differently. The bottled beer was pasteurized and handled without refrigeration. For example…

The hops are bound to fade in beer treated that way. The kegged Chief Oshkosh wasn’t pasteurized. And it was stored at serving temperature. The flavors were better preserved. The bitterness would have been just as the brewer intended. Damn, I wish I could have tasted that beer.

There’s something interesting buried in this. People responding to the bitterness of Chief Oshkosh tended to conflate it with strength. They assumed Chief Oshkosh was stronger than Peoples. Nope. Peoples Beer was 4.6% ABV. Chief Oshkosh was 4.5%.

Looking at this 60 years later, it’s hard to appreciate how much has changed. Some for the better. Some not. Here’s the part that hit home for me. In 1957, it was like this...

All that was gone 15 years later. Oshkosh Brewing closed in 1971. Peoples shut down in 1972.

We have two breweries again in Oshkosh. Soon we’ll have a couple more. But it’s nothing like it used to be. Tastes have changed. So has the beer. And there’s so much less of it being made. Last year the two Oshkosh breweries produced close to 2,000 barrels combined. That’s about 88,000 fewer barrels than produced in 1957. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see anything like that again.

Oshkosh Brewing Company, May 1956.