Monday, February 8, 2010

David V. Uihlein

In the scurry to get the blog up and running we neglected to mention the passing of David V. Uihlein on January 29, 2010. Uihlein owned and was president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company from 1961 to 1969.

Uihlein was an interesting person. He was a cousin to the Milwaukee family that owned Schlitz and he worked for Schlitz for several years in “practically every department,” he said. At some point that wasn’t enough. He was serious about beer and in 1961 he earned a Master Brewer license and began producing beer in Oshkosh.

The Uihlein years were bleak ones for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. During his tenure, production fell by nearly 30%. At the time of his departure, Oshkosh Brewing was producing just 40,000 barrels of beer a year, well under the 100,000 barrel capacity of its brewery.

Blaming Uihlein for the failure of the Oshkosh Brewing Company is really too simple, though. The 60s were a bad time for regional brewers. Most found themselves unable to compete in a market that had grown increasingly dominated by large, national beer makers.

Uihlein did what he could to keep the company afloat. He updated the breweries refrigeration and fermentation systems and in 1966 bought out Green Bay’s Rahr Brewing in an attempt to expand Oshkosh Brewing’s reach into Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. It wouldn’t be enough. And Uihlein didn’t appear to have any illusions about what he was up against. In ‘68 he was quoted as saying he considered himself to be in a “life and death struggle” against the giants of the industry.

Death it would be. Two years after selling his brewery to a group of Oshkosh residents, the Oshkosh Brewing Company went broke. Production was stopped October 17, 1971. In the winter of 1986 the stately brewery at 1631 Doty Street was smashed to bits.

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