Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Return of the Regionals

From March 23, 1956
Fifty years ago, if you bought a beer in Oshkosh that beer was probably made in Wisconsin. Much of the beer sold here came from regional Wisconsin breweries located in cities like Potosi, Oconto, La Crosse, and Oshkosh. This local approach to beer was largely taken for granted. A 1956 advertisement for Bowen Street Beverage that ran in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern is typical of the period. The ad shows an inventory of the 25 beers that the liquor store stocked and boasts “It looks like a list of the nation’s breweries.” It must have seemed like a much smaller nation in 1956. Of the 25 beers listed 18 were made in Wisconsin. Three of them were made here in Oshkosh.

It took a handful of large brewing corporations about 30 years to obliterate that approach to local beer, but the stranglehold they once had on the Oshkosh market is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The next time you walk through the liquor department at Festival Foods in Oshkosh notice how much of the shelf space has been given over to Wisconsin-based, regional breweries. Festival stocks beer from about 20 small, Wisconsin breweries and though their beer may be quite different from those that were on hand at Bowen Street Beverage these newer breweries are working the same turf as their mid-century predecessors.

Two recent additions to the Festival shelves are representative of what’s going on here. The Pearl Street Brewery of La Crosse now has four different beers at Festival and the Potosi Brewing Company has brought in three. Each of these breweries sell their beer predominately in Wisconsin and the cities they hail from have long histories of bringing their beer to Oshkosh. And though their ales may not be similar in taste to the lagers that were once brewed in their respective cities, they’ve maintained a traditional approach by making beer that is suited to everyday drinking as opposed to the high-octane, extreme beers that are often featured by small breweries out to make a name for themselves.

Lately, I’ve been liking the beers from Potosi quite a bit. The three beers they’re selling in Oshkosh are well-made, flavorful and easy to drink. They’re the sort of beers you reach for when you’re kicking back and having a few with friends. The Snake Hollow IPA is my favorite of the bunch. This is a prototypical Midwestern IPA. It’s a medium-bodied beer that features a fresh, citrus-hop flavor and a bitterness that’s firm without being harsh. The Potosi name and neo-retro packaging may be familiar, but what’s inside has little in common with the lagers that were once favored at Bowen Street Beverage. Now if we could only get some beer made in Oshkosh back on the shelves.


  1. I love this article! This is something that some people tend to forget... I don't know about you, but I am pretty excited about the return of the regionals!

  2. hanks, Emily. Glad you liked the post.

    A couple things - this weekend Potosi will be having their 2nd annual Brewfest. If you haven’t been out to see the National Brewery Museum and what they’re up to at Potosi, this would be a great chance to check them out. More info here:

    Also, I neglected to mention that Bowen Street Beverage was located at 803 Waugoo Ave, where the Oshkosh Rhythm Institute currently makes its home. To see what it looks like today, go here:

  3. I got me a sixer of the Potosi Snake Hollow IPA and it's delicious. Thanks again Lee.

  4. Good! I'm glad you liked it, too. I keep going back to this beer.