Friday, May 28, 2010

The Last of Glatz's Brewery

Glatz Nature Preserve
This would be the perfect weekend to tromp into the woods and explore the ruins of a long gone Oshkosh brewery. And if you follow Doty Street to its southern conclusion you can do just that. The 1.75 acres of woods and wildplants that make up the Glatz Nature Preserve are home to the last remnants of Glatz and Elser’s Union Brewery.

The park is unmarked, but it’s easy to find. Follow Doty past Ardy & Ed's to the very end of the street and look for the two rustic fences framing the entrance to the park. It may look like private land, but it isn’t. Take the path into the woods and in a few moments you’ll be standing on the very spot where, in 1869, Glatz and Elser began brewing their “Good As Milwaukee Beer.” Along the eastern edge of the property, crouched among the wildflowers, you can still see parts of the original stone foundation from the caverns the brewery used to cool and age their beer.

This remnant of Glatz and Elser’s Brewery is the oldest surviving brewing structure in Oshkosh. It was nearly lost, though. In 1974, when the area was being targeted for industrial growth, the Smith School PTA petitioned to preserve what was left of the brewery. The Oshkosh Common Council became involved and in 1975 the city purchased the land from Warren Basler with a promise from the Winnebago Conservation Club to raise $7,000 for restoration of the property. After months of volunteer work, a dedication ceremony was held and on July 4, 1976 Glatz Park was christened. At the dedication ceremony Common Council member Beatrice Techmiller said, “Glatz Park will be a place to experience nature and learn something about history at the same time." The part about experiencing nature came through, but you’ll have a hard time learning much about history there. What the park sorely lacks is a marker that tells the story of the brewery and its place in the daily life of the City of Oshkosh in the late 1800s.

So how would John Glatz feel about the city owning his land? The Union  Brewery was constructed approximately 500 feet beyond the city limits, which enabled Glatz to avoid paying taxes to the city of Oshkosh. And in 1889, when Oshkosh officials sought to extend the boundary of the Third Ward and bring his brewery into the fold, Glatz fought them off. Though he was selling nearly all of his beer in Oshkosh, Glatz had no intention of sharing his spoils with the city that had helped to make him wealthy. In 1895 he even sued Oshkosh to get back a $200 fee he’d paid for purchasing an Oshkosh liquor license. He argued that because his beer had been made outside the city limits, Oshkosh had no claim on him. Now the City of Oshkosh owns his property lock, stock and barrel. We’re lucky that’s so. But would John Glatz appreciate the irony of it? Maybe. Maybe not.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cheap Beer No. 1: Northern Reserve Golden Lager

You can’t drink good beer all the time. Well, OK, maybe you can, but why would you want to? Why deny yourself the easygoing pleasure that can be had in a can of something cold and simple? If being a good-beer aficionado means swearing off cheap thrills, then forget it. I want no part of any inhibiting snobbery that turns up its nose to the gutbucket virtues of beer that sets its sights low. As beer drinkers we shouldn't be letting our good taste stand in the way of a good time.

With this in mind, let's bring on the cheap beer. There's plenty of it to be had in Oshkosh and during the warm months we're going to explore some of these brews to see if we can find a few that are as easy on the palate as they are on the wallet. Let's Go!

We're starting with Northern Reserve Golden Lager from the Northern Brewing Company. These guys say they're from Minnesota, but like so many of the cheap beers that find their way to Oshkosh this is actually brewed at the old Heileman brewery, now known as the City Brewery, in La Crosse. I picked up a case for $9.99 at the North Side Pick 'n Save and after choking down a couple cans, tried to give away the rest. I couldn't find any takers. So, of course, I wound up drinking more of it. About six cans in I finally figured out what makes this repulsive. It's the smell. Poured into a glass the beer smells exactly like the sludge they use to "butter" your popcorn at the movies. The easy way around that deficit is to drink it straight from the can. And what cans they are! The aluminum they're using to house this beer must be of an especially low grade. Every can in the case I bought is as crinkled and rumpled as an old lunch bag. OK, back to the beer. Pour it in and the flavor immediately breaks down into a flinty, metallic wash. They've done an exceptional job of hiding every nuance of hops while retaining just the slightest hint of malt and corn. The beer finishes with lingering notes of alka-seltzer, vomit and despair. Pair it with hay-fever or a sinus infection to maximize quaffability.

Final verdict: Would I buy this again? Hells no.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beer Run: Corks And Caps in Greenville

If the holiday weekend finds you traveling north on Highway 76, there’s a good beer dealer just off the main road that you ought to check out. Corks and Caps is about 20 miles north of Oshkosh in the Town of Greenville and over the past year they’ve bulked up on their beer selection to the point where the store is now one of the best destinations for good beer in the area. Joe, the owner of Corks and Caps, keeps better than 60 craft and imported brews in stock with about half the inventory stored cold. He has a thorough selection of the Wisconsin-brewed favorites and is strong on midwestern beers in general with breweries such as Bell’s, Dark Horse, Goose Island and New Holland all well represented. There’s a nice crop of Belgians on hand along with bombers from Rouge, New Glarus and New Belgium.

Our Man Joe
There’s plenty to like here and if you stop in, ask if Joe is around. He’s a fun guy to talk to. He knows his beer and he likes to share his enthusiasm for what he’s doing. His plan is to continue expanding the beer side of his business and by all indications he’s getting plenty of support on that from the beer drinkers in the area.

For more information on Corks and Cape - the place is more than just a beer haven - visit their website.

And if you have the time, check out Joe’s blog. It’s an interesting glimpse into the bizarre system we have for distributing beer in America.

Directions to Corks and Caps.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Enigma Arrives in Oshkosh

Enigma, the latest from New Glarus’ Unplugged series, made its way to Oshkosh in 4-packs at the end of last week. This beer is something special. If you had to classify Enigma, you’d probably get closest by calling it a Sour Brown Ale, but don’t be put off by that. This beer is so creamy and rich that its sourness behaves more like a finishing contrast than a primary flavor.

Enigma is fermented with wild yeast in oak barrels on Door County cherries. All of that comes through in the beer’s aroma. It’s slightly sharp, like wet wood, with a bit of funk that’s buffeted by a sweetish, vanilla hue. My favorite aspect of this beer is its mouthfeel. You don’t expect sour beers to be smooth or soft, but this one is downright lush. Notes of oak, cherry, vanilla and even a hint of smoke come through in the beer. Yet for all its complexity, this is still a highly drinkable brew. And Enigma is one of the few sour beers I’ve had where you wouldn’t mind following it up with another.

The idea of sour beer puts a lot of people off. It shouldn’t. If you’re the sort that loves hop-forward beers then sours aren’t all that much of a leap. This one is accessible and lacks that puckering aspect that some of the more overbearing sours pride themselves on. If you haven’t experienced a sour beer before, Enigma would be a great one to start with.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The B & B Tap: It Was That Kind of Place

One of the lead stories in yesterday’s Oshkosh Northwestern was about O'Brian's, the tavern at 686 N. Main that last year won the subtitle “Oshkosh’s most troubled bar.” Apparently, O'Brian's has begun cleaning up their act, but if you look at the comments section for the web edition of the story, you’ll see that there are still a number of Northwestern readers who’d like to see the place shuttered. The comment that caught my eye was this one: “Ever since the B&B went under, the place has changed hands pretty regularly and each one was as bad as the last.” Oh yes, the beloved B & B Tap. Let’s take a look back and see just what kind of place it was.


The B & B Tap operated from 1963 until 1999, but the advertisement above captures the spirit of the bar during its heyday. This is from April 15, 1976 as it appeared in the UWO student paper, the Oshkosh Advance-Titan. The central image is a good representation of what the bar was all about at that time. According to Jim Grill, who frequented the bar during this period, The B & B Tap was a “No frills scruffy kind of bar. The musicians and hipsters and cab drivers all hung out there. It was that kind of place.” Jim says that “In those days there were two places you went, either the college strip or downtown where the music was more hip.” He says the B & B “was known for it’s cheap beer, loud music, steamed wieners and pickled turkey gizzards. It was a Rock & Roll bar. A peanuts on the floor sort of place.” 

After the B & B went out in 1999 it was replaced by Slammers, which begat the Frat House, which begat O'Brian's. Sadly, the days of steamed wieners and pickled turkey gizzards are no more.

Thanks to fellow Oshkosh Blogger Jim Grill for digging up the 1976 B & B ad. Jim operates the excellent blog OKJIMM'S EGGROLL EMPORIUM. It, too, is “that kind of place.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Beer at Becket's

If you like to chase good beer around Oshkosh, you’ll end-up spending a fair amount of time around the bar of Becket’s Restaurant at the City Center in downtown Oshkosh. Becket’s been a great addition to the Oshkosh beer scene since opening in August of 2008. They treat their beer well and they’ve made a practice of bringing in unique brews that you don’t often see at other spots around town. The current line-up at Becket’s is excellent and includes a couple of beers that haven’t been on-tap before in Oshkosh.

Snake Hollow IPA from Potosi Brewing is the first beer I’m going for the next time I’m at Becket’s. The samples I had of this at the 2010 Hops & Props tasting were very promising. The beer was drenched with the citrus and pine flavors of American fresh-hops and featured a strong, bitter finish. This is the first time this beer has been on-tap in Oshkosh. I’m looking forward to finally getting a full pint of it.

Over the last few weeks, Becket’s has been bringing in beer from Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton. The current offering is Stone Cellar’s Masterpiece Porter. This is an easy-going Brown Porter with a gentle mix of coffee and roasted flavors that make for a nice session beer. It’s good to see a place going out of their way to bring in local beer. And Becket’s has taken that approach to the next level by growing a lot of their own herbs and vegetables for their restaurant. They’re even growing hops! Kris Larson at Becket’s said, “We have one beautiful and fast growing plant so far.” Who knows where this could lead?

A couple of other beers we should point out at Becket’s are the French Country Ale from Two Brothers Brewing and Old Chub Scottish Ale by Oskar Blues. The French Country Ale is definitely one of the best American-brewed Bière de Gardes, while Old Chub is an absolute bomb of malt. Overall, this is a great line-up of beers, but the current list won’t be around long. Becket’s cycles through their beer faster than any of the other spots we’ve been following so don’t sleep on this batch.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Session Beers With Joe Walts

We’re happy to have Joe Walts back. Joe is an Assistant Brewer for Fox River Brewing and today he’s covering session beers and his approach to brewing them. Now, here’s Joe.
– – –
Joe Walts Models the Intense Gaze of the Seasoned Brewer

I don't think I'm an alcoholic. I don't drink at inappropriate times, like in my car on the way to work.  My drinking habits aren't detrimental to myself or my family, unless the Red Wings are losing. However, my social skills improve dramatically when I have a drink in my hand. It's much more important than having alcohol in my blood. That's why I'm a big fan of session beers.

For the sake of discussion, let's define session beers as having 4.5% abv or less. Let's go even further and arbitrarily pinpoint the typical session beer, a rarity in the US, as having about 3.5% abv. With such a modest amount of sauce, you can drink fairly continuously over the course of a session without getting stupid. With stronger beers such as Double IPAs, it takes a lot of awkward breaks to maintain a responsible blood alcohol level. Even though I love big beers with big flavor, they're far less conducive to socializing than session beers (unless I'm hanging out with beer geeks).

From a brewer's perspective, session beers are challenging. Off-flavors stand out more than they do with strong beers, it's difficult to find a good balance between watery and syrupy, and it's nearly impossible to amaze people who don't get excited about subtlety. Astringency can be a problem if you're not mindful of your last-runnings pH, and session beers taste best at warm temperatures and low carbonation levels that aren't feasible with most commercial draught setups (i.e. all beers are in the same cooler and connected to the same CO2 regulator). Price is also an issue, and it's one that nobody on the supply side seems to understand:
  • People don't want to repeatedly pay IPA prices for beer with 30% less alcohol than Budweiser.
  • Selling session beers at lower prices could generate enough cash flow to justify the poor profit margins.
Yes, session beers require smaller quantities of ingredients than stronger beers. However, ingredients typically account for less than 10% of a beer's production cost while expenses such as labor and utilities are fairly constant from beer to beer. Pricing isn't really the point of this post, though, so let's get back to brewing. Over the course of experimenting with British session beers, I've come to appreciate two practices that have yet to go mainstream in US session beer production:

1. Shoot for a mash temperature around 149-150 degf so your beer is dry and invites you to drink more. Although you don't want your beer to be thin, the syrupy viscosity contributed by excessive dextrins will kill its sessionability. Brewers often react skeptically when I suggest mashing low for session beers, but Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River has my back.

2. Use Belgian candi syrup for about 5% of your total extract. This will add layers of flavor that help combat the perception of wateriness. According to Ron Pattinson, British brewers regularly use invert syrups in their beer. At least, they did in the 1950s when mild was still kicking ass and taking names. I don't know how the Belgian stuff compares with British brewing syrups (it's only partially inverted), which I've never encountered, but it sure tastes nice. I've had a lot of success using the dark variety for milds, and I'd wager that D2 would be a winner as well. The next time I brew a bitter, I'll probably use the amber syrup.

If you'd rather make an all-malt beer, I suggest loading up on Munich or Vienna malts.  Shooting from the hip, I'm thinking that up to 50% of your total extract will add a nice malty depth to your beer while still allowing it to be dry. If you're going for something authentically English, though, I'd leave these malts out and stick with sugar syrups. I like to keep caramel malts below 5% of total extract for just about all beer types, but that's not a hard-and-fast rule. I've drank great beers that were brewed with 10-15% caramel malts; I just haven't had much luck brewing them.

The next time I brew a mild at home, this is what I'll probably do (assuming Oshkosh municipal water):

Serving Volume = 5 gal
Original Gravity = 1.036

Bitterness = 10 IBU
Target ABV = 3.5% (Final Gravity = 1.008)

Mash Ingredients:
• Maris Otter = 6 lb 1 oz
• Crystal Malt ~60L = 6 oz
• Roasted Barley = 7 oz

Kettle Adjuncts:
• Belgian D2 Candi Syrup = 93 mL

Hops:
• UK Goldings = 16 g, boiled for 60 minutes

Yeast:
• Danstar Nottingham = 7 g

Water:
• Total Volume = 9.1 gal
• Calcium Chloride = 6 g

Process:
• Mash at 150 degf.
• Collect 7.7 gal at a specific gravity of 1.030.
• Boil for 60 minutes to a volume of 6.5 gal at a specific gravity of 1.036.

• Cool wort to 64 degf.
• Hydrate yeast for 15-30 minutes in 72 mL of pre-boiled water at 85-95 degf.
• Pitch yeast and aerate the hell out of your wort.
• Keep fermentation temperature below 68 degf (58-60 degf ambient) until airlock bubbling just starts to slow. At that point, move the beer to a room-temperature location.

Serving options:
•  Carbonate to 1.5 volumes and serve at 52 degf.
•  Carbonate to 2.2 volumes and serve at 44 degf.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oshkosh Brewing And The 90th Birthday That Wasn’t

On this day in 1956 the Oshkosh Brewing Company began celebrating its 90th birthday and invited everybody over for a five-day bash in the brewery's garage. Just one problem with that... it wasn’t the company’s 90th birthday. We'll get to the true age of Oshkosh Brewing later. Let's start with the important stuff – The Party

It all kicked-off on May 19th with the Oshkosh Northwestern giving over their Saturday paper to stories about the Oshkosh Brewing Company. That Saturday, the paper was filled with articles about the history of Oshkosh Brewing, beer in general (one of which included the deathless quote "There is no bad beer") and messages of congratulations from local businesses, politicians and brewing supply companies. Tucked into the happy mix was an announcement that the brewery would open its doors to the good people of Oshkosh each afternoon from Tuesday, May 22, through Friday, May 25. The whole town was invited to come in and see how beer is brewed, have a bite to eat and, of course, enjoy a round or two of "sparkling” Chief Oshkosh beer.

It looks like it was quite an event. The 5,000 visitors who turned-out were greeted by orchestras and company officials who said that "the production of beer – which is, essentially, a cooking process – interested the women as much as it did the men." Hmm. Following the party, the Oshkosh Northwestern printed a hangover edition, noting that not a single "unpleasant incident" occurred "Despite the fact that thousands of people, representing all nationalities and all walks of life attended the five-day event." They may have been playing the diversity card a bit strong with that one. Pictures taken at the party show the crowd to be well-behaved, but utterly homogenous.

OK, now let's look at the true age of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. In truth, there was no such thing as the Oshkosh Brewing Company until 1894. So in 1956 the company was actually just 62 years old. How did they ever come up with the idea they were 90 years old? This is where it starts getting curious so if you hate to see dates thrown around, you may want to turn away. Here goes. The OBC was formed in 1894, with the merger of three Oshkosh breweries: Horn and Schwalm's Brooklyn Brewery; Glatz's Union Brewery; and Kuenzl's Gambrinus Brewery. Just as soon as the three breweries came together they began claiming that the OBC started in 1864, the year Lenhardt Schwalm, of Horn and Schwalm, started brewing his beer in Oshkosh. And that's the story they went with for the next 40 years or so. I've seen Oshkosh Brewing ads from as late as 1938 where they were still claiming that the company began doing business in 1864. Sometime after 1938, though, they grew confused and began saying they’d started out in 1866 instead of 1864. Why? 1866 was the year August Horn became a partner in Lenhardt Schwalm's beer business, but that seems like a rather arbitrary reason for changing the date. More likely, they simply lost track. It’s a strange twist. They had over 40 years of ad copy telling them they’d been around since 1864. How did they manage to forget all that? The best part, though, is that 8 years after celebrating its 90th birthday, OBC reverted to the 1864 date and threw another party, this time marking their 100th year in business. But the jig was up. A reporter from the Appleton Post-Crescent noticed that the 90th birthday party had occurred just 8 years earlier. Officials at the OBC shrugged and admitted they didn't really know how old the company was. Not the kind of thing you want to hear from people making a stink about the centennial of their business. Too bad, because this time they had it right. If you date the Oshkosh Brewing Company from the time when the first of its three original breweries went into business, then that date would be 1864. There.

One last thing about the 1956 party. The Monday following the party the OBC placed an ad in the Northwestern thanking all their visitors and well wishers. The message was simple and heartfelt and captures just how close the relationship was between this brewery and the people of Oshkosh at that point in time. It shows the open doors of the garage where the party was held with a caption next to picture reading "through these doors have passed the nicest people in the world." You get the feeling they really meant it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On-line Beer & The O’Marro’s Stomp

One of the main reasons we started this blog was to provide a spot where Oshkosh beer drinkers could come to find out what’s on tap at bars in town that bring in good beer. None of the Oshkosh bars that serve craft beer have been doing much to keep their customers informed about the beer they’re currently pouring so we’ve tried to fill that gap. But we’re not the only one doing it anymore. Last week, O’Marro’s Public House updated their website to show every beer they’re currently pouring, whether that be from a can, a bottle or on tap. Better yet, according to Shawn O’Marro, their site will now run in real-time, “So as I add beer to the system it immediately updates the web page.” This is an excellent idea and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other bars in Oshkosh emulating what Shawn has done. When you consider that most restaurants list their full menus online, it follows that bars serving good beer ought to be doing something similar. Until that happens, we’re here and we’ll continue to provide a current tap list for O’Marro’s as well. But check out the O’Marro’s website and take a look at that bottle list! It’s truly amazing. The selection of Belgian beers alone is enough to bring you to your knees.

And while we’re talking about O’Marro’s, don’t forget that O’Marro’s Stomp is coming this Saturday to the Leach Amphitheater here in Oshkosh. Uncle Kracker is headlining the five-band show. There will be food from Glass Nickel and 20 oz beers for just $4. Shawn says, “This ain't your average concert; it's the way a show should be!” For all the detail on The Stomp, visit the O’Marro’s Stomp website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

All Run Down? Then Drink Oshkosh Beer.

From May 17, 1915
From May 19, 1914
Here are two advertisements from Oshkosh breweries that appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern in May of 1914 and 1915. These ads are both fairly typical of this odd period in beer advertising. In the years leading up to prohibition, the anti-fun crowd had the beer makers on the defensive. They’d been smeared as malicious profiteers who thrived by advancing moral decay. Instead of battling back, the brewers went the snake-oil route and started pushing their product as if it were some form of harmless medicine. No mention of good times, here. Hardly any mention of flavor, either. Instead you’re left with the impression that you ought to be taking this stuff with a spoon.

The similarity of these two ads is so striking that it's hard to believe it’s coincidental. Were the brewers in cahoots, trying to present a unified front against the forces trying to run them to ground? Possibly. You find this same tone coming from breweries throughout the Midwest at this time. The questions that hangs in my mind is this: Was anybody actually buying these arguments? Beer as a tonic that “will give you new vital force.” Really? I’ll bet the beer drinkers of 1915 found this as laughably ironic as we do today. But as milquetoast as these ads are, they each contain a line that gives you hope that our good brewers hadn’t completely lost their way. Instead of suggesting you drink a bottle or glassful of their elixirs, they suggest you go for an entire case. Old habits die hard.

If you’re having trouble making out the text on these ads here’s what they have to say (it’s poetry I tells ya):


The Oshkosh Brewing ad from May 19, 1915
All Run Down
You know what that means.
No appetite. No ambition.
Temper Irritable. Future looks dark.
What you need is a tonic;
something that will brace up
the entire system and "put you
on your feet" again. Then
drink
OSHKOSH BEER
It will give you new vital
fore. The hops are a tonic,
the malt strengthening. It will
bring back your appetite, replenish
the blood, sooth the
nerves and make you sleep.
Try a case.
THE OSHKOSH

BREWING CO.
1631 Doty Street.
'Phone No. 11. Bottle Dept. 183
The Peoples ad from May 17, 1915
Does Your Work
Unduly Tire You?
Most likely your system is
"run down" and you need help.
Beer will do you good, for it
is strengthening and invigorating.
The hops are a tonic, the
malt a food. Its regular use will
build you up—bring back to you
that natural strength and snap
and vigor which will enable you
to do your best work without
over fatigue.
Try a case of
PEOPLES BEER

We can honestly recommend
this beer, because it is honestly
MADE — from pure water and
choice cereals—skillfully brewed,
thoroughly aged. And its flavor
will surely appeal to you.
There is no finer beer on the
market.

Just Phone 334

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Maibock at Fratellos in Oshkosh

If you’re out and around this weekend you might want to stop in at Fratellos and check out the excellent Maibock they currently have on tap. I favor bocks that aren't shy about showing their hops so this one is right up my alley. It’s a golden beer that starts out rich and creamy with the requisite malt presence you expect from this style. And then the hops kick in. They first come across as slightly peppery before quickly developing a firm bitterness that pairs well with the malt sweetness Maibocks are known for. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a hop bomb, but it does have a hop profile that’s more prominent than typical for this type of beer. The beer finishes with an easy dryness that closes nicely. This is a well made, well thought out brew that’s ideal for Spring.

If you want to dig deeper into this one, here’s a link to the brewer’s notes by Kevin Bowen, Head Brewer for the Fox River Brewing Company.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oshkosh’s Parking Lot Brewery

Here’s what it looked like when a pack of homebrewers gathered on May 1st and brewed more than 60 gallons of beer in the parking lot of O’Marro’s Public House, here in Oshkosh. This was produced by Mike Engel from the Society of Oshkosh Brewers who did a great job of capturing the spirit of the event. It’s a winner.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coming This Summer To A Dublin Near You

Since opening last September, Dublin’s Irish Pub has been bringing a  solid line-up of good beer to the West Side of Oshkosh. This summer it’s going to get even better. Steve Gabelbauer at Dublin’s has 16 tap lines to work with and over the coming months he’s going to use five of them to bring in a number of beers that we haven’t seen on tap in Oshkosh, or for that matter Wisconsin, before.

From New Glarus Brewing, Dublin’s will be tapping the Raspberry Tart, which until recently has only been available in 750 mL bottles. Steve is also hoping that he’ll also be able to bring in #9 by Magic Hat. It’s a unique, highly drinkable, Pale Ale that features a hint of apricot. The beer has become wildly popular in some segments of the country, but we don’t often see it around here. “If everything works out the way I want it to, we will be the only bar in Oshkosh to have it on tap for the summer,” Steve says.

But the biggest leap Steve’s taking will be to bring in New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series of beers. These are limited edition beers and each of them is utterly distinctive. The first to appear will be Eric's Ale, a summer peach ale, followed by their incredible sour brown ale, La Folie. Third-up will be the Transatlantique Kriek, which New Belgium describes as “a spontaneously fermented lambic ale made with Polish cherries.”
Steve says that each of these beers “Needs to be special ordered and it takes about 3 weeks from when we order to when we get them in stock. From what my rep tells me, we will be the only bar in Wisconsin with these beers on tap.”

We haven’t seen any of these beers on tap in Oshkosh before and that’s exactly the point Steve is attempting to address. He says, “My goal with these 5 seasonal lines is to have something new on tap each week. I always get the question "what’s new" regarding beer, and each week I want to be able to give them something new on tap instead of just in bottles.”

Dublin’s has a couple of kegs currently going that’ll need to be finished off before all this kicks in, but we’ll try to put up a quick post each time one of these new beers comes on-line. Stay tuned, you’re not going to want to miss this round!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Birth of The Peoples Brewery

The Revere House in 1887
On this day in 1911 a plot was hatched to create a new brewery in Oshkosh. On May 11th a group led by Joseph J. Nigl gathered at the Revere House, a Main Street Hotel located just north of the river. They sorted through a list of 11 names for their new business before finally settling on The Peoples Brewery. It was an apt title for the venture. Much of the original $100,000 dollars gathered to seed the business came from local tavern owners, farmers and private citizens of Oshkosh with the understanding that the amount of stock held by any one shareholder would be limited. In his book Breweries of Wisconsin, Jerry Apps writes that according to the old-timers “a bunch of farmers and ordinary people” started it.
Jos. J. Nigl

The idea was to set up a brewery that could produce up to 15,000 barrels a year. But it wasn’t because there was a lack of beer flowing in Oshkosh at the time. The goal was to undermine the control Oshkosh Brewing, Pabst and Schlitz held over local tavern owners. Most taverns of this period were tied houses and allowed to serve only their parent brewery’s beer. If a tavern owner fell out of favor with the brewery that supplied them, they could quickly be forced out of business.

Nigl, whose father owned the Gemütlichkeit Tavern at the Northwest corner of Ninth and Ohio, was named president of the new company and construction on the brewery began in April of 1912. In June of 1913 Peoples beer went on sale under the names of Aristo and Asterweiss. The brews were immediately popular, but that didn’t last long. The Dries were on the march. Prohibition began on January 16, 1920 and for the next 13 years Peoples was reduced to making near beer, malt tonics and soda water.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Media and Theodore Mack

From May 10, 1971
After Theodore Mack purchased The Peoples Brewing Company on April 14, 1970, he seemed somewhat taken aback by the media attention that marked his arrival in Oshkosh. In 1970 there were two Oshkosh newspapers, The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern and The Paper, both of which were running stories about Mack and his plans for the brewery on an almost daily basis. Most of these reports were strikingly repetitive and, in the end, amount to little more than Mack trying to counter rumors and fears generated by the realization that Oshkosh would be home to America’s first black-owned brewery.

Mack’s initial parries with the media here often came across as awkward and strained and as the weeks wore on you can sense that he was growing tired of answering the same questions and assuaging the same baseless fears. By the end of April, Mack’s own rhetoric had grown as twisted as that which he’d spent the preceding two weeks attempting to dispute. Mack reached a low point on April 28, 1970 when he warned reporters that if Peoples Brewing failed it would be bad for the Green Bay Packers. Mack was quoted in The Paper saying that if people in the area did not buy his beer “I’d be very surprised if you have black football players here next year.”

But Mack was a quick study. He seemed to have realized that this sort of approach was going nowhere. In the months that followed, there was a noticeable change in his tone. Mack began to go out of his way to de-emphasize the racial aspect of the story and developed something of a shtick, offering reporters the same set of bullish quotes again and again. All of this comes together quite neatly in a story by Bob Greene, an Associated Press sports writer working out of Milwaukee, that ran in numerous papers on May 10, 1971. The story is ostensibly about Mack being glad to have the winter behind him and the “thirsty months” of summer up ahead, but it touches on all that had transpired over the past year. The piece is larded with vintage Mack as he trotted out a few of his favorite refrains such as “When the going gets rough, I send me,” and “We are not making a black beer or a white beer, we are making what the name implies – a people’s beer,” and “I don’t ever sleep.”

The article ran in papers across the state and was eventually picked up nationally, finding its way into newspapers such as the Oakland Tribune and the Tucson Daily Citizen, where it appeared under the headline First Black-Owned Brewery in U.S. Cuts Into Sudsy Wisconsin Market. When you consider what was actually taking place here, this all seems fairly amazing. Peoples Brewing at this point was just barely churning out 20,000 barrels of beer a year. It was a small, obscure brewery that was tottering on the edge of collapse. Peoples wasn’t even one of the 10 biggest breweries in the state of Wisconsin at this point. And the fact that this was a brewery whose president was a black man could hardly qualify as news anymore. Yet, here Mack was getting play in the national press. He had learned to work the media to his advantage and in the process managed to establish a media presence for his company that he didn’t have the money to buy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Local Beers at Local Bars

Here’s a nice development: This past week we noticed a couple of instances of locally brewed beer going on tap in Oshkosh. At Becket’s they now have the Vanishing Vanilla Stout from Stone Cellar in Appleton on tap. Meanwhile, over at Barley & Hops, they’re pouring Winnebago Wheat and Caber Tossing Scottish Ale from Oshkosh’s Fox River Brewing. You don’t often see these beers making their way out of the pubs they’re brewed in, but that hasn’t always been the case. Fox River Brewing, in particular, had their beer in a number of Oshkosh bars and restaurants in the late 90s, but as of late their presence outside of their brew pubs has diminished almost entirely. The clear winner of this flight is the Caber Tossing at Barley & Hops. Nate and his crew there do great job keeping their beer lines in good shape so the beer comes across in all its malty glory. Looks like we’re headed for some Scotland-esque weather this weekend, perfect for dipping into a hearty Scottish Ale.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mike Engel & the Rise of the S.O.B.s

Portrait of a Real S.O.B
Mike Engel’s introduction to homebrewing was fairly typical. “I asked my wife for a homebrewing kit for Christmas,” he says. And that’s where the “typical” ends. Some 15 years later he’s risen from the ranks of the homebrew curious to being head of the largest, and perhaps most active, homebrewing club in Northeast Wisconsin, The Society of Oshkosh Brewers; or as Mike and just about everyone else who comes in contact with the club prefers to call them, The S.O.B.s.

The transformation from homebrew newbie to Primary Fermentor (yes, that’s his official title) wasn’t exactly an orderly affair. “It took me a while to discover good beer,” Mike says. “My dad used to drink Pabst and before coming to Oshkosh I lived in Beaver Dam where everybody drank Old Style.” His initial foray into homebrewing wasn’t so spectacular, either. A year after getting that fateful kit he finally got around to brewing his first batch. About this same time, he spotted a flier for The S.O.B.s. Kismet! Mike decided to check out the club and see what they had to say about his creation. The results were something he’d rather forget. “There was one guy there who really gave me a hard time about that beer,” Mike says. Then he puts it a bit more diplomatically. He says, “Let’s just say I wasn’t warmly received.” Mike stresses that the club member in question has long since moved on and that the S.O.B.s these days are much more considerate and receptive to new brewers.

As for Mike, the rough treatment he received didn’t deter him. He kept brewing and showing up for club meetings and learned enough along the way to develop his chops to the point where people no longer scoffed at his beer. He won a couple of awards including a Best of Show at a contest held by Homebrew Market. All the while his involvement with the S.O.B.s continued to deepen.

By 2004 Mike was the treasurer of the club, which then had more than two dozen members. But the club was losing its way. In April of that year, the S.O.B.s lost a couple of key members including their president Steve Rehfeldt. The club began to stagnate. Membership dwindled to less than a dozen, most of whom weren’t especially active or interested in developing the club. In the November 2004 edition of The Brewsletter, the club’s monthly newsletter, Randy Bauer recapped their October meeting writing, “The Question of the night for the SOB’s: Should we continue?” They did, but it took more than a year for them to find their direction and when they did, the guy who had stumbled in 9 years earlier with a batch of lousy homebrew was now the de-facto President.

“There was no one else to run things so I stepped into the position,” Mike says. In October of 2006 it was made official with Mike being elected Primary Fermentor. Things began to change. The S.O.B.s found a new home at O’Marro’s Public House and the club grew. Mike says, “Once we moved to O’Marro’s membership exploded.” The club now has approximately 50 members and continues to grow. “I can’t believe how succesful the club has become over the past few years,” Mike says. “We seem to get one or two new members at every meeting. I’m especially happy to see the number of women we now have in the club.” And he’s confident that there’s still more potential for growth. “I’m convinced that there are a lot more people out there brewing beer in Oshkosh than we know about.”

As successful as the club has grown under his direction, Mike sees the time approaching when he’ll need to step aside. He forsees a need for “new blood” in the leadership. He says, “At some point the time is going to come for me to step down and let someone else direct the club.” One thing is certain, whoever takes the reigns will be in a better position than the one Mike found himself in when the job fell to him. The club is thriving and it took a Real S.O.B to make that happen.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nick's Oshkosh Hop Operation

The Trellis Awaits
A couple blocks from the busted-up corner of Jackson and Murdock, there’s a small garden that stops beer lovers in their tracks. The plot is tended by Nick and he calls it his Hop Operation. At the moment, the operation looks fairly unassuming. The four tall posts that frame the hop trellis, tower above the plants below. Give it a couple months. As this garden reaches full bloom, 20-foot hop vines will form a dense, green curtain that literally drips hop cones.

“This is my third summer growing hops with great results,” Nick says. This year, He’s growing Zeus, Brewers Gold, Willamette, Cascade and Hallertau. If his yield is anything like it was last year, he’s going to have more hops than he’ll know what to do with. “I guess I got about 10 lbs last year off of three second year plants,” Nick says. It was more than he was able to brew with, but that’s no problem. “I say to other hop growers: SHARE! If you have too much, give them to another hombrewer for free! It makes friends and shares the passion and hobby of homebrewing.” He’s not just talking, either. I hadn’t known Nick for 5 minutes before he’d loaded me up with enough Zeus and Brewers Gold to brew several batches of beer.

The New Crop
Nick’s approach to hop growing remains relatively simple. Last year, he dried the hops by spreading them out in the attic of his garage. And he’s not doing anything funny with his soil. “I grow hops organically,” He says. “Why would you want any of those chemicals in your beer? They could mess with the taste.” This year he says he might go a “a little more high-tech” with his drying process, but his hops will definitely remain organic.
Wort Hopping with Nick’s Zeus Hops

As eye catching as his Hop Operation is, Nick still brings it all back to the beer. He says, “Growing your own hops is the best way to brew beer. It's a point to brag about to other homebrewers. They will envy you and it makes the hobby more satisfying.”

We’ll check back in with Nick as the season progresses. He’s off to a fast start that could result in a banner year. More to come.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Were The Oshkosh Beers Any Good?

From Paul Esslinger's Collection
If you take an interest in the bygone breweries of Oshkosh, one of the first things you discover is that there’s no good record of what beers such as Peoples or Chief Oshkosh actually tasted like. Looking at it from our perspective, when we have websites such as Rate Beer and Beer Advocate filled with detailed descriptions of practically every beer currently being made, makes the lack of information about earlier beers seem almost incomprehensible. If you want a hint as to what the beers of the past were like, all you really have to go by are the bromides of advertising that chirp about how “refreshing” or “mellow” or “pure” the beer was. One of my favorites of these is from the early 1900s and the Oshkosh Brewing Company who described their Special Old Lager as being “ripened and matured to develop rare zest.” Cute, but it says nothing, really.

Over the past couple months I’ve made a habit of questioning people who remember drinking Peoples or Chief Oshkosh. I ask them if they can recall anything about the flavor of these beers. The answers I get couldn’t be more vague. “It was all right” or something to that effect is what I’m usually told about Chief Oshkosh Beer. The descriptions of Peoples Beer are often less charitable, but no more detailed. The most descriptive remembrance I’ve heard came from one of the regulars at Oblio’s who told me that Peoples had a “soapy” flavor. He couldn’t recall much more than that.

Towards the end of their runs there probably wasn’t much that was worth remembering about either Peoples or Chief Oshkosh Beer. American beer after prohibition went through a long, dumbing-down period where much of what made a beer distinctive was stripped away resulting in bland lagers that would appeal to broader markets. Also working against the local brews was the growing perception that the national beers were of higher quality. This almost certainly wasn’t the case, but the alluring advertising that drove beers such as Schlitz and Miller definitely contributed to the perception that the regional beers were second rate.

So were the local beers any good? From here, it’s hard to tell. But in the case of Peoples there are a couple bits of information that suggest it was a decent beer, after all. The first nugget is from the Siebel Institute, the Chicago brewing school that ran quality assurance programs for many of the nation’s breweries. In 1971 they reported that Peoples Beer “makes an exceedingly good impression in almost every respect.” Again, this doesn’t tell you much other than that the beer wasn’t crap. But the best source I’ve been able to locate in this vein comes from a January 12, 1971 article in the Milwaukee Sentinel. The article is about the trouble Peoples was having trying to crack the Milwaukee market. Towards the end of the article there’s a quote from “Mrs. Harry Siegel, whose husband operates the Siegel Beer and Liquor Depot,” which is still in business on Milwaukee’s East Side. Mrs. Siegel thought the beer was fine, but that the price was too high. She said, “The people who try it do rebuy, but it should be more in the neighborhood with Gettleman and Old Milwaukee on pricing.” Peoples President Theodore Mack countered her statement saying that “the hops, grain and brewing skill put into Peoples made it worth premium prices.” That doesn’t say much, but the fact that they were arguing about price while the quality of the beer seems to be a given, may be the best indication we have that Peoples Beer may have actually been pretty good.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Brewing Big Beer in an Oshkosh Parking Lot

Saturday was a great day for brewing beer in a parking lot. And that’s exactly what the Society of Oshkosh Brewers did as part of the American Homebrew Association’s Big Brew Day. The brewing began around 8 am in the parking lot in front of O’Marro’s Public House and by late afternoon approximately 50 gallons of beer and 10 gallons of mead had been made. Using a semi-circle of motor homes to help block the wind, the SOBs brewed a variety of beers including an IPA, a Hefeweizen, an Imperial Stout and a Barleywine. Yes, a Barleywine in a parking lot.

Thanks to the SOBs and O’Marro’s Public House for making the event possible.
Here’s a quick slideshow of the action.