Monday, August 30, 2010

Small Beer No.1: Wet Hops & SoBe

In the course of researching some of the stories that wind up here on the blog, I often come across tidbits related to beer and brewing in Oshkosh that don’t warrant a whole lot of examination, but are interesting, all the same. It’s the sort of stuff that’s good for cluttering your head and not much else. It’s a nice sort of clutter, though, and I’d like to start passing some of this useless information along. So here’s the first installment of Small Beer. Feel free to drop these nuggets the next time there’s a lull in the conversation. Those within earshot will immediately develop a new appreciation for silence.

The First Wet-Hopped Beer Comes to Oshkosh

The hop harvesting season is nearly upon us in Oshkosh and there'll soon be a few local homebrewers making beer with hops they've plucked fresh from the vine. Well, that ain't nothin' new. This is an advertisement that ran in the Oshkosh Northwestern on July 10, 1957 and it claims that Tempo was the first beer to be brewed with fresh hops, as opposed to the dried hops brewers typically use. That's wrong. The first people to stumble upon the realization that hops added something good to their brews certainly hadn't gone to the trouble of drying them out. That came later. Truth be damned, it remains impressive that Blatz was marketing a wet-hopped beer here in Oshkosh more than 50 years ago. But you've got to wonder just how "fresh" those hops could have been. They were selling this beer in July, hardly the time of year for fresh hops in Wisconsin. The problem is, fresh hops don't hold up very well. You need to go from the hop plant to the kettle in just a few hours. If you miss that window of opportunity your beer ends up tasting as if you brewed it with lawn clippings. Still, you've got to admire the Blatz chutzpah. How many brewers these days would dare to run an advertisement for their beer claiming "It's the world's greatest beer"! By the way, there's an excellent beer bar in Milwaukee named the Bomb Shelter that supposedly has an old bottle of this floating around in their collection. Unfortunately, I've heard it's empty. But of course, it’s empty. You wouldn't expect the world's greatest beer to have gone unopened, would you?

SoBe and the Oshkosh Brewing Connection

Thomas Hardy Schwalm
At first glance, it wouldn’t appear that the iridescent fluid sold under the brand name SoBe would have much to do with beer or brewing in the city of Oshkosh. Look a little deeper though and you’ll find that SoBe is actually the wayward issue of the forefathers of beer in Oshkosh. SoBe was co-founded in 1996 by Thomas Hardy Schwalm, an Oshkosh native with a pedigree that maps to the heart of a bygone time in our city. Schwalm’s grandfathers were Oscar J. Hardy, publisher of the Oshkosh Northwestern from 1917 to 1950 and Arthur L. Schwalm, president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company from 1941-1961. His father, A. Thomas Schwalm, was brewmaster for the Oshkosh Brewing Company until he abandoned beer in 1950 to join his in-law’s newspaper business. But Thomas Schwalm wanted to be a beer man. He followed in the footsteps of the Schwalm men before him and over the course of his career worked for Schlitz, Stroh's and Barton Beers. Then came the SoBe gold mine. In 2000, Schwalm sold SoBe to Pepsi for a whopping $370 million dollars. Schwalm passed away in 2009 at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 64. He may have died a happy man, but he should have stuck with beer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oshkosh Beer of the Week: New Glarus Abt

There’s a strong, rich beer named Abt that just arrived in Oshkosh and it has come to hurt you. But this New Glarus Unplugged beer is so smooth and inviting you won’t mind the pain it leaves in its wake. Style-wise, Abt runs along the lines of a Belgian Dark Strong Ale and with that you know you’re in for a heavy beer. The amazing thing about this one is how lightly it carries its weight. The beer’s 9.6% ABV isn’t hidden, but it’s presented in such a mellow, rummy way that the heat of its alcohol is entirely welcome. There’s a lot going on in this beer. It pours deep, deep red with a thick aroma of over-ripe dark fruit. That aromatic heft is contradicted, though, by the beers surprisingly light, almost fluffy, mouthfeel. As the Belgians would say, this one is highly digestible. The mouthfeel is just about the only thing light about it. There’s a kaleidoscopic depth of flavor here that ranges from chocolate to sweet raisin to cola to brandied cherries. It all conspires to gently draw you in. Then it slaughters your resolve and warps time. It made my Wednesday morning come way too early.

You’ll find Abt at Festival Foods in Oshkosh residing in the high-end beer ghetto where it’s being held without refrigeration. That’s no way to treat a good beer! On the other hand, you don’t want to drink Abt straight from your refrigerator, either. Let it rest and warm for a good half-hour before you pop it open. I made the mistake of starting the first bottle a little too cold and that made the beer seem sharp and harsh. This is a beer that grows lush as it warms.

Homebrewers: If you like to play around with yeast, notice the spicy yeast character of Abt. Last Spring I brewed a Belgian Dubbel using White Labs WLP530 and that yeast seems very similar to the strain New Glarus is using for Abt. WLP530 is supposedly the Westmalle yeast and I was lucky to have a Westmalle Dubble around the house while I was drinking Abt so I opened that up, too, and found that the yeast profiles do have a lot in common. If you prefer Wyeast, their 3787 is supposed to be the same strain. Either way, this would be a fun beer to try to clone.

Bonus Beer: Just got word from Peabody’s that they have Gandy Dancer Porter, a new beer from Potosi, now on tap. I’ve yet to try this one, but the folks at Potosi say their porter is “a bit bigger, hoppier, and or roastier than their European predecessors.” If you like a good porter you might want to plan a stop at Peabody’s this weekend.

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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth’s Oshkosh Growler Story

Last week we touched on the infamous Oshkosh Growler, the greased buckets that were used for transporting beer from the taverns to home or work. Here’s more on the subject. The clip below is Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth’s telling of a legendary Oshkosh Growler story that Inky swears is true. This slice of oral history is about the children of Oshkosh in the early 1900s transporting beer to their fathers working in the factories. As Inky explains, sometimes the kids delivered the beer in a highly modified form...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Oshkosh Beer of the Week: 1853

To commemorate the passing of August Horn, I thought it would be fitting to single out a hometown beer that harkens back to the early days of brewing in Oshkosh. It’s a nice coincidence that Fratellos in Oshkosh is currently pouring just such a beer. 1853 is a dark lager that Fox River Brewing first brewed in 2003 to help celebrate Oshkosh’s sesquicentennial. Kevin Bowen, Brewmaster at Fox River Brewing, says the beer was “styled in the tradition of Wisconsin beers for the period.” And though this is a modern beer and not an attempt to re-create the beer of that time, it’s still probably not too far off in flavor and appearance from the sort of lager August Horn would have been drinking in Oshkosh in 1853.

1853 pours deep ruby unto black and if you stick your nose into it as soon as it’s tapped you’ll catch a surprising and wonderful hop aroma that drifts up and dissipates quickly. This is an easy drinking beer with the slight sweetness of Munich malt being the dominant flavor. Overall, it’s light-bodied and fairly crisp without any of the ragged edges of roasted malt that sometimes mar beers that are this mild and yet dark. The beer finishes clean with just a touch of residual bitterness. A few pints of this would go along perfectly with a big plate of nachos.

Our Man, August Horn
But if you really want to experience this beer in a way that truly celebrates 1853, there’s only one way to do it. You’ll need to resurrect the infamous Oshkosh growler. It’ll take a little work, but I’m certain the servers at Fratellos will understand exactly what it is you’re doing and will fully cooperate with your mission. Here’s how it’s done: First you have to find a half-gallon wooden bucket. Keep in mind, this thing needs to hold beer so it’s got to be water tight. I have no idea where you’ll find such a thing. OK, now that you’ve got your wooden bucket, find a quality lard and use it to grease down the inside walls of the bucket. This may sound gross and it is, but the lard will help to keep the beer from foaming up when it’s tapped and ensure that you’ll get your full measure of pure beer. Now if you really want to make it special, take your bucket of dark, oily beer and walk about a half-mile due north of Fratellos. Get onto the Wiouwash trail and when you see Riverside Cemetery cut across the creek. That’ll put you on Oak and if you follow that to Myrtle you'll be at the site of August Horn’s grave. It’s easy to find. There’s just one thing left to do. Raise your Oshkosh growler and have a good, long drink to our Dead Homie. Peace, bitches!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Toast to August Horn

August Horn
He was born in August, was named August and 106 years ago on Wednesday, August 17th he died. August Horn was the first president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company and the man who put Oshkosh beer on the map. Beginning in 1866, he took a small, thousand-barrel brewery and turned it into one of Wisconsin’s leading breweries. Not bad for a guy who started out laying brick.
Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery After 1879

August Horn was born on August 6, 1835 in Plößberg, Bavaria. In 1852, at the age of 17, he immigrated to Winnebago County with his parents Gottlieb and Barbara and began farming in the Town of Black Wolf. As a young man, Horn was trained as a stone mason and wasn’t involved with beer, aside from consuming it, until the age of 31. So how does a farming, stone mason find his way to making beer? By marrying into the family of a German brewer. In 1856 Horn married Amalia Schwalm, a relative of a brewer who had been trained in Saxony named Leonhardt Schwalm. In 1866 August and Leonhardt built a small, wooden brewhouse on the east side of Doty Street just south of what is now West 16th Avenue. They named it Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery.

A 1900 Composite of Oshkosh Brewing
The early years at the Doty Street Brewery must have been lively. It was truly a family operation. Both the Horn and Schwalm families lived above the brewery with their 15 kids. According to some reports, employees of the brewery often lived there, as well. Unfortunately, the house party came to an abrupt end when the home/brewery was swept away by fire in 1879. A new and larger brick brewhouse was quickly put up at the sight of the original brewery, but this one was strictly business. The families now lived in their own homes on separate, adjacent parcels. They were moving up in the world.

August Horn's Marker
at Riverside Cemetery
in Oshkosh
In 1894 the Horn and Schwalm Brewery merged with those of Lorenz Kuenzl and John Glatz to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Horn was made president of the new company and by the time of his death, Oshkosh Brewing had become the leading brewery in the area, capable of producing 90,000 barrels of beer a year.

August Horn died in 1904 from congestion of the kidneys at 10pm at his home at 1662 Doty Street. He was 69 years old at the time of his death and still president of Oshkosh Brewing. By all accounts he was a genial, well-liked member of the community. His obituary in Oshkosh Daily Northwestern described him as ”one of the most prominent German residents of the city and very highly respected.” This week, let’s raise a glass to August Horn.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Saturday Night Beer Festival at Dublin's

Dublin’s in Oshkosh is having their first beer tasting this Saturday night (August 21st) from 8 until 11 and it looks like it’ll be a good one. They’ll be pouring all the beer you’d like to drink from New Glarus, O'so, New Belgium, Magic Hat and probably a couple more. Along with the beer, your ticket includes a large dinner buffet and the chance to interrogate the brewers who will be on hand from O'so and New Glarus. Dinner and a beer festival for $30 is hard to beat, unless you get someone to come along with you, in which case you can get two tickets for $50. The tickets are available now at Dublin’s so you might want to stop by and pick yours up before Saturday to ensure your spot on the floor. Beer on!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Al Jacobson's Oshkosh Wine

Today we're going to take a short break from the beer to visit with Al Jacobson whose unique wines have become the stuff of legend in Oshkosh. Al is one of the founding members of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers and though he brews beer, we'll leave that topic for another day.

Al's Wine Garden
Al Jacobson is sort of different. He doesn't see things the way you or I do. When the average person encounters a zucchini they usually think food. Not Al. He wonders what might happen if he were to smash it to mush and let some yeast go to work on it. Al sees a zucchini and thinks wine. In fact, there isn’t much that hasn’t caused Al to think wine at one time or another. He’s made wine from green tomatoes, corn, beets, rhubarb, dandelions... if it grows, Al has probably tried to ferment it.

He’s been at it now for more than 40 years and he’s been inventive from the start. He made his first batch of wine in the late 1960s without so much as a recipe to guide him. “You couldn’t find any recipes back then,” Al says, “so we experimented. I was working for a grocery store and they had some leftover peaches they couldn’t sell. We smashed them up and put them in a five-gallon Red Wing jar with water and apples and a Red Star yeast of some sort.” It worked. He’d made his first wine. How’d it turn out? “It was a little cloudy, but we drank all of it.”

That same spirit of invention colliding with happenstance continues to inform his wine making. It’s an approach that finds inspiration everywhere. “My neighbor had an apple tree limb that fell off so I took the blossoms from it and made an apple blossom wine,” Al says. When I asked him what the apple blossoms contributed to the final wine he said “the name for one thing.” He wasn’t just being glib. Though much of his wine is made using ingredients some would consider unconventional, the flavors he achieves are anything but odd. His wines tend to be subtle and easy to drink. At first blush, his recipes may appear somewhat unusual but the point is always to make something that tastes good. The popularity of his wines at this year’s Brews ‘n Blues, indicates he’s doing something right. “I like taking it to beer festivals.” Al says. “Some people like it and some people don’t. Then there’s some people who keep coming back for more.”
Al & Kay Pouring at Brews 'n Blues 2010

A quick tour of Al’s amazing wine cellar proves that it’s not all corn and tomatoes. “I do make a lot of grape wine,” Al says. “Mostly from wild grapes. I have a friend who grows fox grapes that I’ll make wine with, or else I’ll go out to Plummers Point and pick wild grapes.” He’s also dabbled with a more conventional approach to wine making. Back in the early 80s he even tried a wine kit. “I got a wine kit and a mushroom kit. The cats loved the mushroom kit,” Al says, but the wine kit was a bust. “That sort of wine making isn’t as satisfying. A kit is a good way to get started, but doing it from scratch is more fun.”

A Corner of Al's Cellar
Most of Al’s wines are made in batch sizes ranging from one to five gallons and they’re often provoked by circumstance. “Last year a guy brought a whole bunch of plums to an S.O.B. (Society of Oshkosh Brewers) meeting. Nobody wanted them so I made wine from it.” Little goes to waste. He and his wife Kay tend a large, practical garden at their home on the East Side of Oshkosh and Al says that “whatever is left at the end of the year becomes wine.” Sometimes he’ll use the leftover trub from a previous batch of wine to make a lower-alcohol “false wine.” Not even the weeds get away. “I like to make dandelion wine, but picking those dandelions is a lot of work,” he says.

A couple weeks ago Al and I were sitting in his back yard going through a binder of his recipes. I asked him if there’s anything he wouldn’t consider fermenting. He looked up at the sky as if the answer might drop on his head and spotted the fat, orange berries clustering in his neighbor’s Mountain Ash. “I’ll have to ask him what he’s gonna do with those,” Al said. I guess I got my answer.

Here's Al's recipe for Corn Wine.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oshkosh Beer of the Week: Belgian Style Blond from New Belgium

Let’s forget about those bitter beers for a moment and check out something malty for a change. Belgian Style Blond Ale from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith series recently went on tap at a couple of spots in Oshkosh. On the west side, you can catch it at Dublin’s and on the East side it’s pouring at Barley and Hops. The beer tastes great at both spots, so if you’re going to give this one a whirl you might want to opt for the location closest to home. At 8.5% this is a beer that’s going to make an impact upon you. Especially if you have more than one. And you’re probably going to want more than one. This is a delicious ale that masks it’s alcohol and urges you to keep drinking. 

Belgian Style Blond Ale pours bright yellow and slightly hazy with an odd aroma that’s part bread dough, part banana and part musty basement. Hey, it’s supposed to be Belgianesque, what did you expect? There’s nothing dank about the flavor, though. It starts with sweet, doughy malt that would be gooey if it weren’t for the intense carbonation, which makes the beer seem much lighter than it actually is. It finishes off with a little bit of pear-like sweetness before coming to a clean, dry end. You might notice a touch of fusel alcohol in the finish but you’ve got to hunt for it. Overall, I’d say it more closely resembles a Belgian Golden Strong Ale (think Duvel) than it does a Belgian Blond Ale (think Grimbergen Blond), but who cares. It’s an excellent beer and one worth going out of your way for. Luckily, you won’t have to. I had this beer at both Dublin’s and Barley and Hops last week and there wasn’t a shred of difference between the two pours. Now that’s a testament to clean lines!

Let me tell you, it’s tough picking just one beer for Beer of the Week, so here are few bonus beers that are currently blasting through the taps in Oshkosh and bound to please your beery itch.
  • At Peabody’s the Blonde Doppelbock from Capital is going strong. And I do mean strong (8% ABV).
  • At Oblio’s check out the ever-bitter and always lovely Two Hearted Ale from Bells. My liver is well aquatinted with this one.
  • Becket’s has a good thing pouring in Grand Teton’s Bitch Creek ESB. The hop flavor of this British-style beer is more American than British and it’s awesome.
  • And at O’Marro’s they’ve got Radeberger Pilsner on tap. I love authentic German Pilsners and this is one of the hoppy best. No green bottle blues, either!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Recipe Formulation with Joe Walts

Joe Walts Brewing in Oshkosh
If you’re the homebrewing type who likes to put together your own recipes, here’s something for you. This is Joe Walts’ magnum opus on recipe formulation. A close read of what follows will definitely improve your ability to build your own beer.  Now for the bad news: Joe Walts is leaving us. After almost a year of making beer for Fox River Brewing in Oshkosh and Appleton, he’s moving on to work for Ale Asylum in Madison. We’re going to miss him in Oshkosh. Joe, you’ve been a great help to me and I appreciate all you’ve added to this blog. Thanks.

Recipe formulation is one of my favorite parts of the brewing process, and I was pretty excited when Lee asked me to write about it. I was tempted to geek out and highlight the fundamental calculations required to create beer recipes, but it would be a very long post and it wouldn't tell you anything new - provided you're willing to check out a presentation that I gave to the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild last November. The file is named 'MHTG_Recipes.pdf' and you can download it at here.

When I make a beer recipe, I enter my recipe parameters into a spreadsheet. If you visit this RePublic link, you can download two different spreadsheets that will work for homebrew recipes. The one named Recipe_School.xls corresponds with the calculations in the MHTG presentation. The other, named Recipe_Gallons.xls is more detailed and acknowledges the complex interactions of ingredients (e.g. water chemistry, iso-alpha acid saturation and the affects of yeast starters on wort properties), but it's not necessary to make good beer or to learn about recipe formulation.

The first step of recipe formulation is to decide what type of beer to make. Until you have an intuitive feel for how ingredient quantities will affect the final outcome, I think the best place to start is with the BJCP guidelines. It should be mentioned that style guidelines are great at maximizing the objectivity of beer competitions, but they're not always accurate at describing commercial beers, especially those in other countries. That said, they're great for outlining the base specifications of beers within general stylistic ranges. For example, let's say that we want to brew a Witbier. According to the guidelines the beer should have an original gravity between 1.044 and 1.052, its bitterness should be between 10 and 20 IBUs, its color should be between 2 and 4 SRM, its grainbill should consist of 50% pale base malt and 50% unmalted wheat, and that Witbiers usually contain coriander and orange peel.

Here's where the fun starts. From drinking commercial Witbiers, I know they're usually pretty sweet. For a summer thirst quencher, I want something a little drier than a typical Wit. How do we address that? Disregard whatever you know about how Witbiers are mashed and perform a single infusion mash at 149 degf. Another method would be to replace the unmalted wheat with malted wheat, since malted wheat will contribute more amylase enzymes to the mash. It would be a shame to lose the unique flavor that unmalted wheat provides, though, so we'll stick with the BJCP grainbill. What about orange peel and coriander? They're nice spices and all, but they're totally played. Let's make something that could pair well with Mexican food. How does replacing the orange peel and coriander with lime peel and cilantro sound? Whether it sounds good or bad, you won't know the truth until you try it. Since Mexican food is usually somewhat spicy, and hops pair well with spice, we should hop the beer at the higher end of the bitterness range. 20 IBUs sounds good. Replacing the standard European hops with something like Amarillo should add a layer of citrus that works well with the lime and cilantro. As far as the processes go, though, we'll still be brewing something pretty similar to a BJCP Witbier.

In both of my recipe spreadsheets, white cells are your chosen variables and blue cells are the calculated results. From this point forward, I'll assume we'll build the recipe in the Recipe_School spreadsheet. Here's the information we'll need to know:
  • Target serving volume
  • Target original gravity
  • Target hop bitterness
  • Target boil time
  • Yeast strain and expected apparent attenuation
  • Maximum brewhouse efficiency (the percentage of available mash sugars that your brewing system can extract for a low-gravity beer)
  • Typical boil evaporation rate of your brewery
  • Typical losses in your brewery due to mash tun, kettle and fermenter geometries
  • Color, typical yield and extract contribution of each fermentable ingredient
  • Target mash temperature
  • Target water-to-grain ratio
  • Dry grain temperature prior to mashing
  • Hop varieties, alpha acid levels, form (pellet or whole), time added relative to the boil and usage rates of flavor/aroma hops (in lbs/barrel)
  • Other ingredient usages
  • Yeast type (dry or liquid) and beer type (ale, lager or hybrid)
Let's assume a 5-gallon batch and choose a mid-range original gravity of 1.048. We already know that we'll be hopping the beer to 20 IBUs. Boiling for an hour is usually a good compromise between protein coagulation, alpha acid isomerization and DME volatilization vs. not evaporating too much water (homebrew systems have much higher surface-to-volume ratios than commercial systems and therefore evaporate much higher percentages of kettle water). The obvious yeast choice for a Witbier is Wyeast Belgian Witbier or Wyeast Belgian Wit Ale. According to Kristen England, both products are the Hoegaarden strain. Since we'll be mashing at a low temperature and we all know to oxygenate the hell out of our worts, we can assume the high end of the manufacturers' attenuation ranges. Wyeast claims 76% and White Labs claims 78%; we'll use 76% because it sucks to end up with less ABV than you plan for.

The grain-handling system I use at home - an adjustable hand-cranked mill and a 10-gallon Gatorade cooler with a false bottom - will give me brewhouse efficiencies around 92% for low-gravity beers. Most people aren't as geeky about water chemistry as I am (that's a good thing), though, so let's assume a maximum brewhouse efficiency of 85%. I'm not sure how much wort I lose to my mash tun geometry (I'm talking about wort below the pickup tube, not wort retained by spent grains), so I just call it a gallon to be super safe. My 9-gallon kettle and propane burner typically evaporates 1.2 gallons per hour and I typically leave about 0.65 gallons of wort behind in my kettle. My spigot is crappily high, though, so I bet you usually lose less wort than me. Let's assume a kettle loss of 0.5 gallons. My fermenter, an unusually-modified (not by me) 10-gallon cornie keg, loses another 0.65 gallons. Assuming you're using a glass carboy, let's lower that number to 0.3 gallons.

For a Belgian ale, using Belgian pilsner malt makes sense. Its color (according to a manufacturer) is 1.6L and, as the BJCP says, it will account for 50% of the total wort extract. Because the starches of flaked wheat are already gelatinized, it makes sense to use flaked wheat instead of raw wheat. Briess flaked wheat has a color of 2.0L and will account for the other 50% of the total wort extract. The presentation I mentioned earlier lists some typical ingredient yields. From that chart, we can assume a yield of 76% for Belgian pilsner malt and 64% for flaked wheat. Since most barley starches gelatinize at 149 degf, that's the lowest temperature you should mash at for single-infusion mashes. Otherwise, a lot of your enzymatic conversion will happen during the sparge. It'll work that way, but it'll be less efficient and completely unpredictable in terms of fermentability. If you want high fermentability, which we do for this beer, mash at 149-150 degf. If you want low fermentability, i.e. a lot of dextrins in the wort, shoot for mash temperatures of 154+ degf. Let's assume we'll be mashing this beer at 149 degf.

Typical water-to-grain ratios are around 1.2 qt/lb to 1.5 qt/lb. I usually mash at 1.5 qt/lb because thinner mashes increase fermentability, but mashing thicker is useful for high-gravity beers because your first runnings are stronger. Mashing thicker than that (numbers lower than 1.2 qt/lb) results in efficiency losses because there's not enough water to dissolve all of the grain sugars at once, which raises the gravity of the last runnings that are lost to the mash tun and spent grains. Thinner than 1.5 qt/lb can also result in efficiency losses because the low density of the first runnings causes the sparge water to mix with it to a greater degree (therefore also increasing the gravity of the last runnings). Since we're not making a high gravity beer, and we want the wort to be as fermentable as possible, let's mash at 1.5 qt/lb. Let's also assume your dry grain is 72 degf.

My general bittering strategy is to use the same varieties as my flavor/aroma hops when my target bitterness is below 20-30 IBUs. When my target bitterness is higher than that, I like to use a clean high-alpha bittering hop - such as Magnum - to keep the vegetative matter low. For massively-hopped beers such as double IPAs, where late hop additions contribute significant amounts of the total IBUs, using high-alpha hops for both bittering and the bulk of flavor/aroma additions becomes essential. Thankfully, we've chosen a simple recipe today. Let's use Amarillo for everything. Here are some rules-of-thumb that I like to use for flavor/aroma hopping rates (these are certainly not gospel):
  • 0 to 0.2 lbs/barrel for malty lagers and beers where yeast flavors dominate0 to 0.8 lbs/barrel for moderately-bitter beers
  • 1+ lbs/barrel for hop-focused beers like APAs and IPAs
Adding hops 20 minutes before the end of the boil is more typical for continental beers, though, so we'll stick with the tried-and-true and follow suit. According to HopUnion, the alpha acid content of Amarillo is typically around 8-11%. Until we actually buy the hops and know what we're getting, let's assume the middle value of 9.5%. Let's also assume we'll be using pellets because they stay fresh longer than whole hops and they're often easier to find.

According to some brewers on the forums, typical usage rates for orange peel are 0.35-0.75 oz per 5 gallons. With spices, it's better to be too low than too high. Let's use 1/2 oz of lime zest for our beer. I don't know anything about using cilantro in beer, so we'll just need to try it out and see how it works. Let's start with half the weight of lime zest and use 1/4 oz. I doubt there's such a thing as too little cilantro.

Finally, the limited variety of dry yeasts will force us to use a liquid yeast strain. Witbiers are solidly in the "ale" category with respect to fermentation characteristics. Here's what the spreadsheet spat out:
  • Belgian Pilsner malt = 4 lb 9 oz
  • Flaked what = 5 lb 7 oz
  • Total water = 8.7 gal
  • Mash water = 3.7 gal
  • Mash water strike temperature = 159 degf
  • Target pre-boil volume = 7 gal
  • Target pre-boil gravity = 1.039
  • Target post-boil volume = 5.8 gal
  • Expected final gravity = 1.012
  • Expected alcohol content = 4.7% abv
  • Amarillo hops for bittering (beginning of boil) = 0.5 oz
  • Amarillo hops for flavor/aroma (20 minutes from boil end) = 0.3 oz
  • Required yeast cells = 182 billion -> yeast starter volume = 1138 mL
My presentation lists a number of additional resources for creating recipes. Good luck and have fun!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Chief Oshkosh Red Lager Story

Jeff Fulbright at the Stevens Point Brewery
“Did you know one of America’s great little beers comes from Oshkosh?” That was the lead-in to a magazine advertisement from 1993 for Chief Oshkosh Red Lager. Seventeen years later the beer and the company that produced it are gone, but the man who almost single-handedly returned the name Oshkosh to beer shelves throughout the Midwest is still here and his innovations continue to influence American craft brewing. Jeff Fulbright’s beer was the first American beer to identify itself as a Red Lager, it was the first Craft Beer to be sold in cans and it was the first American beer to use Belgian Cara-Munich malt. Now, almost 20 years after Fulbright began making his beer, Red Lagers are ubiquitous, craft brewers are waking-up to the advantages of canning their beer and nearly every brew-pub and craft brewery in America makes at least some of their beer using the Belgian Malts that Fulbright helped to introduce.

Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was produced for just four years, but its roots run much deeper. As a college student at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh in the 1970s, Jeff Fulbright knew about the demise of Chief Oshkosh beer and had a vague notion about reviving the brand. The idea grew more substantial in the mid-80s while Fulbright was working as a restaurateur in Florida. “I saw this thing coming up,” Fulbright said. “I was a drinker of European beer and when the American micro-beer movement started I was immediately attracted to the idea of creating my own beer and selling it to the public.”

Fulbright moved back to Wisconsin and began putting together a business plan for a new brewery based in Oshkosh. As part of his research, he attended the Great American Beer Festival where he had a fortuitous encounter with Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Company and brewer of Samuel Adams beer. Fulbright told Koch of his desire to open a brewery and sell an updated version of Chief Oshkosh beer. Koch’s response set the course for what would become the Mid-Coast Brewing Company of Oshkosh. Koch advised Fulbright to forget about building his own brewery. The market already had too much capacity. He told Fulbright he’d have a better shot if he made his beer at someone else's brewery. Koch also suggested that Fulbright go back to school and learn first-hand what it takes to make great beer. Fulbright took the advice to heart. He enrolled at the Siebel Institute and began his training as a brewer.

When he arrived at Siebel, Fulbright had a solid idea of the beer he wanted to make. “My favorite style of beer at the time was Oktoberfest,” Fulbright says. “I wanted to do a toned-down version of an Oktoberfest that people could drink throughout the year.” Fulbright also wanted his own stamp on the beer. He began experimenting with specialty malts from Belgium. These malts were largely unknown to American brewers at the time, but the Siebel Institute had recently begun importing them for testing. Eventually Fulbright settled on a Belgian Cara-Munich malt that gave the beer its sweet, malty character and distinctive “red” hue. Fulbright says he’d love to claim all the credit for developing the beer, but admits that he was still learning about brewing as he worked-up the recipe. Much of what he learned came from David S. Ryder, who went on to become the Brewmaster for Miller Brewing, but was then an instructor at Siebel. “Ryder was a brilliant brewer,” Fulbright says, “and he had a good idea of what I wanted to brew.” With the help of Ryder, Fulbright honed the recipe by brewing a series of 10-gallon batches. “The beer was born at Seibel,” Fulbright says.

Fulbright graduated from the Siebel Institute in 1989. Now he had to find a place to brew. The obvious choice was the old Stevens Point Brewery just 70 miles northwest of Oshkosh. In 1990 The the 133-year-old Point Brewery was fighting for its life. It struggled to maintain the relevancy of its signature lager in a complex marketplace dominated by corporate behemoths and a slew of attention grabbing upstarts making trendy micro-brews. But the brewery had an adventurous Brewmaster named John Zappa and Fulbright’s plan for making a craft beer that recalled the glory days of Wisconsin brewing appealed to him. Fulbright made his final pilot brew of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager on November 21, 1990 at Siebel and submitted the recipe to Zappa. The following spring, they began to brew.

Making Fulbright’s idea a reality wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t easy. All of his resources were funneled into the production of the beer. “At first, I had to pay for everything upfront," Fulbright says. "I spent thousands getting it started.” In May of 1991, Fulbright and Zappa began brewing the beer in 100 barrel batches, each of them learning along the way. For Fulbright, large-scale production brewing was an altogether new experience while the brewers at Point had to adapt to imported malts and hops that the brewery hadn’t used before. Fulbright says he always oversaw the brewing of his beer. “I spent a lot of time up in Point and got to know John Zappa. I always considered his ideas, but he knew this was my beer. It was my formula.”

In June of 1991 Chief Oshkosh Red Lager hit the market. The first public tasting of the beer was held on Wednesday, June 19th at the Oshkosh Hilton. About 45 people were on hand to try the new beer and the following morning the Oshkosh Northwestern ran a photograph taken at the event showing Fulbright and Zappa joining in a toast with Fulbright's brewing mentor David S. Ryder. America's first Red Lager was born.

Initially the beer was sold only in cans. Mid-Coast Brewing was strapped for cash and cans were the least expensive packaging option, but Fulbright saw it as an opportunity. Early ads for the beer make a point of the fact that it was the only American all-malt beer to be packaged this way and asserted that cans offered better protection for the beer and were more environmentally friendly. Fulbright's ad copy from the period was prescient. Fifteen years later, the idea of craft beer in cans began to catch on and brewers now typically promote their canned beer using language that closely echos Fulbright's early arguments. But Fulbright may have been a little too far ahead of his time. Canned beer had a down-scale image in 1991. Trying to convince drinkers of premium beer that cans were the best way to preserve quality was a tough sell. “The idea that great beer doesn't come in a can hurt me,” Fulbright says.

In spite of that, the beer did well. The original retailers were clustered in Winnebago, Outagamie and Fond du Lac Counties and at $3.99 a six-pack it was pitched as a high-end beer at an affordable price. Six months after the beer was introduced Fulbright told the Milwaukee Journal, “We sold in three counties what we thought we’d sell in 13.” In addition to store sales the beer went on tap in a number of bars in Oshkosh including Oblio’s, the B & B Tap and the Pioneer Inn. It wasn’t always easy getting some of the older taverns in Oshkosh to take on the beer. “I went to all the taverns in town,” Fulbright says. “I’d go in and have some old-geezer tavern owner yelling at me ‘I can’t sell that dark shit!’”

As sales increased so did the beer’s recognition. Reviews of the Red Lager were mostly favorable with several noted beer writers weighing in. Michael Jackson, author of the New World Guide to Beer and the leading beer writer of his time, praised the beer for its “unapologetic, robust sweetness” and its “delicate hint of hop.” Homebrew guru and editor of Zymurgy Magazine, Charlie Papazian called it “a pleasantly great beer” and Mike Bosak, editor of All About Beer Magazine, wrote that the beer was “just delightful.” Beer aficionados weren’t the only people taking note. A number of breweries and brew-pubs glommed onto Fulbright’s idea and within a year of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager’s introduction there were more than a dozen other Red Lagers being sold in America.

Meanwhile, Fulbright continued to push his beer. In early 1992 he struck a deal with Beer Capitol Distributing who brought the beer into Milwaukee. The beer was now being sold throughout the state and in June of 1992 became available in bottles. Fulbright used the National Micro-and Pubbrewers Conference that year to introduce his new bottle saying “The new package will properly establish the correct, quality image for this hand-crafted, all-malt beer.” With production ramped up to 2,000 barrels for the year, Fulbright had his work cut out for him. From the start, Mid-Coast Brewing was a one-man operation and Fulbright liked it that way. He did all the promotion, took care of the accounts, oversaw the brewing and negotiated his own distribution agreements. “I was a one man band,” Fulbright says. You can see his mark on everything identified with Mid-Coast Brewing. Newspaper and magazine ads for the beer were written by Fulbright and they stood in stark contrast to the promotions of other brewers. The ads were serious and wordy and usually tagged with Fulbright’s signature. The back of the cans and bottles featured a detailed description of the beer and its connection to the history of brewing in Oshkosh along with Fulbright’s invitation to try his beer. Fulbright had carved out an identity for his beer that was as much his own as that of the history his beer referenced.

By 1993 Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was poised to become one of the nation’s most well-known micro-brews. In January, Fulbright made an agreement with Western International Imports of Chicago to market his beer nationally. Fulbright said at the time, "This partnership will give Chief Oshkosh the kind of backing that should make this beer a major player in the microbeer segment.” Western International wanted a Midwestern micro-brew that they could make big and planned to position Fulbright’s beer as the Midwestern equivalent of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. They launched an ambitious campaign to distribute the beer and within months, Chief Oshkosh Red Lager became the most widely distributed beer ever to be based in Oshkosh. But the new partnership made it necessary for Fulbright to relinquish control over the distribution of his beer. The agreement allowed Western International to order beer directly from the Point brewery and Fulbright soon found it difficult to keep up with the additional expenses associated with the increased production needed to fill the orders.

It wasn't just money woes Fulbright was forced to contend with. In 1992 David S. Ryder, the Siebel instructor who had helped Fulbright develop his beer, went to work for Miller Brewing. A year later, Miller subsidiary Leinenkugel Brewing brought out a Red Lager that was extraordinarily similar to the beer Fulbright was making. "You could hardly tell the difference between the two beers," Fulbright says. Worse yet, Leinenkugel had access to Miller's massive distribution network. The squeeze was on.

Fulbright battled back by trying to expand the Mid-Coast portfolio. He planned for a series of draught-only beers that would include an Oatmeal Stout, a Dopplebock and a Bavarian Dunkel and in late 1993 he began brewing Munich Gold, a German Helles beer. "I really liked the Munich Gold," Fulbright says. "I really thought it was a good beer and a last shot at expansion. It was a last ditch effort to keep the brand alive." And though Chief Oshkosh Red Lager continued to gain acceptance, winning a silver medal at the 1994 World Beer Championships, market pressure grew more intense. Leinenkugel's Red Lager was now being sold throughout the United States and Fulbright was finding it increasingly difficult to compete. "When Leinenkugel's moved in, my distributors lost interest in my beer," Fulbright says. "We started getting killed. It was a tsunami."

The competition proved to be too much. By late 1994 Mid-Coast Brewing had exhausted its capital and though Fulbright continued to fight, the battle was essentially over. "Basically we ran out of money," Fulbright says. "I tried to be as aggressive as possible with no money, but we were in our death throes. It was a struggle against big business. The big guy won. We didn’t stand a chance."

On December 30, 1994 the last batch of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was brewed. It was a 200 barrel brew and sales of that beer continued on through the first half of 1995. Then it was gone. And with it went Fulbright's hope of one day building a new brewery for his beer in Oshkosh.

Still, it was an incredible experience for Fulbright and if he's bitter about how it all came out, he certainly doesn't show it. If he has a regret it appears to be this: "I only wish more people knew how much effort went into it. This thing wasn’t as simplistic as most people think it was. This wasn't just some contract beer. I stuck everything I had into it. There was real effort and real thought put into making a good beer. I gave it everything."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oshkosh Beer of the Week: Gumballhead Wheat Ale

Here’s something new we’re going to add to the blog. Each Thursday we’ll try (try being the operative word) to do a post called the Oshkosh Beer of the Week. It’ll be a quick note about a good beer that’s available in Oshkosh either on tap or at one of the local beer selling stores. Your thoughts on the beers featured here are always welcome and if you come across a great beer that you’d like others to know about, the comments section is always open.

Sunburn, mosquitoes, flooding and wheat beer. It’s all part of summer in Oshkosh. I can live with the other stuff, but I’ve had my fill of non-descript, light ales dressed up as wheat beers when they’re really nothing more than timid brews made with little-to-no character aimed at people who don’t much care for the flavor of beer. Here’s the remedy to all of that: Gumballhead Wheat Ale recently went on tap at Oblio's and it’s a breed apart from the typical Sally beer calling itself a wheat. In fact, you might have a hard time guessing it’s a wheat beer.

The beer pours golden and slightly hazy with an atypically thin head. But here’s where it really starts going it’s own way: The nose is all piny hops. The beer is definitely dry hopped making it an oddity among wheats. It drinks with a bright, juicy-citrus hop flavor, but it isn’t overtly bitter. Those hops match-up nicely to the slight doughiness of the wheat to make for a brew that’s easy to drink and thirst quenching without being dull. The beer closes with a pronounced dryness that clears the palate nicely. This is an interesting beer from start to finish.

Todd at Oblio’s says the tap version Gumballhead varies form the bottled variety and I’m with him on that. The bubblegum and bananas aspect of the beer that you get from the bottle is significantly muted on tap. That’s fine by me. It makes the beer much more drinkable and suitable for a good, long summer session. Finally, we’ve got a wheat that pairs nicely with our sunburn, mosquitoes and floods. Ahhhhhshkosh.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The New Belgium Beer-Fest at Barley & Hops

There’s nothing like a beer festival to liven up the week. Tomorrow night (Wednesday, August 4th) Barley & Hops will be throwing another of their mid-week beer fests. This time they’ll be featuring the beers of New Belgium. They’re bringing in 16 different beers from the brewery including four from the incredible Lips of Faith series. If you haven’t tried the Lips of Faith beers yet, this would be the perfect chance to taste what they’re all about. This is New Belgium’s premium line of small-batch brews and I’ve yet to have one that wasn’t excellent. New Belgium calls these their “playground beers” and if you’re up for something a little different these brews definitely fit the bill.

Nate at Barley & Hops continues to expand these tastings and this time around he’ll have a table featuring wines from Sycamore Lanes in addition to a blended margarita and rum runners table. They’ll also be pouring Crispin Cider. Even if you’re not big on cider this one is worth sampling. There’s something here for everyone and at $10 you certainly can’t beat the price. The party runs from 7-10 pm and when you get through the door I’d suggest you head directly for the Lips of Faith Belgian Style Blonde Ale that will be pouring on tap. It’s a tasty 8.5% golden strong ale and it’ll get your night started right.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Barrel Full of Stories

Scott Krumenauer has some great stories about growing up at a time when the last dregs of Oshkosh’s early beer culture were draining away. From exploring the defunct and deserted Oshkosh breweries, to being an underage patron in Steckbauer’s famous Sixth-Ward saloon, he has a connection to the earlier Oshkosh that few people who came of age in the 1970s can speak of. But my favorite story of his goes like this: One afternoon in the mid-1980s he was kicking around at an abandoned property in the 900 block of North Sawyer when he came upon an old barrel. He carted it home, cleaned it off and found that he had come upon a genuine relic of Oshkosh brewing history. The barrel is from the Horn and Schwalm brewery, which operated independently from 1864 until 1894 when it joined with two other breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. The barrel head has two brands upon it. The first being from the Horn and Schwalm brewery and the second, from a later date, with the letters “OBCo” marking the point in time when Horn and Schwalm merged into the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Scott hasn’t been able to fix an exact date on the barrel, but it probably first went into use sometime between 1870 and 1890.

So how did this barrel find its way to North Sawyer Street? It may have been brought there by a man named Thomas A. Getchius, a notorious character from turn-of-the-century Oshkosh. Getchius was the first to build on the land where Scott found the barrel and the property remained with the Getchius family until it was left vacant in 1983. It’s impossible to verify who actually brought the barrel there, but when you delve into Getchius' background it starts looking like a pretty fair bet that at some point this barrel was his.

T.A. Getchius was a saloon owner, a beer bottler, an Oshkosh Alderman, a member of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors, an employee of the Paine Lumber Mill, a farmer, a feed store owner and more. Through it all, though, Getchius was a beer man. He was born in Oshkosh in 1859 and appears to have been a hell-raiser from the start. A former teacher remembered him as the school's "bad boy" whose formal education had come to an end by the time he was 14. The better part of Getchius' training took place at his father's grocery store and saloon where he worked as a young man. By 1885 Getchius had taken over his father's saloon and soon expanded it to include a dance hall and a side business named the Algoma Bottling Works where he bottled beer for, as he liked to put it, "family use."

The Getchius saloon and bottling company were located at what is now the south east corner of Oshkosh Avenue and Punhoqua Street. Today you’ll find the serene West Algoma Park there, but the spot wasn’t so peaceful when Getchius roamed the land. Getchius was nicknamed "The Old Roman" and the action inside his saloon often had a decidedly romanesque bent. In 1890 the Daily Northwestern published a florid rant about the bar complaining that the "rough characters" who patronized the saloon had brought "annoyance and fear" to the once quiet neighborhood. The paper accused Getchius of transforming “a respectable place" into a Bucket of Blood sort of joint where "the feet of lewd women and tougher men knocked out time to the tunes of a cracked orchestra." The Northwestern piece goes on to describe a "disgraceful row" that had taken place at the bar over a dice game. The brawl involved the Dwyer brothers of Omro, a pool cue and one Alfred Bradley whose "face resembled a broken balloon" when the dust settled. Bradley recovered, but according to the Northwestern he thereafter looked like an "exhibition in a dime museum."

But it wasn't all dice and fights at the Getchius stand. In addition to running his saloon, Getchius was employed as a laborer at the Paine Lumber Mill while simultaneously building the Algoma Bottling Works into a successful beer bottling operation. Prior to the 1890s, a tangle of laws prevented breweries from bottling their beer on site. In Oshkosh, beer bottling often fell to saloon keepers who sold packaged beer as a sideline to their main concern. The bottling process of the time was fairly crude with bottlers siphoning beer from barrels into bottles that were then sealed with either cork or porcelain stoppers. Getchius’ bottling works appears to have been somewhat more advanced than the typical set-up as he employed at least two other men in his bottling operation and managed to keep the business afloat even after brewers were permitted to bottle their beer at the brewery.

Change was afoot, though, and Getchius must have realized that men who made their livelihood selling beer were in for trouble. With the 1890s came an influx of beer brewed and bottled in Milwaukee making it impossible for local operators like Getchius to compete. Getchius closed the Algoma Bottling Works in 1896 and three years later left the saloon business.

The Old Roman moved on. He had taken to politics and in 1898 became an alderman representing Oshkosh's Twelfth Ward. Getchius brought the turbulence of his saloon years along with him to City Hall. As a politician he was blunt and combative. He became known for his knowledge of parliamentary procedure and utter lack of tact. There are numerous examples of Getchius standing before the Council and saying things nobody wanted to hear. In February of 1901 he cut to the heart of the prostitution problem in Oshkosh saying the matter shouldn’t be so difficult to resolve since “the chief of police knows who the disreputable women are.” The Northwestern dryly noted that “Mr. Getchius’ speech was a surprise to most of the people in the room.”

Around 1911 Getchius moved his family to Sawyer Street and built a home on the property where the barrel was found more than 70 years later. In 1913 Getchius was elected to the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors. His wild steak hadn’t abated. He was known to get up on his desk at board meetings and dance a jig during lulls in the proceedings. And it was there that Getchius cemented his reputation as a beer man. In 1926, during the depths of Prohibition and his last year on the County Board, Getchius introduced a resolution condemning Prohibition and encouraging the liberalization of the dry law to allow for beer. The resolution carried no legal weight, but in the words of Getchius “it would show Congress the sentiment of the people in this section.” The measure passed 29 to 11.

The Old Roman at Rest
Getchius spent the last years of his life quietly tending to a farm in Redgranite. He died after a six-month illness on August 18, 1931. Three days later he was buried at Riverside cemetery in Oshkosh. A lifetime after his death, it doesn’t matter whether or not Thomas A. Getchius actually owned the empty keg that Scott Krumenauer found on Sawyer Street. More important is that The Old Roman would undoubtedly appreciate that the cause for our remembering him is an old barrel that once brimmed with Oshkosh beer.