Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Taking a short break for the Holidays... see you all 2014!


Monday, December 23, 2013

The Oshkosh Flip

As we all know, the holiday season is a decidedly mixed bag. It can be fun, disgusting, heart warming and stomach turning – sometimes all at the same time. Just like the Oshkosh Flip.

A Flip is a beer cocktail that’s been around since at least the late 1600s and probably much earlier. It was popular in colonial-era America, but the ale-based Flip began to fade in the mid-1800s as the country’s tastes shifted in favor of lager beer. With the American craft beer movement predicated upon ale, perhaps it’s time we revive the Flip.

A basic Flip entails the heating of a dark ale that’s been given a dose of sugar and a dash of nutmeg or ginger. The warmed ale blend is then spiked with a mixture of egg yolk and rum that’s been beaten to a froth. Since we’re doing an Oshkosh Flip, I thought we ought to make the cocktail more in line with our native tastes. Rum? To hell with that. We’re from Wisconsin, we drink brandy!

Here’s what you'll need and how to make it:

  • 8 oz. of dark ale – go with a porter or stout. I wanted to make mine a true Oshkosh Flip, so I used the Breakfast Stout from Fox River Brewing Company. I liked the roasted coffee notes this beer added. You can find Breakfast Stout in the cooler at Fratellos. But if you can’t get that, just about any stout or porter should work. 
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • Stir it all together in a pan and heat it gently.
  • While your sweetened ale warms, pour 1 ounce of brandy over a 1 egg yolk in a separate bowl and whip it to a froth.
  • When the ale mixture has reached the temperature of blood, add the egg yolk/brandy and stir together.
  • Pour slowly into a goblet and enjoy.

I was surprised by how much I liked this. Warm beer and raw egg may sound like a nasty combination, but the drink was tasty and oddly fortifying. Maybe it was the warmed alcohol going to my head, but on a cold winter night, this is just about right.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Gift of Beer

We’re getting down to the wire, folks. If you’re still searching for a gift for that beer lover in your life, let me help you (while I help myself).

The Breweries of Oshkosh might be just what you’re looking for. It’s all about our town’s incredible history of beer and brewing. It begins in 1849 and takes us up to the revived beer scene of Oshkosh today. This 160-page, hard-cover book includes more than 300 images, many of them in full color. It was published in September 2012 and there are just about 100 copies left. Beer Cans & Brewery Collectibles Magazine says, “Readers will have no problem sticking around to the end of this entertaining book... highly recommended, and not just for Cheeseheads.”

In Oshkosh, it’s available for $39.95 at Apple Blossom Books, Camera Casino, Paper Tiger Book Store and Originals Mall of Antiques. You can also purchase it online and receive free shipping. Or you can contact me at OshkoshBeer@gmail.com and I’ll make sure you get it before Christmas. It’s all about beer and Oshkosh. It’s gotta be good.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Beer Brewing Rahrs of Wisconsin

Rahr Beer in Manitowoc
The name Rahr was once synonymous with beer in Northeast Wisconsin. And the story of the Rahr family is central to the history of brewing in this part of the state. That story begins in 1847 when a 35-year-old brewer named Wilhelm Peter Mathias Rahr left his native city of Wesel, Germany to come to America. Rahr went to Manitowoc where he immediately took up where he had left off by establishing Manitowoc’s Eagle Brewery, one of the first lager breweries in Northeast Wisconsin.

Rahr’s exploits in the new world caught the attention of three adventurous family members still in Germany. In 1853, Wilhelm’s nephew Henry Rahr made the transatlantic crossing then made his way to his uncle’s brewery. Henry was soon followed by his brothers Charles and August. The Manitowoc brewery would be the training ground for the Rahr family of brewers prior to their setting out on their own.

Rahr Beer in Green Bay
Henry was the first of the brothers to stake his own brewing claim. In 1858, Henry Rahr and August Hochgreve established the Shantytown Brewery in what is now the Village of Bellevue; just southeast of Green Bay. His brothers August and Charles would follow Henry to Bellevue, but it wasn’t long before Henry would set out again. In 1865, Henry split with Hochgreve and launched what came to be known as the Rahr Green Bay Brewing Company on the East River. It was the first brewery within the City of Green Bay. That same year, August and Charles Rahr went to Oshkosh.

On July 10, 1865, August and Charles Rahr purchased five acres of land on the shore of Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh and began setting up their brewery. It would first be known as the City Brewery and later as the Rahr Brewing Company. There were now three Rahr family breweries in Northeast Wisconsin: Wilhelm Rahr’s Eagle Brewery in Manitowoc; Henry Rahr’s East Side Brewery in Green Bay; and Charles & August Rahr’s City Brewery in Oshkosh. On their respective home turfs, all three were better known as the “Rahr Brewery.” That wasn’t a problem in the early years when the local brews remained local, but later the shared name would lead to confusion as Rahr beers began traveling beyond their cities of origin.

Rahr Beer in Oshkosh
The Manitowoc Rahrs were the first to begin brewing, but were also the first to stop making beer. The Manitowoc brewery, then known as The William Rahr Sons' Company, ceased brewing with the onset of Prohibition in 1919. But the lucrative malting business they operated in tandem with the brewery continued to thrive. By the early 1890s, the Manitowoc Rahrs were selling malt to Anheuser-Busch Brewing. The association would help ensure the success of Rahr Malting, which grew into one of the largest maltsters in the nation. Anheuser-Busch purchased the Manitowoc Malting Plant in 1962, but the Rahr family remains in the malting and brewing supply business and now has a global customer base.

The Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh discontinued brewing in 1956 after 91 years in operation as a family-owned business. And a decade later, the 100-year-old Rahr Brewing Company of Green Bay closed. The rights to its labels were purchased by the Oshkosh Brewing Company, which began producing the Green Bay Rahr brands in Oshkosh. Even people in Oshkosh were puzzled by this new Rahr beer being brewed here. David Gehrke remembers seeing the Rahr trucks come to town. “It was pretty confusing to me,” Gehrke says. “I always thought Rahr's was an old brand from Oshkosh, and all of the trucks across from OBC (Oshkosh Brewing Company) had "Rahr Green Bay Brewing Company" painted on the doors. Little did I know that the Rahr acquisition might have been some sort of last gasp for OBC.” Last gasp is right. In 1971, the Oshkosh Brewing Company went out of business and with that Rahr beer in Northeast Wisconsin became a thing of the past.

Rahr Beer in Texas
But it wasn’t the end of Rahr beer. In 2004, Frederick William Rahr, Jr – the great-great-grandson of Manitowoc’s Wilhelm Rahr – established Rahr & Sons Brewing in Fort Worth, Texas. The Texas Rahr is well aware of his lineage and has pledged to “follow in the traditions of my family and brew majestic lagers and rich ales using age-old recipes in the styles of the Rahr brew masters of the past.” The brewery has won numerous awards including several for traditional lagers of the sort that the Rahrs of Wisconsin were well known for. Now if we could only get some of that Rahr beer up here in Wisconsin.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout Tapping at Gardina's


Hard to believe that we’ve already arrived at chapter five of "Gardina's Beer Bar" series, but there you have it. The fifth installment of the monthly special at Gardina’s gets under way tomorrow evening (Tuesday, December 17) with the keg being tapped at 6 p.m.

The beer poised to pour this time is a colossus: Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout. This is a limited edition Imperial Stout that’s aged in bourbon barrels and then blended with cold-brewed coffee. It’s 14.3% ABV and gets a 100 rating on both RateBeer and Beer Advocate, where it currently sits at #4 on their Top 250 Beers list. This is a rare one, for sure. Go to it, Geeks!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler: Brandy Barrel XV

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What: Brandy Barrel XV, an aged Barleywine sold in 22oz, waxed bottles.

Where: Fratellos Fox River Brewing Company in Oshkosh

Why: Because we all need a challenge every now and then and this beer is definitely that. But in the best possible way. It began life as a plus-size Barleywine at 9.7% ABV. After primary fermentation, it was transferred into a Korbel Brandy barrel for an extended period of aging and where it travelled north of 10% ABV. From there it was split into 400 bombers that have been hand-dipped in wax. What now pours from those bottles is a massively complex ale that’s a nice buffer against these bone-chilling nights. The beer flows dark and thick with the ripe scent of stone fruit. Layer after layer of aroma and flavor come up as the beer settles and warms in the glass. Brandied fruits, fig cookies, vanilla, oak, molasses... all of it underpinned with a warming boziness. Split this with a good friend and take a good long time to enjoy all the flavors that keep peeling up.

At Fratellos their selling this from the beer cooler for $15 a bottle (but make sure you let it get warm; their cooler temps are frigid). I liked the first bottle so much I bought a second that I’m going to cellar for as much time as I can stand to. We’ll see how long I can hold out.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Firkin For Friday at O’Marro’s Public House

This cask-conditioned ale thing is started to gain some ground in Oshkosh. It’s about time. Another barrel comes rolling in to Oshkosh this Friday (Dec 13) at O’Marro’s Public House where Shawn is going to drive the spile into a cask of Abita Oak-Aged Pecan Harvest Ale (5.2% ABV). This beer starts as a classic, English Brown Ale that gets a brewhouse addition of toasted Louisiana pecans followed by a period of aging in oak barrels. The cask gets tapped at 6 p.m. You might want to get there on time because it’s a fun thing to witness. Here’s more about Abita’s Firkin program and here’s the Facebook page for the event.

On another O’Marro’s note; this past Sunday (Dec. 8) the first Brew Session at O’Marro’s took place. The session sold out with the crew brewing a Pilsner. The next Brew Session will be an IPA taking place Sunday, December 15. Last I heard there were two spots still open. If you want in, call call Shawn or Kyle at 410-7735. And here’s the Facebook event page for that one.

Monday, December 9, 2013

There’s An SOB at Pigeon River

Brett Hintz Brewing at Pigeon River
The December edition of the Oshkosh SCENE is out and available all over town. In this month’s Oshkosh Beer Garden column, I write about the explosive growth in brewery numbers and feature a couple of small, rural breweries that have recently popped up in Northeast Wisconsin. One of those breweries, Pigeon River Brewing of Marion, has a strong Oshkosh connection. Its head brewer is Brett “Bub” Hintz, a resident of Oshkosh and a member of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers.

Hintz started out brewing in Marion while he was still in high school. One day in band class fellow tuba player Nate Knaack suggested that they try making beer. Hintz was up for it. Their brewing adventure had begun. A decade later, Knaack is the owner of Pigeon River Brewing and Hintz is the man behind the brewery’s beer. “It’s come full circle,” Hintz says. “We started brewing and that was it. It’s like our course in life was set at that point.”

In addition to brewing at Pigeon River, Hintz holds down a full-time job in Oshkosh and still manages to find time to homebrew. Over the past few years, I’ve had a slew of his homebrew. One of my favorites is his Dunkelweizen, an ale that’s also in regular rotation at Pigeon River. But going from homebrewer to pro-brewer took some doing. “It was a learning curve for all of us,” Hintz says. “The process is the same, it’s just learning how to deal with the material in such large quantities.”

But that homebrew spirit remains intact. This is still small-batch beer that he’s brewing at Pigeon River – six barrels at a time – and it’s all done by hand. Even the equipment Hintz is brewing on at Pigeon River is home made. Much of it was built by Keith Gillaume in the late 1990s from spare parts and repurposed dairy equipment. Gillaume was a homebrewer who launched Denmark Brewing in Denmark, Wisconsin in 1999. When the Denmark brewery closed in 2008, Gillaume’s system went to O’so Brewing in Plover. When O’so expanded two years ago, the equipment made its way to Pigeon River. It’s been around, but it’s still making good beer. And Hintz is having a good time with it. “It’s been a lot of fun,’ He says. “We’ve done it for a year now, so everything isn’t so brand new anymore. I’m just really excited.”

For more on Pigeon River Brewing, check out their website.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dogfish Head Tasting at Oblio’s

In 2011, Dogfish Head handed Wisconsin a Dear John letter saying the brewery just couldn’t keep up with demand. And that was the end of Dogfish Head being distributed in Wisconsin for the next couple years. In the meantime, the Delaware brewery launched a massive expansion that will eventually enable it to produce close to a half million barrels annually. And now they’re back.

On Tuesday, trucks full of DFH beer left Delaware bound for Wisconsin. Next week some of that stash will be doled out at events in De Pere, La Crosse, Madison and...... Oshkosh. Yes, Oshkosh. Good to see they had the good sense to get us in on the first few swigs.

The Oshkosh tasting will take place at Oblio’s Lounge this coming Monday, December 9 beginning at 7:30 p.m. No word yet on what exactly they'll be pouring, but the event is free and they should have a decent selection of DFH product on hand. Shit, they even posted the Oshkosh event on the DFH website.

Lee Beverage has the distribution rights for DFH in our area, so it shouldn’t be too long before we start seeing the stuff show up on tap and in stores around here. But if your a lover of the DFH flagship beer, 60 Minute IPA, you’re still out of luck. That’s not among the beers Wisconsin will receive. Here’s what will be coming our way: 90 Minute IPA, Indian Brown Ale, Midas Touch, Palo Santo Marron, Burton Baton, Tweason’ale, 75 Minute IPA, Namaste, Hellhound On My Ale, Sah’Tea, Theobroma and Kvasir. Now if I could only pronounce half that stuff.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Appleton Beer Factory Now Pouring

We have new brewpub within easy reach. After three years of preparation and a name change, Appleton Beer Factory began pouring beer last Tuesday (Nov 26) at 603 W. College Ave. The brewery - first called Das Brewery - was announced in the fall of 2010 by Jeff Fogle, its founder and president. It took $900,000 to get the place up and brewing and they wound up with a good looking, well-appointed space. There’s a handsome bar and dining area in front with a view onto College Ave. Off to the side is a second dining/party room and in back is the large brewery. Judging by the size of that brewery, it would seem they have ambitions beyond simply supplying beer for their own bar. In addition to serving their house beers, they also plan on having other Wisconsin craft brews on tap, but when I was there Saturday that wasn’t the case.

So what about their beer? This weekend they were serving four brews; a Blonde Ale, an American Pale Ale, a Hefeweizen, and an Oatmeal Stout. They were all solid, well-made beers; certainly a good sign for a new brewery. But the beers are so conservative in both style choice and design that it’s hard to get excited about any of them. It would have been nice to see them throw in at least one beer that isn’t from the brewpub playbook of 1995. If you take a look at their Beer List it appears they intend to continue playing it close to the vest; at least in the near term. But it’s early, let’s give them a chance. Appleton Beer Factory is certainly worth checking out and keeping an eye on.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pieces of Peoples

On June 18, 1974 the equipment and fixtures of the Peoples Brewing Company were put on the auction block. The brewery had been closed for almost two years and the Small Business Administration was now seeking to recoup some of its losses after Peoples had defaulted on the $390,000 loan the SBA had guaranteed. Buyers representing Pabst, Leinenkugel’s and other brewing concerns were on hand looking to scoop up brewery supplies on the cheap. But the best deal may have been made by an Oshkosh kid named Dave Gehrke. “I decided to walk over and check things out,” Gehrke says. “I was hoping to come away with a free souvenir, so I found the auctioneer and asked him. He wanted to get rid of a pesky 14 year old (me), so he told me I could rummage through the file cabinets in the business office.”

The pictures below show what he came away with. These are printer’s art-boards from the mid-1950s containing designs for the Peoples logo and, what were then, their new tap handles. They’re one-of-kind pieces; the sort of stuff collectors of breweriana go wild for. Nice to know that while the big guys were licking their chops over the bones of the brewery, an Oshkosh kid was preserving a few small piece of our brewing history.





Monday, December 2, 2013

Barley’s Beer Sampling is Wednesday Night: Ale Asylum, Peoples Beer and a Whole Lot More

Chapter two of the 2013 Barley & Hops Beer Sampling series launches this Wednesday (Dec 4) at 7 pm. By now, I’m guessing you know what this is all about. Nate at Barley’s brings in a load of craft brews to sample with an emphasis on the beers of a featured brewery. This time the brewery in the spotlight is Ale Asylum of Madison. They’ll be pouring their regular line-up along with a spate of special brews, including three beers that will be debuting at Barley’s. In addition to the Ale Asylum beers, there will about 50 other beers along with a host of wines and liquors to sample.

And then there’s this: The Society of Oshkosh Brewers will be on hand pouring their homebrew including a couple clones of historic Oshkosh beers. SOB Jody Cleveland will have his clone of Peoples Beer and I’ll be pouring my version of Peoples Holiday Beer. It’s a strong lager that was once a holiday staple here, but hasn’t been served in Oshkosh in more than 40 years. At 7.75% ABV it’s bound to make a few spirits bright.

Barley’s Beer Sampling begins at 7pm. Advance tickets are available at Barley & Hops for $20. Tickets at the door are $25. Check out the events Facebook page HERE. See you there.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 20: Something to Be Thankful For

Click to Enlarge
Here’s a tasty ad that appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on November 26, 1935. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression when along comes the Oshkosh Brewing Company with something to be thankful for. The small type in the middle section of the ad is a little dodgy, but the words are worth repeating:

Chief Oshkosh
Pale Beer
(Pilsner Type)

Makes good food taste better. Blends.
It's brewed to bring out the the really delicious
flavor. After dinner settle back
for a whole day of peaceful enjoyment.
This Glass of Glowing Goodness (Chief
Oshkosh Pale Beer) will lead the way
to Thanksgiving and Good Cheer.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The SOBs Come Up Big

Last Wednesday night the Society of Oshkosh Brewers presented a check for $7,000 to the Oshkosh Hunger Task Force. The money was the proceeds from the SOBs all-homebrew beer festival, Casks & Caskets, which took place on November 2 at the Oshkosh Convention Center. It was a great night for a great cause with over 300 people in attendance enjoying home-made beers, wines, ciders and meads. If you missed it, don’t fret; the SOBs are already talking about doing it all over again next fall.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kulmbacher Beer in Oshkosh


1888-89 Wisconsin Gazeteer
One of the maddening things about digging into the history of brewing in Oshkosh (or most other American cities for that matter) is how little information survives concerning what the beers of the past may have tasted like or what went into their making. This is especially true of beers brewed by small, regional breweries before Prohibition. Among the crimes of Prohibition is that it effectively erased much of the detail concerning the vibrant brewing scene that existed in America during the latter half of the 1800s. The loss of continuity caused by that 13-year interruption of legal brewing disrupted the flow of information from the past. The beer returned, but much of its history was lost.

Kulmbacher is among those beers that was once brewed in Oshkosh that we know relatively little about today. The beer takes its name from its place of origin, the German town of Kulmbach, in northern Franconia, Bavaria. Kulmbach’s importance as a brewing center dates back to at least 1349 when monks made beer there. But its reputation was built on the dark lagers it began exporting in the mid-1800s. The lager that became synonymous with Kulmbach was heavy, rich and fairly well hopped. It was brewed using a specially prepared dark and dextrinous malt that made for a full-bodied beer. As the Kulmbacher style grew in popularity, brewers outside of Franconia began producing it; but in their own way. Other than color, Kulmbachers brewed outside of Kulmbach often had little in common with the Bavarian original.
1891-92 Wisconsin Gazeteer

In Oshkosh, the popularity of Kulmbacher reached its peak during the 1880s and 1890s. The style was brewed here at Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, the Oshkosh Brewing Company and by Lorenz Kuenzl at his Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave. Kuenzl was the most persistent advocate of Kulmbacher in Oshkosh. His take on the style was probably more in line with the American interpretation than the Bavarian beer that inspired it. In place of a dark base malt, American brewers typically used pale malt with an addition of caramel and black malt (10-15% of the total grist) to reach the desired flavor and color. Kuenzl may have had another trick for producing his Kulmbacher. In the brewhouse, he was known to keep licorice root, an ingredient not entirely uncommon among brewers of Stout, the black-ale, older brother of Kulmbacher.

It’s unknown just how far Kuenzl and the other Kulmbacher brewers in Oshkosh may have strayed from the original style. Considering that a significant portion of their audience were recent arrivals from Germany, they might not have been able to get away with simply brewing a dark lager and calling it a Kulmbacher. There were scores of beer drinkers in Oshkosh who would have been familiar with the authentic Kulmbacher. They would have expected the Oshkosh Kulmbachers to bear more than a passing resemblance to the brew they had enjoyed in their homeland. Lacking the actual recipes, though, makes it impossible to draw definite conclusions about these beers. We’re left with mere speculation. But that’s half the damned fun of this stuff!

The other half of the fun is in brewing and/or drinking a beer that harkens back to this lost style of lager. I recently brewed a batch of Kulmbacher based upon what I know of the original, the American interpretation of it, and a whole lot of speculation concerning Brewmaster Kuenzl. The beer is black with a thick and creamy tan head. It’s a malty beer with just enough hops to keep it from being sweet. And it reminds me of a commercial beer that’s still easy to get in Oshkosh. Sprecher’s Black Bavarian is as close to a true Kulmbacher as you’re likely to find from an American brewer. When beer writer Michael Jackson sampled the beer he decided, “Perhaps it is a true example of the old Kulmbacher style. That was the note I made when I tasted the first batch, out of the lagering tank. More recent tastings have not changed my mind” Maybe this isn’t such a lost style, after all.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

December Brew Sessions at O'Marro's Public House

Here’s a first for Oshkosh: Brew School. Or how you can get your foot through the homebrew door without buying a bunch of equipment and making a mess of the kitchen.

O’Marro’s Public House will host two how-to brew sessions in December. Trained brewer Kyle Cooper will teach you how to brew all-grain beer from start to finish. The brew session will later be followed up with an exclusive release party when the beer is ready to be tapped.

The first brew session begins at noon on Sunday, December 8 where they’ll tackle Pilsner beer. That will be followed on Sunday, December 15, with a Pale Ale brewing.

The cost is $35, about what you’d expect to pay for a beer kit. A limited number of spots available for each session. To get in on the brewing, sign up at the pub or give them a call at 920-410-7735.

Check out the Facebook page HERE.
A bit more background on Brews Sessions at O’Marro’s HERE.
Let the brewing begin....

Monday, November 18, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 19: West End Beverage’s 50 Brands of Beer

Here’s an ad for COLD BEER that appeared in the the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on May 28, 1954. This was for West End Beverage, which used to stand between what is now 1226 and 1236 Oshkosh Ave.  The ad isn’t much to look at, but it contains an interesting tidbit. Under that bold COLD BEER header, it says that West End was offering 50 Different Brands of beer. The thing is that in 1954 just about every one of those 50 beers would have been the same style: pale, American lager. There was probably an ale or two in the mix, but even those would have been closer to the neutral flavor profile of an American Pilsner than anything resembling the sort of ales we’re used to drinking these days. It would be like going into Festival Foods today and finding 50 different IPAs to choose from, but not a single Stout or Bock beer. That would be unthinkable to the average beer geek now, but in 1954 beer connoisseurs would have taken the situation for granted.

Those folks may have been deprived of the variety we enjoy, but they were also probably more exacting in their tastes. I’ve seen tasting notes from beer drinkers of this period and it’s clear that not all of them were just plowing the stuff down. In his book Breweries of Wisconsin, Jerry Apps provides a good glimpse into the form beer appreciation took prior to the 1960s and the decimation of Wisconsin’s regional breweries.
During threshing season in our second generation German and Polish neighborhood, the host farmer usually provided beer for the threshing crew at day’s end. A debate always ensued as to which were the better beers. Most of us could tell the difference between Point, Berliner, Blatz, Chief Oshkosh, Rahr and Fauerbach without even looking at the labels.
You think the average beer geek of today could pull that off? I doubt it. I also doubt that West End Beverage would have bothered to stock 50 different brands of beer if they didn’t have customers who expected such a selection.

Which brings me back to an axe I can’t keep from grinding. Now that we no longer have independent liquor stores in Oshkosh, we get what central command decides to give us. Try going into Festival Foods or Pick 'n Save and asking them to bring in a particular beer you’d like to have available to you. I (and others I know) have tried it at both stores and the run around you get amounts to a politely phrased “Go to hell.” I’ll bet you wouldn’t have gotten that at West End Beverage. There and at that time, the people behind the counter actually had a hand in selecting the beer they were selling. With the exception of Gardina’s, the retail beer we’re offered in Oshkosh is selected in corporate offices in Green Bay and Milwaukee. Sure, the local distributors play a role, but they’re no more accessible than the corporate folks. And so long as most of our retail beer continues to be filtered through large grocery store chains, that’s not going to change. This town could use an updated version of the old West End Beverage.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wisconsin Brewing Co. Arrives in Oshkosh

The Wisconsin Brewing Co. is now up an running and this week its beers landed on stores shelves in Oshkosh. In case you missed it, WBC is the first Wisconsin craft brewer to start big. From its new, $11 million brewery in Verona, WI. the company is aiming to produce 20,000 barrels of beer in its first year of operation with an eye towards eventually outputting 250,000 barrels annually. Let’s put that in perspective: Wisconsin’s largest craft brewer, New Glarus Brewing, produced approximately 127,000 barrels of beer last year; while Central Waters Brewing – a mid-sized Wisconsin craft brewer – produced less than 15,000 barrels... and they’ve been in business 15 years.

Size isn’t the only thing WBC has going for it. Two of its principals, WBC president, Carl Nolan, along with Kirby Nelson, the brewery’s vice president and brewmaster, were a major part of the team responsible for building Capital Brewery into one of Wisconsin’s largest and most respected craft breweries. So when Nolan announced the launch of WBC last year, the start-up immediately gained a lot of attention.

Big deal. Is the beer any good? Depends what you’re looking for. A brewery that leaps out of the gate the way this one has needs to produce beers that will appeal to a wide base. And that’s what they’ve done. The four beers they’re leading with – Brown & Robust Porter, Amber Lager, Session IPA and American IPA –  are all familiar tasting brews. They may not be life altering, but they are well made, flavorful beers and there’s never anything wrong with that.

My favorite of the bunch is the porter. It has a chocolatey nose with a full-bodied, rounded malt flavor that sports plenty of roast and a nicely bitter finish. The American IPA is good, too. It’s a sturdy, Midwestern IPA with a chewy malt base that almost balances its wallop of hoppy pine and grapefruit flavors. The Amber Lager isn’t doing it for me. I wish that wasn’t the case. I'm a lager lover and this isn’t bad, but it has a little too much butter at the start and a little too much bitter at the end. As for the Session IPA... meh. I have no use for this style. If you want an IPA, drink an IPA, not some Shirley Temple version of a venerated ale. That said, this is as good as any of the other half-way IPAs I've tasted. If you'd like to try them all, Festival Foods is carrying the full flight.

Overall, I'd say it’s a decent start, I just wish they would have gone a little further out on a limb with one of their initial offerings. Shit, how about a good old Kellerbier or a Grätzer? I’ll bet Kirby Nelson could brew the hell out of either of those. Here's to hoping we find out.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tuesday Night Firkin Tapping at Gardina’s

Just like the title says, they’re going to hammer the tap into another lovely keg of beer at Gardina’s on Tuesday night.

Here’s the plan straight from Gardina’s beer man, Adam Carlson:
ATTENTION BEER NERDS:
Gardina's Beer Bar Series Installment #4 is:
Tuesday, November 19th @ 6 pm
We will be tapping a firkin of Tall Grass Brewing Co. 8-Bit Pale Ale brewed with Blackberries, Orange Peel and dry-hopped with Centennial Hops
Sure to be FABULOUS!
Don’t know what this Firkin stuff is all about? This brief spiel will clue you in. The little video below will do the the same.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Old-School IPA at Fratellos in Oshkosh

Once upon a time (about 8 years ago or so) you’d order an IPA around these parts and they’d hand you a glass of amber, nearly opaque beer with a head of creamy froth that would cling to your face like an albino mustache. It was strong and rough beer made from a pile of malt and an even larger pile of Cascade hops that would bite your tongue - hard - with every drink. This was back before brewers and drinkers began name checking boutique hops with la-di-da names such as Citra, Simcoe and Amarillo (with silent “LL”). This was back before the rise of the so-called West-Coast IPA where the malt is asked to stand back and shut up while the hops go dancing around screaming “look at me!” I’m not bitching (too much) about the transformation of the American IPA; I like some of those West Coast beers. But lately when I think IPA, I’ve been yearning for those old-school Midwestern IPAs like Hop Hearty (retired) from New Glarus that were not quite so dainty as beers such as Moon Man (thriving) from New Glarus.

Anyway, before I wander too far into my dotage, lets get to the beer in question. Foxylicious IPA is now on tap at Fratellos in Oshkosh and it’s one of those decidedly old-school IPAs. It lumbers up with a big belly full of fuming malt and hops. The aroma tells you you’re gonna drink a beer and not some overrefined hop tea. The malt coats your tongue for a moment and then the Cascade kicks in and does it’s work. This is an unapologetically bitter ale with a bold, citrusy flavor that would go perfectly with a big, greasy burger and a plate of fries. And at 7% ABV, giving it a cushion of food to land on might not be a bad idea. If you want to look under the hood and see how this thing runs, go HERE for the specs.

Monday, November 11, 2013

An Update on the Allenville Hops

Allenville Hops
A couple months ago I posted about the wild hops I found growing in Allenville and how they may have gotten there. That story is HERE. When I wrote that, I had yet to brew with these hops and was uncertain about what breed they might be. But now that I’ve actually made beer with them, I know a little more.

I believe these hops belong to the Cluster family. Since they’ve been growing wild for so long, it’s possible that they’ve cross pollinated with some other wild strain, but the flavor they produced in the beer I made had the flavor components I associate with American Cluster. I used to brew with Cluster quite often and grew familiar with the hop. I find its aroma fruity and floral. Its flavor is hard to pinpoint, but I always think of it as earthy. They can be a little on the rough side, but in a good way. To me, it’s the flavor of how beer used to taste in the 1970s. Many of the beers I’ve brewed with Cluster have reminded me of the beers I would sneak off and drink when I was too young to drink legally. It’s a taste memory that’s embedded in my palate.

If the Allenville hops are, in fact, Cluster it would come as no surprise. Cluster is as close to a native hop as America has. When Silas Allen arrived in our area from New York in 1846, he was said to have brought a barrel of hop roots with him. Since Cluster was coming to dominate the hop growing regions of New York during this period, it’s very likely that the hops Allen transported were of this variety. During the 1860s and 1870s – the period when the Allenville hop farms were at their peak – Cluster was the primary hop grown in Wisconsin and becoming synonymous with American hop production in general. By the turn of the century, 80% of all hops grown in the U.S. were Cluster.

A note about the beer: I used these hops in a strong (7.9% ABV) lager brewed along the lines of a Bière de Garde. I served it at last week’s Casks & Caskets tasting and it went over pretty well. I was happy with it. I had enough of the Allenville hops to brew a second beer, so I recently made an American-style Steam Beer or California Common with what was left of the September pickings. That beer is fermenting away nicely.

When I picked these hops I also took a healthy root from the Allenville site. It looks to be in good shape and I’m hoping that next spring it will take root and produce a decent amount of growth. If all goes well, I should be able to start sharing cuttings from this plant in the spring of 2015. I'd love to see Silas Allen’s old hops revived in Oshkosh.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Changing Times of Brewmaster Gertsch

Felix Gertsch
Felix Gertsch looked like a brewer. At 5’8” and 208 pounds he had the round aspect that typified the German brewmasters of old. But Gertsch wasn’t an old-world brewer. Nor was he entirely of the new world. Gertsch had a foot in both. And over the course of his 36-year career he helped to usher out the old-world ways of brewing in Oshkosh and supplant them with those of the new.

Felix Ulrich Gertsch was born on the South Side of Oshkosh on March 25, 1893. He was the oldest son of Ulrich Gertsch, a Swiss immigrant who settled in Oshkosh in the mid-1880s. Upon his arrival, the elder Gertsch took a job at Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery where he worked as the barn boss tending the dray horses that pulled the brewery’s beer wagons. His son Felix grew enamored with the horses and the amiable atmosphere at the brewery. Upon completing the 8th grade, Felix Gertsch quit school and by the age of 15 his career in the beer making business was underway.

Gertsch began as a laborer at the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1908 and worked his way up the brewing ladder. It appears that for Gertsch, making beer grew into an all-consuming endeavor. Outside of the brewery, he led a quiet life. Gertsch never married and never moved from the family home, which still stands at 413 W. 17th Ave. His work at the brewery may have left him time for little else. It wasn’t unusual for Gertsch to work more than 70 hours a week.

The constancy of his life was undone, though, with the onset of Prohibition in 1919. Gertsch saw his world turned upside down. For men like him living in a community like Oshkosh, Prohibition was considered a senseless assault upon their way of life. But Gertsch carried on. When real beer became illegal, the Oshkosh Brewing Company turned to malt extract and near beer. Felix Gertsch learned to make both. And he continued to rise within the now struggling company. In 1925, during the depths of Prohibition, he was appointed brewmaster of OBC. Gertsch became the first American-born brewmaster at the brewery and was charged with overseeing every facet of production. He responded by formulating the brew that came to be synonymous with beer made in Oshkosh.

Near Beer
The first iteration of Gertsch’s Chief Oshkosh wasn’t quite beer at all. It was a nearly alcohol-free “near beer” made to conform to the strictures of Prohibition. But with the death of the dry law, Gertsch was finally able to get back to doing things his way. The first barrels of full-strength Chief Oshkosh Beer rolled out of the brewery in late 1933. The lager would be the OBC’s standard bearer for almost 40 years and the most well-known brand of beer ever produced in Oshkosh.

But Chief Oshkosh also represented a permanent break with the past. The beer finalized a trend that had begun at OBC even before Gertsch had started working there. Like many American breweries in the early 1900s, OBC had whittled the traditional German brews from its portfolio in favor of the emergent American Pilsner. In a quest to draw in the largest consumer base, the post-Prohibition Pilsners became less distinctive and increasingly neutral in flavor. Chief Oshkosh Beer was a model of the style and extremely popular. It was good for business. Not so good for beer.

What did Gertsch make of such changes? I’ll leave it for him to explain himself, but it’s clear he had mixed feelings about the evolution of the brewers art in America. Gertsch died in 1944 at the age of 51 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage (I’ve heard, but have not been able to confirm that his stroke occurred at the brewery). But just a few years before his death, he penned a long article about how his craft had changed over the course of his career. The piece appeared in The Chief’s Beer Whoop, a promotional newspaper that was issued irregularly by OBC during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Gertsch’s words are revealing, especially when you consider that he was writing, in essence, an advertisement. Apart from the requisite boosterism of the piece, his reflections are tinged with nostalgia and a moody ambivalence over what had been lost to the march of progress. Let’s hear it from the man himself:

I feel sorry for folks who can’t look back with pleasure to things that happened “in the good old days.” They miss a lot of fun in life because pleasant memories of the past make up a good part of the joy of living. So it’s the most natural thing in the world for a man who was old enough to enjoy his beer before 1919 to brag about how good beer used to be “in the good old days.”

Well, I’m no youngster myself. I made beer a long time before 1919 and I’m making beer today, so I have my own ideas on the subject – and they’re founded on something a lot more concrete than a memory of how good a glass of beer tasted on a certain hot 4th of July back in 1915.

Every once in a while I hear people say that the brew masters of the old days were a lot more skillful than those of today. And when I agree with them, folks may think that’s just because I belong to the “old timer” class.

Yes, I agree that the old time brew masters were more skillful on average than those of today – but I also say that the beer is a lot better than the beer of the “the good old days.” Probably that calls for an explanation, so here it is: 

The brewer of 30 years ago had to depend almost entirely on his “skill” to produce good beer. He had little or no scientific assistance in doing his job. So the brewer who turned out good beer time after time, must have been a really skillful man.

The facts are that 30 or more years ago no brewery was able to produce a uniform brew. Those that had skillful brew masters and tried very, very hard to keep equipment clean and sterile – those who were very methodical in their processes did a better job than the average and built up a reputation for quality. But even the best of them couldn’t maintain the uniform high quality that we do today in making Chief Oshkosh Beer.

Yes sir, Scientific Control is the one big secret in making modern beer the perfect quality product it is. And Scientific Control is a rather different thing from “skill.”

Since legal beer came back, the science of brewing has seen a big development. Brewing today is vastly more of a scientific process than it was in 1918. Today we subject every lot of malt to a chemical analysis. We never did that years ago. Today we have scientific instruments for checking every material and every step in the brewing process. We keep our alcohol, our solids, our carbonization so perfectly uniform that every bottle of Chief Oshkosh is almost identical with every other bottle. And the Chief Oshkosh of three years ago was just the same as the lot we made yesterday.

Today our beer is PURE. I don’t mean to imply that the old-time beer was impure in that it was injurious to health. Rather that beer is a very delicate liquid and it must be free from bacteria that would easily spoil its flavor. Today’s pure beer will keep two or three times as long as the beer we used to make before we knew how to prevent bacteria from getting into our beer from the water, the yeast and even the air. 

To make Chief Oshkosh the exceptionally good beer it is, requires all of the very latest scientific methods plus all of the brewing skill and experience we have been building up in this organization for three generations. I should say Four Generations because Art Schwalm’s (President of OBC) son, Tom, is my first class assistant. Tom is the fourth generation of Schwalms in this business – a college man and a graduate of a leading technical school where the modern science of brewing is taught to the young fellows who will soon have to replace the old-timers like myself.

Then in addition to our own technical staff, we employ a firm of outside “policemen” to keep everything going straight. We couldn’t get shiftless even if we tried, for this laboratory checks us up every single day. Their vast laboratories employ the last word in chemical science to make beer uniformly good, so you see, the quality you like in Chief Oshkosh Beer is well guarded. 

I myself like to look back on the “good old days.” The fine big horses that pulled our beer trucks were all personal friends of mine. I used to love to pet them. I also got a lot of pleasure out of visiting with our good customers who dropped by to pass the time of day over a foaming glass when they came to visit the brewery. But the times have changed. Our horses have been replaced by impersonal motor trucks and everybody is too busy to do much visiting now-a-days. Yes, there are a lot of reasons why I like to look back on the “good old days.” But when it comes to good beer, I must admit that scientific methods of control do a far better job than I used to do when I had to depend entirely on the “skill” that I used to be so proud of.
-- Felix Gertsch, ca 1940

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Six Pack of Spooky Beer

Remember when Halloween was all about tricks and candy treats? Me neither. Halloween is all about beer. At least that’s how it works in the malfunctioning minds of people like us. It’s another opportunity to gather a friend or two and sink a few. And the beers you’re drinking ought to be in keeping with the spirit of the season; demons, corpses, lycanthropy, the annihilation of the human race... that kind of happy crap. With that in mind, here’s a six-pack of Halloweenish beers that’ll look good in your hand as you stand at the door dropping candy into the sacks of little monsters begging for sugar. You can latch onto all of these right here in Oshkosh (think Festival Foods). Here we go:

Hop Devil Ale by Victory Brewing Company
The label features a hop cone morphed into a devil’s head. How metal is that? And it’s good beer, too! A classic East Coast IPA, this has a solid punch of American hops riding on a fat bed of chewy malt. Before the Californiafication of the IPA, this is what craft IPAs used to taste like. At 6.7% ABV, it’ll be good for inspiring some devilment.

Headless Man Amber Alt by Tyranena Brewing Company
This continent has been producing headless-man myths for as long as people with heads have been stomping around on it. Take part in the creepy myths by guzzling some of this. It’s a fine German-style alt beer with a generous caramel malt flavor accompanied by a gentle noble hop aroma. Easy drinking and smooth with enough substance to keep you interested, this is an excellent beer for fall.

Dead Guy Ale by Rogue Ales
A no brainer. The label features a skeleton sitting on a beer barrel with a mug full of beer in his boney hand. This is supposed to be a Maibock, but they’ve fermented it with an ale yeast, so they’re kind of missing the mark. Still, it’s pretty decent. A malt forward beer with a fair amount of sweetness that’s put in check by a slow building bitterness in the finish. Here’s the scary part: At Festival they sell six-pack of this for $10.99. Yikes!

Newcastle Werewolf by Heineken
Halloween has always been a time for hucksters and gimmickry and this one is right in line with that. More importantly, it has a knuckle-dragging werewolf on the label. For some beers it’s easier to look good than taste good. This is something like an Irish Red Ale, but lacking just about everything that makes that style enjoyable. OK, it may be shit, but it’ll look good in your mitt. Save this for the end of the night when your swilling them right out of the bottle.

Ambergeddon by Ale Asylum
An erie looking label with prominent skull and cross-pistols. Pairs well with death metal blasting from blown speakers. About the beer: an American Red Ale hopped to the gills with new-world hops that crush the palate. Pretty enjoyable, if that’s your bag. Not exactly a subtle beer, but then again Armageddon has never been about finesse. After a few of these, you won’t be either. This one carries a very sneaky 6.8% ABV.

25th Anniversary Imperial Pumpkin Lager by Lakefront Brewery
I guess there has to be a pumpkin beer in here somewhere. Personally, I could do without, but this one is better than most and just fine in limited quantities. It starts with a warm, brandy booziness followed by a hit of toasty malt and a dose of pumpkin pie spicing. A super dry finish, that keeps it from being sickening in the way that only pumpkin beers can be. Who cares? You won’t after a couple of these. At 8% ABV, look upon it as a challenge.

There you have it, six beers to keep you quenched during the season of demons. One last thing, it’s proper Halloween etiquette have your index and little fingers outstretched into the Sign of the Horns as you grasp your beer. You want to do this right, don’t you?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Casks & Caskets – There’s No Other Beer Fest Like It

We’re just a few days out from our city playing host to the most unique beer sampling in the State of Wisconsin. On Saturday, November 2 the Society of Oshkosh Brewers will present Casks & Caskets, a homebrew event for charity. If you love real beer, this is a tasting you should not miss.

Calling this the most unique beer sampling in the state is no stretch. Each of the beers, wines, meads and ciders at Casks will be one of a kind. Unlike the offerings at other beer festivals, you’ve never had any of these beers before. Everything that will be poured has been hand crafted for this event by local hobbyists who have a passion for creating distinctive brews. And these beer won’t be doled out by the sorts of disinterested folks who usually man the tables at beer fests. The people on the other end of the tap lines at Casks will be the people who made the beer. Whether they’re brewers, vintners or both they take an enormous amount of pride in what they’ve made for this tasting. They’ll be more than happy to tell you what’s in it, why they made it and why they would like you to try it. There’s nothing anonymous about these beers. Each of them comes with a story. I know this because I’ll be one of those pouring their homebrew.

Here’s my story: one of the beer’s I’ll be serving is a Farmhouse Lager I brewed with my nephew, Tyler Demge. We made this beer with wild hops I picked in Allenville in September. If you visit this blog from time to time, you may have seen my post about Silas Allen, a hop farmer who in 1846 settled in what is now Allenville. The hops used in the Farmhouse Lager we brewed for Casks were from plants that grow wild on land that was a part of Silas Allen’s 1850s hop farm. It’s very likely that these hops trace their lineage back to the cultivars that Silas Allen planted there more than 160 years ago. Like I said, you can’t get beers like this anywhere else.

Casks and Caskets will take place at the Oshkosh Convention Center on Saturday, November 2. Tickets for the 7 p.m. general tasting are $30 in advance or $40 at the door. There will also be a VIP dinner and tasting beginning two hours earlier at 5:00 p.m.  Ticket information and other details can be found at the Casks and Caskets website.

And here’s a list of some of the beers that will be pouring at Casks. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 18: Good Old Wurtzer Beer and Mellow Old Derby Ale

Here’s a sharp looking ad for the beers of Peoples Brewing that appeared in the 1938 book History of Oshkosh. The real name of the Good Old Wurtzer Beer mentioned here was actually Würtzer Brew. It was introduced after Prohibition ended in 1933 and was Peoples’ flagship beer (lots more on Würtzer Brew HERE). But the beer taking center stage in this ad is Old Derby Ale. This is a beer with a good backstory.

Old Derby was a pale ale that made its debut after Prohibition. It was first brewed by the Ripon Brewing Company, which was launched in 1933 upon the grounds of the old Haas Brewing Company. The Old Derby Ale that was brewed in Ripon was a beast. It weighed in at 12% ABV and used to sell for a nickel a mug at the Tip Top Tavern on N. Main St. in Oshkosh. That was an interesting little brewery they had there in Ripon. During this same period, they also produced a porter; quite an unusual style of beer for a Wisconsin brewery in the post-Prohibition era.

Peoples Brewing had a hand in distributing the Ripon beers in Oshkosh and after the Ripon brewery went bankrupt in 1937, Peoples took over the Old Derby label. But the Old Derby brewed in Oshkosh was tame in comparison to the Ripon brew. It would have been around just 5% ABV (for more info on that version of the beer, go HERE). Old Derby Ale survived into the early 1950s when Peoples pulled the plug on it for good. And by that time, the Würtzer name had also been dropped in favor of the more streamlined Peoples Beer.

So why would a full-page beer ad appear in a book about Oshkosh history? Well, I’m guessing the ads were what financed the book. Advertisements for Oshkosh businesses of the era appear throughout History of Oshkosh and some are as interesting as the text of the book itself. The self-published work was the product of the father and daughter team of William and Clara Dawes and was released in the summer of 1938. William Dawes was the sort of amateur historian that Oshkosh seems good for turning out. He was born in Oshkosh in 1878 and spent a good part of his life working as a postal clerk here. His daughter Clara was born in 1906 and, aside from being her father’s secretary, worked as a professional singer. In their spare time, the Daweses turned out a fine volume. It’s full of interesting snippets on Oshkosh history and a good place to start if you’re looking to get some background on this strange place. At 130 pages, it’s a breezy read. There’s usually a copy or two of History of Oshkosh hanging around the Oshkosh Public Library waiting to be checked out. If you go nosing through it, keep an eye open for the other beer ads in the book. One day, I’ll have to slap those up here, too.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A New Milestone in the History of Brewing in Oshkosh

Richard Cardenas Brewing in the Street
That’s a grandiose title for a blog post as pedestrian as this one is sure to be, but there is a small twist of truth to it. Saturday morning, a couple of SOBs (Society of Oshkosh Brewers) did something with beer that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done with beer in this city before: they brewed it in the middle of N. Main Street.

Now it is possible that Leonard Schiffmann may have been brewing beer in his saloon on Main St. back in the 1870s, but what took place on Saturday was different. These beers were brewed in the actual street. I mean in the road itself. And I admit that I’m one of the two who committed beer out there on the pavement. Here’s what happened: The SOBs had a stand at the Saturday Farmer’s Market promoting, the club and their upcoming event Casks & Caskets. While that was going on, Richard Cardenas and I set up our brewing equipment in the street and proceeded to make beer. Richard brewed an Irish Red Ale and I made a German Dark Lager. We hadn’t planned it this way, but those were fitting beers to break in Main Street  as a brewery when you take Oshkosh’s ethnic background into consideration. And while the beer was being made in the street, another SOB, Jody Cleveland, was giving away free sample of his homebrew in Oblio’s.

So is this stuff of any consequence? Of course, not. But I still like the idea of it. And I think it’s kind of indicative of what’s happening beerwise in Oshkosh as of late. This is a beer-centric community of more than 60,000 people with just one brewery. Historically, this has been a place that’s supported multiple breweries even during times when the population was a fraction of what it is now. That leaves us with a void that’s being filled by homebrewers. It’s not all that different from what occurred during Prohibition. When commercial beer became illegal, homebrewing in Oshkosh exploded. Over the past couple of years, there's been a similar growth in homebrewing here. Currently, the SOBs have more than 70 members, but that number, by no means, represents the total number of homebrewers in this area. At this point, there are probably hundreds of people making beer in this city. And that’s really how it should be. As it always has, Oshkosh brews.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Red & Revived: Get a Taste of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager.

Homebrew Left / Original Right
I like this one a lot. This Saturday, October 19, Oshkosh homebrewer Jody Cleveland will be giving away free samples of his homebrewed version of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager. He’ll tap the keg at Oblio’s Lounge at around 10 a.m. and will keep pouring until 12:30 (or until the beer is gone, whichever comes first). To get your free taste, stop by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers stand (corners of Main and Merritt) during the Farmer’s Market and tell them you want free beer. They’ll hand you a ticket that you can take over to Oblio’s to claim your sample. Free and easy.

And it’s a damned good beer. Last night I met up with Jody and we drank from a couple different batches of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager that he’s brewed. Also in attendance was a full can of 20-year-old Chief Oshkosh Red Lager. Of course, we got into that, too. After all those years in the can, the original Chief Oshkosh Red Lager still tasted pretty good. And though the 20-year-old beer had aged some, the similarities between Jody’s beer and the original remained readily apparent. I guess that’s not too that surprising. The recipe Jody is working from is the same as that used by Jeff Fulbright when he was brewing Chief Oshkosh Red Lager back in the first-half of the 1990s (check out the recipe HERE).

Now if you can’t make in on Saturday, you can still get a taste of the good Chief. Jody will also be serving this beer at Casks & Caskets on Saturday, November 2. Go HERE to get all the news on that.

And to get the full story on Chief Oshkosh Red Lager go HERE.

But most importantly, try to make it to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and enjoy a rare taste of a remarkable beer.

Monday, October 14, 2013

OctoBEER in Oshkosh

The last half of October in Oshkosh will bring a trio of beery bashes that just might be to your liking. Here’s what’s coming up:

Tuesday, October 15: Gardina’s Beer Bar Series No. 3.
This time they’ll be pouring from a barrel (not a firkin) of Destihl Brew Works Sour Hawaii Five-Ale. It’s Belgian-Style ale aged in oak-barrels and naturally soured through a spontaneous secondary fermentation by wild yeast lingering in the wood. Don’t get too hung up on the “sour” thing, though. This beer leans towards the candied pineapple and citrus side of things with little of the wince factor that puts some people off sours. It’s a barrel only beer and this is the only barrel of it coming to Oshkosh, so get it while you can. The pouring start at 6 p.m.

Saturday, October 26: Shiner Beer Tent at O’Marro’s
Here’s the kind of beer party that Shawn at O’Marro’s does better than anyone else in town. They’ll have a heated tent in the parking lot of O’Marro’s where they’ll be pouring the beers of the Spoetzl Brewery of Shiner, Texas (including that damned Bock that made them so famous). All pints of the Shiner brews will be just $2.50. And at 8 p.m., The Mighty Short Bus will start rocking the tent. There’s no charge to get in and the party should go well into the night. There's a Facebook page for the event HERE.

Tuesday, October 29: Oktoberfest Beer/Wine Dinner at Fratellos.
German Beer, German Wine, German Food; can’t go wrong with that. This is a dinner pairing German style wines and beers with a five-course meal consisting of German cuisine. They’re putting a lot on the plate for this one, so to view the full menu including the accompanying beers and wines go HERE. The $35 ticket includes everything, but you’ll need to reserve your spot in advance. Do that by either stopping in at Fratellos or by calling them at 920.232.2337. Prost!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 035: Piwo Grodziskie, a/k/a Grätzer Ale

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What: Piwo Grodziskie, also known as Grätzer Ale. Brewed at Schlossbrauerei Au, Bavaria.

Where: On the retail beer shelf at Gardina’s where a half-liter bottle is going for $6.99

Why: Well, if your geek is rare styles of beer that originated in the Middle Ages, this is a no brainer. Let’s start with some background: A classic Grodziskie beer is a pale, fairly-hoppy, low-alcohol ale made using oak-smoked wheat malt. It’s a style that originated in the 1400s in the town of Grodzisk Wielkopolski in western Poland. By the 1800s, Polish Grodziskie was being exported to Germany where it was adopted by German brewers and renamed Grätzer. Grodziskie remained extant, if not exceptionally popular, throughout much of the 20th century. The last Polish brewery making Grodziskie closed in 1993.

So how does this one measure up to all of that? Overall, I’d say fairly well. The aroma is fruity and lightly smokey; almost like an apple or pear pie with a little burn on the crust. The smoked character of the wheat malt leads the flavor, but on balance it’s fairly restrained. The beer is very light (4% ABV) and easy drinking. It finishes with a slight, acidic tang that made me want to immediately guzzle more. The only thing lacking is the bitterness. This a style of beer that was known to be fairly bitter and that’s missing here. On the whole, though, it’s an interesting beer and one well worth trying; especially if you’re into lost styles of European ale.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Brew Sessions and Homebrew Supplies at O’Marro’s

Here’s good news for Oshkosh area homebrewers and those who would like to take a dip into the hobby. O’marro’s Public House in Oshkosh is branching out into the brewing realm. The south-side pub is now a connection for homebrew supplies and will soon begin a brew-on-premise program where would-be brewers can come in and produce a batch of their own beer.

There’s a lot going on here; let’s start with the beer making. It’s pretty straight forward: if you’d like to try your hand at brewing your own, simply contact the pub and schedule a time for you (and your friends) to do it. O’Marro’s will have everything you’ll need from equipment to the ingredients and technical know how required to go from grain to glass. They’ll formulate the recipe for you and even suggest a style of beer, if you can’t decide what you’d like to brew. They’re setting this up so that anyone can brew beer. “This will be  full-service,” says Shawn O’Marro, owner of the pub. “If someone comes in and says they want a beer that tastes like Spotted Cow or a heavy porter, we’ll get them there.” Brew sessions will be led by Kyle Cooper, an experienced homebrewer who has taken course work for brewing at the Siebel Institute of Technology. The brewing will take place on a three-tier, More Beer system capable of turning out 7 gallons at a time. It’s a good offering for prospective homebrewers or for those who just want to make a batch of beer for a special occasion. It will also be an opportunity for extract brewers to get a feel for what all-grain brewing is like before making an investment in additional equipment. For more information, call or stop by O’Marro’s Public House and ask for either Shawn or Kyle; there’s a good chance you’ll find one of them in.

The other half of the story is going to be welcome news for experienced homebrewers. Getting a full-range of homebrew supplies in Oshkosh is going to become a lot easier. O’Marro’s Public House and The Cellar homebrew supply store in Fond du Lac have teamed up to offer free delivery of homebrew supplies to O’Marro’s in Oshkosh. Call your order in at The Cellar (920-517-1601) and tell them what you need. They’ll give you a delivery time and cost over the phone. And by January, they’ll have a new website allowing you to place orders online. The Cellar is one of the best local homebrew supply shops in the state with everything you need for brewing and winemaking including kits, grain, liquid yeast and dispensing equipment. Check out the “Store” section of The Cellar website to see what they have on hand. And if you don’t see what you’re looking for call, because Dave’s either probably got it in stock or can get it in a blink. Until we finally get a full-blown homebrew supply shop in Oshkosh, this ought to work pretty well for keeping the brewers fermenting.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Road to the Second Annual Casks & Caskets

The October edition of the Oshkosh SCENE is now out and available all over town. Inside you’ll find my article about Casks and Caskets, The Society of Oshkosh Brewers homebrew festival taking place Saturday, November 2 at the Oshkosh Convention Center (more info on all of that HERE).

Last year’s Casks and Caskets was the first full-scale tasting in Wisconsin where all of the beers, wines, ciders and meads were made by local homebrewers. Now in its second year, the festival looks to grow even larger. But the SOBs have had to overcome significant hurdles to get to this point including a tangle with state regulators that eventually ended with a change to Wisconsin law.

In early June 2009, the SOBs were ramping up for what they were billing as a Homebrew Event for Charity. The groundwork had been laid. The event would take place on the Saturday afternoon of June 27th under a 80-foot-long tent in the parking lot of O'Marro's Public House. Tickets were being sold, posters had gone up and word was going out through local media that this was going to be an entirely different sort of beer tasting. It would be comprised of nothing but homebrew. And all of it had already been brewed. Then the hammer fell.

Just two weeks before the festival was to take place, an official from the Department of Wisconsin Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement spotted a poster for the event taped to the door of an Appleton paint store. He had some news for the SOBs: he said, what they were planning to do was illegal. “That didn’t even come to mind,” says Randy Bauer who was then on the SOB Board of Directors. “We’d been serving our beer for years at local festivals and had never had a problem.” Now they did.

Mike Engel, then president of the SOBs, was informed that if the event took place as planned, local police would have the authority to confiscate all the beer and dispensing equipment on site at the time of the tasting. The festival appeared doomed. But after the panic died down, the SOBs hatched an alternate plan. Engel began contacting Wisconsin breweries telling them what had happened. “I told them we were under the gun” he said. “We weren’t about to just give up. We needed beer.” In the end, the SOBs were able to commandeer enough commercial brew to replace the homebrew they had planned on serving and the event went ahead as scheduled. It wasn’t quite what any of them had hoped for, but the attendees seemed to enjoy it and the club still managed to raise $2,000 for charity.

But that didn’t end the fight. Other brewing clubs in Wisconsin soon found themselves in a similar bind. State officials began cracking down on the dissemination of homebrew, which they now asserted could not be dispensed outside of the brewer’s home. Homebrew clubs in Racine, Madison, Milwaukee and North Central Wisconsin Came under scrutiny for proposing to pour their beer at events in their areas.

In early 2011, the push back began in earnest. Wisconsin homebrewers began banding together in an effort to get the law changed. In April 2012, they succeeded. Senate Bill 395/Assembly Bill 521 was passed freeing homebrewers to serve their beer outside their homes. Though certain restrictions remained, the new law freed the SOBS to stage another festival. And in November 2012, the club finally broke through with the event they’d been hoping for back in 2009.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fourth Annual Oshkosh Oktoberfest at Dockside Tavern This Weekend

Let’s you and I talk about German beer. Better yet, let’s get together and drink some real German beer on Saturday, October 5 at Oktoberfest in Oshkosh. Here’s the deal: I’ll be at the beer sampling booth again at this year’s Oshkosh Oktoberfest where we’ll be pouring, sampling and talking about the flavors of authentic German beer and the history of German brewing. We’ll have at least six different brews to sample from Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr and Hofbräuhaus that will lead us through a tasting tour of Bavarian beer culture. You can try them all or just chosen few, but I suspect that after a couple hits the Gemütlichkeit will inspire a full flight. The tastings will run continuously throughout the afternoon and if you find a beer among the bunch that you especially love, they’ll be serving full-sized portions of all them in the heated beer-garden tent. And if you really feel you need an excuse to drink some beer, there’s the fact that Oshkosh Oktoberfest is a fundraising event benefitting Cerebral Palsy of Mideast Wisconsin.

All right, that’s enough for me but there’s plenty of other good stuff happening at our Oktoberfest. The big change for this year is that the event will take place at Dockside Tavern (6th & Oregon) and admission will be free. There’ll be authentic German food provided by The Roxy and music from Blaskapelle Milwaukee, the Tuba Dan Band, Copper Box, Hard Drive, and Greg Waters & the Broad Street Boogie.

For a full a rundown of the day’s events click that image on the right or check out the Oshkosh Oktoberfest website or the Oshkosh Oktoberfest Facebook page. If you come, stop by and say hello. Prost!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Lineage of Oshkosh's Barley & Hops

The Cornerstone at
663 N. Main
If you find yourself at the beer sampling at Barley & Hops tomorrow night (October 2), take a moment to drink in your surroundings. Nate Stiefvater’s place at 663 N. Main is more than a century old and has a history that’s worth knowing something about. Let’s have a look.

The building that is now home to Barley & Hops was built in the summer of 1900 under the direction of Carl Schneider, an Oshkosh architect and mason who had been trained in his native Prussia. Schneider made the most of the $6,000 allotted for the building’s creation. He cast the imposing face of the structure in pressed brick that framed two dormers (which have since been removed), with opposing columns placed just below the roof line.  The two-story, 80-foot long building cut an impressive figure along upper Main. That’s probably just how its owner wanted it. The new saloon of William Kienast was going to stand out from the others.

William Gustave Kienast was born in Prussia on April 6, 1846 and came to America with his family at
the age of four. He was raised in the Town of Vinland and spent the early part of his life as a farmer. But as he grew older his interests strayed from the farm fields. He kept racehorses that he ran locally and at the ripe age of 54 decided to dive deeper into the sporting life by becoming a saloon man. Kienast wasn’t blind to what he was getting into. His twin brother, Gustave William Kienast, had previously operated a somewhat notorious saloon and boarding house on Main St. in Oshkosh during the 1880s and early 1890s. And William Kienast wasn’t going it alone. His family lived with him above the saloon and his 28-year-old son Charles was going to act as proprietor. The establishment came to be known as the Turf Exchange. An advertisement from April 1904 gives a sense of what the place might have been like.
Circa, 1916

WANTED—500 Men at the Turf Exchange
Saturday Night May 14th to Help Eat 150 Pounds of Fine Roast and Fried Fish.
All Come and Have a Good Time.
C.W. Kienast, Prop.

But the good times were short lived. In the summer of 1904, William Kienast decided he’d had enough of the saloon trade. In July, he placed an ad in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern stating, “I Want to Go Out Business on Account of My Health Not Being Good. Will Sell Cheap if Taken Soon.” Within a year the place was closed. Kienast unloaded the furniture and fittings of his barroom, (including five card-playing tables, a pool table, 18 cuspidors and a full set of saloon fixtures) and in 1906 sold the building. He moved to South Dakota, returned to farming and eventually stumbled upon a fortune. In 1920, Kienast discovered a large vein of anthracite coal on his farm while drilling a well. The 74-year-old Prussian had struck it rich.

After the departure of the Kienast family, things grew somewhat less exciting at the big building on North Main Street. It housed a dress shop in 1906 and the Nichol’s Bakery in 1909. Each of the businesses floundered. Then in 1915, the building became home to the enterprise that would hold it longer than any occupant to date. That fall, the Butternut Baking Company refurbished the former saloon and moved in.  An early promotion for the Butternut describes what had become of the place: “The walls and ceilings are white enamel and everything is up-to-the-minute to the smallest detail. The state inspector informed us that our bakery is one of the best equipped and arranged plants in the state.”
Outside the Butternut Baking Co.; Circa 1916

But the orderly atmosphere held its own kind of danger. On a Friday afternoon in May 1916, the building and a life within were nearly lost. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported on the near disaster:

BURNED BY HOT LARD - Employee at Local Bakery Falls with Kettle and is Severely Injured – Julius Kinner, a colored man employed at the Butternut Baking company’s new plant on upper Main street sustained severe and serious burns yesterday in a fire which for a time threatened the existence of the plant. A kettle of lard in which doughnuts were frying took fire. Kinner attempted to carry the burning lard out of doors and fell, the hot grease splashing upon his face, neck and arms. He was taken to St. Mary’s hospital and today his condition is said to be favorable. The damage to the bakery was comparatively small.
– Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 20, 1916

Mid-1960s
Time would prove Kinner’s misfortune to be an exception. For the next 50 years, the Butternut held steady at 663 N. Main with little turbulence along the way. The company was led by Charles J. Koehn, a sober, community-minded businessman with a deep interest in Oshkosh history. He was a collector of American Indian artifacts and a strong proponent of the Oshkosh Public Museum, where he acted as an honorary curator and served on the Museum’s Board of Directors. After Koehn’s retirement in 1945, the Butternut was sold to a Stevens Point bakery and operated by Leo Cholewinski a Polish-born baker. Cholewinski headed the company until it closed permanently in 1965.

After the bakery’s demise, the guts of the building were transformed again. In 1967, it was converted into Vern’s Cycle Shop. It would remain a bicycle shop for the next dozen years before becoming a spectacularly poor fit for the New Faith Fellowship Church in 1981. But this is a building that seems to want to be a tavern. In 1983, it was returned to its original intent with the launch of the Patti K. Lounge. That didn’t last, either.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the taverns housed within this building would change names almost yearly. In 1984, it was Pappa Bear’s Public Pizzeria Tavern; In 1985, it was re-christened Ted E. Bear’s Pub & Pizzeria; and in 1986 it became Shoe’s Pub. Shoe’s would hold forth until 1990 when the flux began anew. It was called Ted’s Place in 1991 and the Tijuana Country Club from 1992 through 1994. In 1995 it became Godfather’s and so it would stay until 2001. The constant turnover is telling. For the most part, these were run-of-the-mill Oshkosh watering holes serving up a nondescript cocktail of rail booze and pale beer. They blended into the Oshkosh tavern scene of the period, which was bland, big and lacking in variety. That began to change for the better with the arrival of the 2000s.

Barley & Hops; 2013
In 2001, the impending demolition of the the old college strip on the east side of Wisconsin St. sent Nate Stiefvater looking for a new place to set up shop. He had run Nad’s (formerly The Bubbler and the Lost Dutchman) on the strip since his arrival in Oshkosh from Stevens Point in 1997. In December 2001, he took over Godfather’s and renamed it Barley & Hops. He’s been there ever since. Nate now owns the property and holds the second longest tenure in the 113-year-old building. Much has changed since he’s taken over. With 14 beers on tap and a large selection of craft beer in bottles, Barley’s has grown into one of the more reliable spots in Oshkosh for good beer. And there are more changes on the way. Next spring, Nate hopes to break new turf at the former Turf Exchange with the construction of a beer garden that will skirt the southern exterior of the building. Obviously, there’s still plenty of life left in Kienast’s old haunt. As Nate says, “This place was built to last.”