|Crowd shot at an early Brews n' Blues|
Janic Cieszynski was looking back upon the inaugural Brews n’ Blues. It had been the first significant beer festival in Oshkosh and Cieszynski, who co-chaired the event for the Oshkosh Jaycees, was feeling a sense of relief. In the days before the beer tasting, there had been some worry. Cieszynski had struggled to get brewers to commit to the new festival. By the time the taps began flowing at noon on Sunday, July 21, 1996, he had secured commitments from only 18 brewers who brought in just over 40 different beers. It wasn’t quite the banquet of lager and ale that Cieszynski had hoped to present. It didn’t matter. The crowd loved it. More than 600 people gathered at Riverside Park for that first festival. Tickets had sold for $15 in advance and $18 at the door and the big gate galvanized Cieszynski and the Jaycees. Brews n’ Blues became an annual event.
The following year things went even better. “A lot of brewers who didn’t come last year heard through the grapevine that it was a well-run event,” Cieszynski told the Northwestern during the run-up to the ‘97 festival. “The good feedback made it easier this year for us to sign up brewers.” The number of beers presented almost doubled and Brews n’ Blues took on a more recognizable shape. The event was moved to Saturday. The local homebrewing club, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers, made their first appearance.
Brews n’ Blues has since become a fixture on the Oshkosh beer scene. This year there’ll be over 40 breweries represented pouring well over 100 beers. And the local homebrewing presence will be greater than ever. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers along with homebrewers from Fond du Lac and Appleton, will bring in almost as many different beers, meads and wines as were offered in total at that first Brews n’ Blues in 1996. If you’re at this year’s festival on Saturday, take a moment to look around and recall what Janic Cieszynski had to say after that first beer fest by the river. “Good beer is here to stay.” Saturday afternoon at the Leach, will confirm it.
Update: the backstory on how Brews n' Blues was born is here.