By the late eighteenth century, porter had become the first style of beer to go global; thanks largely to the enormous London breweries that produced and exported it on a massive scale. The beer took hold in Colonial America and by the mid-1840s was being brewed as far west as Detroit. Some of that beer was reaching Oshkosh. Newspaper advertisements confirm that Detroit beer and London-brewed porters were being imported into Oshkosh prior to the establishment of breweries here in 1849.
|An 1849 ad for porter in Oshkosh|
In any case, most Yankee, Irish and English beer drinkers living in Oshkosh soon adopted a taste for the beer the Germans were bringing to town. By 1865, there were five breweries operating in Oshkosh; all of them run by German immigrants and all of them making lager beer. The home-town brewed lagers were soon predominant. In the 1870s, the flow of porter in Oshkosh began to dry up and in the 1880s you find little and then no mention of the beer being available in the city. It would take more than 50 years, but porter would return.
Oshkosh wasn’t the only place where porter had been abandoned. After WWII, production of porter went into near terminal decline. In its English homeland, brewers gave up on the style entirely. In America, porter hung on by a thread. Most of what remained was produced by a handful of breweries in the Northeast that did not distribute their beer in Wisconsin.
But in the 1970s, porter crawled back from the brink one more time. Like the revitalization of American beer in general, the revival of porter in this country was driven by homebrewers and craft brewers. In 1974, Anchor released its Anchor porter. It was the first “craft” porter and it signaled the renewal of the style in America. As craft brewers gained traction in the 1980s, many of them included a porter among their core beers. The style was becoming available again nationwide.
|A selection of porters available in Oshkosh|
What may be the first commercial example of porter brewed in Oshkosh was made by the Fox River Brewing Company in the fall of 1992. When the brewpub began serving its beer in December 1995 the brewery had a porter among its opening day line-up of beers. Fox River now regularly brews a variety of porters with its Titan Porter returning to its tap list most often.
Today, porters are abundant in Oshkosh. At this time of year it’s not difficult to find a dozen different porters being sold in the city with Wisconsin-brewed porters from Central Waters, O’so and the Wisconsin Brewing Co. available throughout the year. The inky ale that may have started Oshkosh on its beery way is thriving here.