Monday, April 28, 2014

Big Burton Ale in Oshkosh

Here’s another example of a beer you might not expect to find in the lager-loving Oshkosh of the early 1900s. This ad from the Daily Northwestern of October 21, 1907 shows that Tom Ryan had put an imported Burton Ale on tap at his Clipper Club saloon on Main St. If you’re not familiar with the style known as Burton ale, don’t feel bad. Though this beer was widely popular all through the 1800s, it’s been all but extinct for almost 50 years.

Burton ale is an English style of beer that was the forerunner to the barley wines and winter warmers we know today. The typical Burton ale was amber or darker in color. It was a bitter, sweet and strong beer ranging anywhere from 7-11% ABV. It was brewed to be a rich, "comforting" beer; a warming balm as the days grew shorter and colder. Our man Ryan was right on the mark putting it on in late October.

Burton ales were categorized as stock ales, implying that the beer has been aged at the brewery prior to its release. These beers were often allowed to mature for up to nine months, but sometimes for a year or more before leaving the brewery. I wish Ryan had told us who the brewer was. Though Burton upon Trent was the birthplace and primary source for Burton ale, the style was brewed outside of England as well, including in America.

Oshkosh City Directory, 1886
I can't close this without a few words about Tom Ryan and the Clipper Club. Ryan was born in 1858 in Reeseville, Wis. to parents who had emigrated from Ireland. He arrived in Oshkosh about 1885 and set up his first saloon here on the east side of Main St., between Waugoo and Washington, where the Chase Bank now stands. Initially, Ryan called his place the Brunswick Sample Rooms, but within a couple of years had changed it to the sportier Clipper Club.

The Clipper Club was a classic Oshkosh pre-Prohibition saloon. It was known as a sporting man’s resort where pictures of racehorses and boxing greats hung from the walls. Ryan himself was a boxing promoter and staged numerous matches in Oshkosh. Prohibition spelled the end of the Clipper Club, but you can still get a glimpse inside the old saloon.

Below is an interior view of Ryan’s stand showing Ryan at the back-end of the bar in a white coat mixing a drink. For a better look, stop in at Oblio’s. A much enlarged print of this picture has been hanging from a wall in the main bar room at Oblio’s for years. It’s good to see one of the great Oshkosh saloons of the past memorialized in one of the greats of today.

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