Monday, March 16, 2015

Peoples First Draft

I didn’t intend for this to happen, but the last few Monday posts here have shared a common theme. I’ve been pecking away at The Oshkosh Brewing Company’s command of the Oshkosh beer market in the early 1900s and how it led to a backlash that culminated in the formation of Peoples Brewing.

I have a couple more posts that’ll continue to explore that theme. Today I want to take a look at the first beers that Peoples Brewing released when the brewery opened for business in June 1913. Next week, I’ll get into 1914 and how the breweries here reacted to the arrival of Peoples.

If you’d like to catch up with the previous posts in this series, here’s where to find them.

1) The Oshkosh Brewing Company comes to dominate the Oshkosh beer market. HERE.

2) Oshkosh saloon keepers fight back. HERE.

3) The Oshkosh Brewing Company’s angry response to the Peoples revolt. HERE.

Ok, let’s get on with the next part of the story...

Introducing Peoples Beer
In 1912, a year before Peoples Brewing began releasing its beer, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) had begun a smear campaign against Oshkosh’s new brewery. “We are informed that the new brewing company, so-called People's Brewing Company, has brought into this city an outside beer which is offered for sale for less money than the actual cost of production of high grade beer,” was among the charges OBC leveled at Peoples prior to the brewery’s launch.

When Peoples finally began selling its beer in June 1913, it was clear that the swipes OBC had taken had not been forgotten by the folks at the new brewery. Though Peoples would never explicitly address the attack, the brewery made a point of countering OBC’s claims. The issue of beer quality was primary in Peoples ads during the first years of its operation. The shadow of OBC’s allegations loomed.

Common Sense will tell you what is good for you and what is not. That beer is good for your health is a fact, but that BETTER BEER is made here in the city you will find out in a fair test. 
Try “Asterweiss” give it a fair test and see if it does not give better satisfaction.
          - From an ad for Peoples beer, January 1915

Asterweiss was Peoples premium bottled beer. This was a pasteurized beer sold in clear bottles, each wrapped in tissue paper to shield the beer from light. The beer was described as being golden in color with “sufficient” body. Asterweiss was brewed with Wisconsin malt and imported Bohemian hops.

At $1.40 for a case of 12oz. bottles it was a somewhat expensive beer, but exactly the same price as OBC’s premium brand, Oshkosh Special Old Lager. In today’s money that would breakdown to just a bit more than $8.50 for a six-pack.

The clear bottle is an interesting feature. This was the era of Upton Sinlcair’s The Jungle. Purity in all things food and beverage was paramount. Peoples advertising would often stress the purity of its beer. The clear bottle would eventually be done away with by Peoples, but early on the use these bottles was meant to be symbolic of the “unadulterated” nature of Peoples' product.

Standard was the second of Peoples two beers. This beer would fuel the success of the brewery. Standard was an unpasteurized draft beer “for those who desire un-steamed beer.” Advertisements for Standard were somewhat vague about what went into the beer, but more than likely it was a standard American adjunct lager. Despite the brewery’s claim that it was “Made from the best materials and thoroughly aged” Standard was the low-cost alternative to Asterweiss.

In Oshkosh saloons, Standard was poured from wooden kegs at a nickel a glass. In stores, it was offered in 16 oz. brown bottles at 50 cents for a 12-pack (or the equivalent of about $4.50 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles in today’s money). If ordered directly from the brewery, the beer would be “Delivered free of charge to your home. Always delivered ice cold.”

Within a couple months of its introduction, Standard was on draft in more than 30 Oshkosh saloons. Most of those had previously been pouring the product of OBC.

The popularity of Peoples beer in Oshkosh saloons would grow as the years went on causing OBC to loose its absolute control of the Oshkosh beer market. A new era for beer had arrived in the city

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