Monday, April 27, 2015

The Death Knell for Homebrew in Oshkosh

This is the last in a series of four posts about the spring of 1933 when beer became legal again and the effect that had on Oshkosh. The previous posts in this series can be found here, here, and here.

Not everyone was celebrating when legal beer returned on April 7, 1933. And it wasn’t just Prohibitionists feeling the sting of defeat. The people who supported and supplied homebrewers in Oshkosh were left in the lurch when legal beer made its long awaited comeback.

By 1930, Prohibition had been in effect for more than a decade. During that time, homebrewing in Oshkosh grew into a cottage industry. In response, dozens of retailers in the city began stocking malt extracts, hops and other goods for making beer (more on that next week). Two of these outlets were especially noteworthy.

Rex Malt Products Company
Carlton Windhauser
In 1925, Anna Windhauser opened Rex Malt Products Company, a homebrew supply shop on the west side of Main St. south of Ceape Ave. Windhauser’s shop appears to have been the first store in Oshkosh to sell homebrew supplies as its main trade.

Anna Windhauser had recently separated from her husband in Green Bay when she arrived in Oshkosh with her four children in early 1925. Windhauser moved her young family into rooms behind the store and began stocking everything a small-batch brewer needed to make and package beer. The text of an early ad for Windhauser’s shop tells the story.

     Save on Malts and Hops
     BUY In bulk. Also caps, cappers, syphon
     hose, bottles, fillers, brushes,
     bottle washers. Phone 2624. We deliver.
     Rex Malt Products Co., 17 Main Street
        - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern April 13, 1925

The business thrived and Windhauser expanded the operation. She moved Rex Malt Products south, across the river, to what is now 1013 Oregon St., where the Oregon Club tavern is currently located. Windhauser’s 18-year-old son, Carlton, became manager of the store. Here’s a typical ad for Rex Malt Products from 1928 featuring weekend specials offered to Oshkosh area homebrewers. As always, click any of the images you see here to enlarge them.

All was well until 1933 and the return of legal beer. As the breweries here ramped up, homebrewing died off. In April 1933, the Windhauser’s acquired a liquor license and began selling Blatz beer and glassware from their store. It wasn’t enough to compensate for the flagging sales of homebrew supplies.

In September 1933, six months after beer had become legal, the Windhauser’s sold off their remaining stock and closed their store.

Midwest Sales Company
In 1928, longtime Oshkosh grocer James Skole opened a homebrew shop. He planted his store at what is now 617 Oregon, just up the street from the Windhauser store. The Southside of Oshkosh was a hotbed of homebrewing during the dry years. Skole, who lived and operated a grocery on Otter Ave., seems to have wanted his brew store to be near the center of the action.

Skole’s Midwest Sales carried a complete array of brewing products. Much of the equipment he sold was aimed at brewers looking to create larger batches of beer. He stocked fifteen gallon fermentors and half-barrel oak kegs and offered malt extract by the case. Skole acted as both wholesaler and retailer. It looks as though he was trying to capture the business of bootleg brewers as well as homebrewers.

Here’s an ad from August 1928 showing some of the wares Skole was offering shortly after the store opened.

In addition to his homebrew supplies, Skole began selling grocery and other items in his shop. He was thinking ahead. By the close of the 1920s, it was apparent that Prohibition was bound for the dust bin. It was just a matter of when. Skole got out early. In April 1932, he began selling off the stock of Midwest Sales and shortly after closed the store.

Homebrewing in Oshkosh never returned to the peak levels that were seen in the 1920s. Windhauser’s Rex Malt Products was, in all likelihood, the first homebrew shop to open in Oshkosh. It was also the last. We haven’t had a store of this type since.

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