Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Growing Profile of Fox River Brewing Company

Since 1995, people around here have referred to Oshkosh’s brewpub simply as Fratellos. I imagine it will take a while for that to change. But the fact is, Fratellos in Oshkosh is no more.

Over the past week, the Fratellos signage was been removed from the building that houses the restaurant and Fox River Brewing Company. Also gone are the signs for the Fieldhouse, the taproom connected to the brewery and restaurant. The entire complex has been rebranded as the Fox River Brewing Company Tap Room Restaurant & Brewery.

Here’s what you used to see as you approached the building.

Here’s what you’ll see now.

The rebranding makes sense. Over the past year, there’s been a significant re-emphasis on the brewery side of the operation. With a distribution agreement signed last year and a new bottling line squeezed into Fox River’s Appleton location, the brewery is more visible now than it has been since the late 1990s, when it was self-distributing its beer.

Here’s an example of the heightened profile. This sign is over the doorway into the liquor department cooler at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. It’s good to see a local, independent brewery getting the prime spot among the products of big breweries.

Driving much of this has been the success of BLÜ Bobber, Fox River’s blueberry fruit beer. BLÜ is currently being sold in numerous stores and taverns in Oshkosh. It appears the beer is doing particularly well in Northern Wisconsin.

Last week, I ran into Kevin Bowen, Fox River’s brewmaster. “BLÜ is on fire,” Bowen said. “We’re maxed out.” Jay Supple, CEO at Supple Group which operates Fox River Brewing, said the same when I spoke with him. Supple indicated that he’s looking into expanding the capacity of the brewery.

Fox River’s numbers for the first quarter of this year back up their optimism. Through the first four months of 2015 Fox River has sold 446 barrels of beer. That’s 100 barrels more than the brewery had sold at this same point last year; an increase of nearly 30 per cent.

It will be interesting to see where this leads. With the growth at Fox River and the arrival of Bare Bones Brewery, we’re witnessing the brewing industry come back to life in Oshkosh. I’m betting, this is just the beginning of the story.

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