Monday, October 12, 2015

Rahr’s 1953 All-Malt Beer

By the close of 1952 the Rahrs had to suspect that the end was drawing near. Their brewery's south-side competition – Peoples Brewing and the Oshkosh Brewing Company – were making beer in record quantities. OBC was now producing more than 50,000 barrels of beer annually. Peoples had passed the 30,000 barrel mark. At the same time, output at Rahr Brewing was shrinking with annual production falling to fewer than 8,000 barrels.

Then came 1953. On May 14, workers went on strike at Milwaukee's big-six breweries (Blatz, Gettelman, Independent Milwaukee, Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz). Small breweries across the state seized the opportunity. In Oshkosh, the effect was dramatic. At OBC, production spiked by 40%. Peoples output grew by 15%. But at Rahr the impact was truly phenomenal. Production increased by 100%. The last family owned brewery in Oshkosh was showing new signs of life.

The Oshkosh Centennial Parade, June 27, 1953.
The float for Repps bar was loaded down with a beer kegs and cases of Rahr’s Pale Beer.

1953 was an important year for Oshkosh. The city celebrated its Centennial with a series of special events and observances. The Rahrs, perhaps feeling the flush of their recent success, joined the celebration. The brewery produced a special beer to commemorate the Oshkosh Centennial. It was a beer that recalled the earliest days of the brewery.

When Charles Rahr launched his City Brewery in 1865, his initial brews were dark, all-malt lagers. There was no chance the Rahr's were going to resurrect the "dark" part of their forefather's original recipe. In 1953 that would have been commercial suicide. But the all-malt piece was certainly doable.

In June 1953, the Rahrs announced the release of the first all-malt beer produced commercially in Oshkosh since the turn of the century. It was named Rahr's Oshkosh Centennial Brew. The brewery described it as an "All Malt Pilsner Beer." Pale in color, but no corn.

Neck label from a 1953 bottle of Rahr's beer.

It was a bold move for a small brewery where every penny mattered. The Rahrs were raising production costs by dropping the corn that had been a staple in their beer since the late 1800s. For a brief time, Rahr's Pale Beer became one of the few all-malt beers produced in America.

It couldn't last, of course. A few weeks later on July 28, 1953, the Milwaukee brewery worker's strike ended. And the abnormally warm summer, which had also helped to increase beer consumption in Oshkosh, gradually cooled.

As fall settled in, the nagging sense of decline that had been present at the close of 1952 resurfaced. Despite the burst of promise that came with spring, the Rahr's final numbers for the year were down again. Production fell from 7,657 barrels in 1952 to 7,100 barrels in 1953. Things would only grow worse.

In 1954 sales of Rahr's beer plummeted to 5,563 barrels. In 1955 they tumbled further to just 3,660 barrels. It was over. On June 7, 1956, the Rahr's announced that their brewery would close. The family issued a statement saying they were unable to, "compete with larger breweries with bigger budgets for advertising and promotion." For the first time in 91 years, there would no longer be an active brewery at the end of Rahr Ave. in Oshkosh.

From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 3, 1956.

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