Monday, June 26, 2017

150 Years Ago at Glatz Park...

The sign at the entrance to Glatz Park reads, “On this site in 1869 John Glatz and Christian Elser established a brewery.” True enough. But the story begins earlier. There was a brewery there before Glatz or Elser ever set eyes on that land. It was built by a German immigrant named Franz Wahle.

On September 23, 1867, Franz Wahle took possession of what is now Glatz Park. It was the northern most portion of a 48-acre farm. Wahle built the first brewery there.

1873 map showing the location of the brewery and Wahle's farm.
Wahle was born in the northern German town Niedermarsberg in 1826. He moved to America in 1854. Before coming to Oshkosh, he had spent the previous 10 years running what is now the Stevens Point Brewery. In 1867, Wahle sold that brewery to Andrew and Jacob Lutz and went to Oshkosh.

There isn't a picture known to exist of the brewery Wahle built on the Glatz Park site. But there is a picture of his brewery in Stevens Point. Wahle was said to have also built that brewery. The brewery he built in Oshkosh would likely have looked quite similar.

Wahle's former brewery in Stevens Point.
There were five breweries operating in Oshkosh when Wahle arrived here. Among them, Wahle's operation would be unique. His was Oshkosh's only true farm brewery. An early inventory from the farm shows it produced corn, potatoes, apples, grapes and hay. Wahle also kept livestock including hogs, cows, horses and sheep. Less is known about what he was producing in his brewery.

Wahle appears to have done no advertising for his brewery in Oshkosh. That's surprising considering how frequently he advertised his Stevens Point brewery. There he was producing both ales and lagers. Wahle probably did likewise here.
Wausau Central, January 17, 1861.
Wahle's low Oshkosh profile makes for frustrating research. Mention of his Oshkosh brewery is scant. Even his obituary says almost nothing about his extensive brewing career. Today, the omission seems especially glaring.

Wahle's time as a brewer ended here in 1869 when he leased his brewery to John Glatz and Christian Elser. The brewery Wahle built was destroyed by fire in 1871. The following year, Glatz and Elser purchased the property from Wahle and rebuilt the brewery.

Under Glatz and Elser, it came to be known as the Union Brewery. John Glatz bought out Elser in 1879. Glatz merged his brewery with two others in Oshkosh to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1894. All that remains of the old Glatz Brewery is the stone wall in Glatz Park.

Franz Wahle sold his farm in April 1882. He died five months later. Wahle was 56 years old. The brewer who was instrumental in launching what is now one of America's oldest breweries is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Oshkosh and the New England IPA

For the past couple years, the most hyped American beer style has been the New England IPA. Or, if you'd rather, the Northeast IPA. Call it what you will. Except if you're in Oshkosh.  Around here there's no point calling for it at all. You're not going to get it.

Before cracking into what that's about, a brief summary of the style. I'll call it NEIPA for short.

Visually, these beers are striking. Others would say sickening. The classic NEIPA is intentionally hazy. Murky even. To the point being opaque. They can look like juice purée. For example...

The aromatics are just as distinct. A billow of citrusy hop aroma is typical. The flavor is hop-saturated. People often describe them as juicy. Tropical fruit notes are pronounced. It’s a showcase for modern hops. Think Citra, Mosaic, Simcoe, Galaxy. The mouthfeel is lush. Soft. The bitterness noticeably subdued. It’s not what you’d expect from a beer so infused with hop flavor. People fucking love them. But you can’t get them in Oshkosh.

I've been drinking beer here for more than 20 years. There's never been a style of American craft beer so elusive in Oshkosh as this one. Blame geography.

The leading brewers of the style are located, as you might expect, in New England. The best known are Massachusetts breweries Tree House and Trillium. And Vermont's The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead. None of them distribute here.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. These beers are notoriously poor travelers. The hop dependent aromatics and flavors degrade quickly. This style benefits greatly from proximity.

And it’s gradually making its way closer. Over the past year, NEIPAs have been produced by Wisconsin breweries in Baileys Harbor, Cedarburg, Milwaukee, Madison, La Crosse, and Waunakee among others. Our local breweries have been apprehensive to join in. That’s about to change.

Lion’s Tail in Neenah will likely be the first brewery in this area to produce a NEIPA. Alex Wenzel, owner and brewmaster at Lion's Tail, recently became interested in the style. He says he's been drinking his share of it lately. Alex is currently working on his formulation for a NEIPA that he hopes to release this summer.

There's more. Fifth Ward Brewing and Highholder Brewing are on schedule to open in Oshkosh later this year / early next. Each is considering adding a NEIPA to their portfolio.

Ian Wenger and Zach Clark of Fifth Ward says they will "absolutely" produce a NEIPA, once they're open. And Mike Schlosser of Highholder is considering brewing the style for his brewery's second set of batches. By this time next year, Oshkosh ought to be a lot more familiar with what these beers are about.

Until then, there are a couple beers currently available here that play off the NEIPA style. Hop Debacle from O’so Brewing was released in Oshkosh in May. It certainly looks right.

The aroma was spot on, too. But O'so went a bit wide of the mark when it came to mouthfeel and bitterness. I found Hop Debacle to be overly bitter and lacking the soft palate synonymous with NEIPAs.

Toppling Goliath's Double Dry Hop Pseudo Sue another in this line. This beer wasn't brewed to hit the style mark, but in most respects comes close to what you'd expect in a NEIPA.

Both these beers are available in the bottle shop at Gardina's. I believe I spotted the Toppling Goliath beer at Ski's as well. They'll have to do... for now.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Forgotten Oshkosh Beers: Aristo

Another beer nobody remembers. But there was a time when this was on many lips around here. It's Aristo, of the Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh.

The label was fancier than the beer behind it. Aristo was the budget beer in Peoples' line-up.  It was introduced in the spring of 1914. You could buy it at the brewery for 80 cents a case (about $14 in today's money). It was among the cheapest beers then available in Oshkosh.

Peoples offered few specifics about Aristo. I strongly suspect, though, that it was the same as Peoples' keg beer. But pasteurized, bottled and given a flashier banner. If that is the case, Aristo would have been an amber-hued lager. A friendly, comfortable beer. People here loved it. Or maybe they just loved the price.

Early on Peoples advertised the hell out of Aristo. They liked to harp on the idea of it being "Just the thing for the family—that is why we call it our "family beer."' You'd think they were marketing an elixir, the way they talked the stuff up. Lot's of breweries were spewing nonsense like this in 1914.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 16, 1914.

At Peoples they could be touchy about the reputation of their beer. They had good reason to be sensitive. Before Peoples opened in 1913, the Oshkosh Brewing Company had undertaken a smear campaign against them. OBC had intimated that Peoples was launched to make cheap beer for drunks. That was hardly the case. But the slur couldn't be ignored. When Aristo came out, Peoples made a point of addressing the beer's budget price.

"Do not think because the price is low that it is of poor quality, we know that this beer will take so well with the family, that we can sell it cheaper."

I'm sure nobody really cared about any of that bunk. Oshkosh always had a soft spot for cheap beer. Especially when it was locally made.  Aristo was a hit.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 11, 1914.
Sadly, these tales often end the same. With Prohibition. Peoples ceased production of the real Aristo when the first of the dry laws hit in 1919. But the brand wasn't dead, yet.

In the summer of 1919, Peoples released two non-alcoholic, beer-like beverages. One was named Bravo. The other Aristo.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 26, 1919.
And Aristo's doom was cemented. Without its kick, Aristo flopped. The brand faded into oblivion. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Aristo was left for dead. The cheap beer with the fancy name was never brewed again.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Number 90 Red - Vienna Lager at Lion's Tail

Lion's Tail in Neenah recently released Number 90 Red, a Vienna lager. It's style of beer rarely brewed around here. Or anywhere else, really. That wasn't always the case. We’ll get into that in a minute. First, let's get to the Lion's Tail beer.

Number 90 Red

Number 90 Red has a clean, light-toffee aroma leading to a toasty malt flavor. The hops are just for balance. They add a slight dryness to the finish. This beer is a shade darker than a classic Vienna lager, but who gives a shit. This is very good beer. Have it back to back with Lion’s Tail Mile of Munich Dunkel and you’ll get a sense of what it was like to drink beer in Vienna in the 1840s.

Now then... Vienna lager was the brainchild of Anton Dreher of Vienna, Austria.  He first brewed this style in 1841. It was lighter in body and paler in color than the dark lagers then predominant in Austria. Dreher's beer grew wildly popular.

A decade after the introduction of Dreher's beer, there were German brewers heading to Oshkosh. They brought their love of Vienna lager with them. In the late 1800s, Vienna lager was a favorite style among Oshkosh brewers. But brewers here preferred the Germanic nomenclature. They called theirs "Wiener" beer.

At the Glatz Brewery, they were so fond of their Wiener beer they included it on their letterhead in the 1890s

Below is an 1888 ad from the Gambrinus Brewery. Somebody botched the spelling of Wiener.

 Even the very first ad for the Oshkosh Brewing Company made mention of Wiener beer. This is from the Wisconsin Telegraph, May 18, 1894.

With the turn of the century, Vienna lager faded away. Even in Vienna. But in Oshkosh, people never quite lost their taste for it. Peoples Beer, at least until the 1960s, was deeply influenced by the earlier Vienna lagers brewed here.

Number 90 Red at Lion's Tail bears a closer resemblance to those older lagers.  It's a treasure of a beer. Get it while you can...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Finding Yager and Remaking his Winneconne Beer

A couple years ago, I got curious about a forgotten brewery that opened in Winneconne after the Civil War. Almost nothing had been written about the place. I started researching. In the fall of 2015, I wrote a blog post that included everything I’d found about Theodore Yager’s Winneconne Brewery.

From the Winneconne Item; December 2, 1871.

Sometimes blog posts take on a life of their own. This one did. Not long after the Yager post went up I was contacted by Kelly Nelson, of the Winneconne Public Library. Kelly is into Winneconne history. She wanted to know if I'd come across any pictures of the Yagers. I hadn't. Kelly was going to try to locate one.

Kelly Nelson

Kelly’s enthusiasm is undeniable. I would have bet she’d find that elusive photo of Yager. Late last year she did. Here’s the picture Kelly unearthed of Theodore Yager with his wife Katharina. I suspect this was taken about the time Yager launched his brewery.

Kelly’s route to obtaining that picture was serpentine. It led her to a great, great niece of Katharina Yager. A woman named Linda Adams. It turned out Linda had the only known picture of Theodore and Katharina Yager. What are the chances?

Kelly was working in other directions as well. She came up with the idea of celebrating Yager’s old brewery during the 50th Sovereign State Days festivities this July in Winneconne. Momentum kept building. The Winneconne Sovereign State Days Planning Committee got involved. Dan and Patti Dringoli of Bare Bones Brewery signed on.

A planning meeting at Bare Bones.

Kelly wanted to know if it would be possible to make a beer like Yager was brewing in Winneconne in 1867. I thought we could. I didn’t have a recipe from Yager’s brewery. But I had come across inventories from his brewery and other information that shed light on Yager's process. And I knew what sort of beer he was making.

RJ Nordlund is the brewmaster at Bare Bones. Earlier this year, RJ and I began working up a recipe. We wanted to approximate one of the beers Yager was brewing 150 years ago in Winneconne. He had been brewing at least a couple different types of beers. One was a lager. Another was an ale. We decided we’d brew the ale.

Yager's ale would have been along the lines of a nearly extinct style known as Common or Present Use. Yager was one of several German-trained brewers in Winnebago County making such beers. These beers were brewed during warmer months. When temperatures within the brewer’s ice-cooled storage caves were on the rise. Unlike the aged, lager beers, Yager’s ale was meant to be consumed fresh.

Yager was brewing at a time before corn came into use by Winnebago County brewers. His would have been an all-malt beer. But the sort of malt Yager was using no longer exists. To get around that, we put together a grain bill that would approximate the character and body Yager’s malt would have produced. And as Yager would have done, we chose malt made locally. All the malt was sourced from Briess Malting in Chilton.

Similarly, Yager would probably have used hops grown in this region. In the late 1860s, hop farming in the Midwest was booming. We chose hops from a Michigan hopyard. But modern hops are quite different from those grown in Yager’s time. We settled on Centennial hops added at specific points in the brewing process to impart an aromatic, floral note. An aspect that likely would have also been present in Yager's ale.

With that worked out, the beer needed a name. The Winneconne Public Library staged a contest. The public submitted names. An online vote was taken. The winning name is Wolf River Revenge. RJ Nordlund designed the label for the beer.

RJ and I brewed the beer on Sunday, June 4, at Bare Bones. It went very well. Yager's eyes were on us. We put up his old picture on the tank where the beer would ferment.

While we were brewing, it occurred to me that RJ kind of resembles a younger version of old Yager.

Wolf River Revenge will be packaged in kegs and 22-ounce bottles. It will be a copper-hued beer with a clean, rich malt flavor backed by a mild hop note. It will be robust,  but easy drinking. Just the sort of beer they would have been enjoying during summer in Winneconne 150 years ago.

The first pouring of Wolf River Revenge will take place Friday, July 21 on the History Happy Hour River Boat Cruise. I'll be on the cruise talking about the Yager brewery and Wolf River Revenge.

Wolf River Revenge will also be available in Winneconne during Sovereign State Days 2017 taking place July 21 – July 23. The beer will find its way into the Bare Bones Tap Room, as well.

While RJ and I were brewing the beer, one thought kept returning to me: I wonder what old Yager would have made of all of this? I would hope he’d be pleased.

Friday, June 9, 2017

HighHolder Gets Its Federal Permit

The picture below says it better than I can. Good news! Yesterday the HighHolder Brewing Company of Oshkosh received its federal brewing license. It shouldn't be long now before brewing returns to the south side of Oshkosh. More to come...

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yours with a Jerk: Getting Stewed and Lewd in Butte des Morts

“Sam where did you go the Fourth, did you go to Bogk’s? You and me went there last year and got pretty drunk, at least I did.”
   - From a letter written by G.R. Woodworth to Samuel Odell dated August 7, 1864.

G.R. Woodworth was in Minnesota when he wrote that letter. Samuel Odell was in Butte des Morts. He’d been in Butte des Morts since 1856. He ran a general goods store. Odell’s store was on Main St. near the shore of Lake Butte des Morts.

Odell's store, located in the larger of the two building on the right.

Exactly and directly one block east of Odell’s store there appears to have been a tavern. That property was owned by brothers Gustavus Bogk and Frederick Bogk. I suspect that is the “Bogk’s” Woodworth was referring to.

The Bogk brothers property was on Erie St. They bought it in 1857. A couple years later, The Petford Hotel was built next door, where Tilly's Too Tavern now stands.

Tilly's Too Tavern near the corner of Washington & Erie streets.
In early 1864, the  Bogk brothers lost their property for non-payment of taxes. But the brothers weren’t done slinging beers. Gustavus Bogk headed to Oshkosh where he eventually established The Oshkosh City Beer and Pleasure Gardens. In 1865, Frederick Bogk bought the Butte des Morts Brewery. The brewery was right behind Sam Odell’s store.

It was while searching for anything at all about the brewery that I came across G.R. Woodworth’s letters to Samuel Odell. The letters reveal nothing about the brewery. But there’s much they do reveal. Check this out...

Well Sam I received your epistle a long time ago and was glad to hear that your Bowells was regular... Everything is high here Except Fucking. That is very low and Plenty to be had at the old Prick… Sam give my love to all of the Girls and tell Mary Ann that I will come back if there is any chance to, since Peter and Dalton left my chance would be good I think. How does Neilson make it go, does he get as much trade as Pete did? Tell Sarah fish to Kiss my Arse… Sam burn this letter as soon as you read it.

From your Friend
G.R. Woodworth
Fairibault Minn.
August 7, 1864

Amen, indeed.

The letters to Odell were transcribed by Scott Cross, archivist for the Oshkosh Public Museum. Cross began posting the letters online in 2007. At that time Cross wrote, “Odell collected and kept everything, from advertising flyers and broadsides to posters and personal correspondence. Among his collection of personal correspondence are letters from a friend, G. R. Woodworth and some unidentified married women. These letters and notes are extremely rare since they deal with the subjects of sexuality and infidelity.”

For example...

Friend Sam
Frank says that you are shoving it to Jane Brown. If that is so, Bully for you. That is better than Mrs. Becker. Don’t you think so? … Sam, do you go over to see Lucy Abels now? I would like to be down there about a week. I think that I could have some fun…. Sam, you would have had a good time if you had been with me last night and got your Old Root Scraped. If I was in your place I would get out of that place and come up here where you can make something. Sam, give my respects to Mr. & Mrs. Hull and my love to Mary Ann petford and get all the fucking you can. 

Write as soon as you get this and tell me the news.
Don’t show this Letter to anyone
From your Friend
G.R. Woodworth
Fairibault, Minn.
February 6, 1865

Woodworth left Minnesota. He went to New York. He badgered Odell to join him. “I don’t see what the Devil you stay in Butte de Morts for…  If I was in your place I would get out of that place and come up here where you can make something.”

Despite all his swagger, you get the sense Woodworth seemed to miss Butte de Morts.

Well Sam Here I am in a store doing a Bully Business and making money... I received a letter from Ed Moran. He said that he had been to Osage and had got back to Butte. He could not keep away from Miss Jones. He is a Hell of a Boy… Sam, I have made $400 since I came home and have got in a Bully place to make more. I have not Drank a Drop of anything since I left Oshkosh… Sam, how does Lucy Abels get along? I would like to see her and Diddle her once more. I suppose all the folks in Butte think that I am a Dam little fool, but I can take care of myself yet… Write as soon as you get this. Don’t show this to anyone.

Yours with a Jerk
G.R. Woodworth
Cherry Creek
Chautauqua County, New York
December 2, 1865

Odell didn’t take Woodworth’s advice. Just the opposite. Odell put down roots in Butte des Morts. In 1866, he purchased the store he’d been leasing from Lathrop Hull. Odell would never leave. But he traveled widely in the little village. Just read the letters.

Samuel Odell married for the first time in 1891, He was 60 years old. His bride was 32-year-old Sarah Van Doren of Winneconne.

Odell died in 1912. He was 92 at the time of his passing. His obituary left out all the good stuff. It mentions he was related to a famous New York family that included a former Governor of that state. As if that mattered. They even botched his headstone. The marker reads O’Dell instead of Odell.

Odell was buried in Winneconne Cemetery on Wednesday, April 10, 1912.  At his funeral, Rev. Gebaroff spoke of “Odell's active interest in Christian work.” It’s too bad G.R. Woodworth wasn’t there. He could have sent his friend off with the sort of flourish Odell deserved... Yours with a Jerk.

Samuel Odell's marker in Winneconne Cemetery.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Summertime Beers from Bare Bones & Lion's Tail

We're talking summer beers with Alex Wenzel of Lion's Tail Brewing in Neenah and RJ Nordlund of Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh. The two recently teamed up to get beers from Bare Bones and Lion's Tail into cans for the coming summer. Nordlund also discusses his new CD, Ghosts. Check out a video from the album here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Big Bottles of Wartime Beer

America entered World War II in 1941. With that came rationing. Restrictions were placed on everything from rubber to butter. Tin was in short supply. For brewers, capping all those beer bottles suddenly became a problem. Their solution: bigger bottles.

Big bottles of beer were nothing new in Oshkosh. Quart-sized bottles were used by some bottlers here from the late 1870s into the early 1900s.

For example, here's a quart bottle from the 1880s. It's from Frank Lutz, an independent beer bottler. His bottling plant was on Oregon St. just across from St. Vincent Church.

With the turn of the century came mechanized bottling and metal crown caps. Bottling beer became faster and easier. Especially when using smaller bottles. By 1910, brewers in Oshkosh had all but abandoned the quart bottle.

In 1938, the Oshkosh Brewing Company brought the bigger bottles back. Here's the label seen on OBC's quart bottles.

At first, the quart bottles were a novelty. They became a necessity when wartime rationing arrived in 1942. Bottle caps grew scarce. Quart bottles grew prevalent. Here’s one from Oshkosh’s Rahr Brewing Company.

The ultimate in big beers was the picnic bottle. At more than a foot tall, the picnic bottle held a half gallon of beer. Better yet, it was unpasteurized draft beer. At OBC, they went full-on retro. The brewery capped its picnic bottles with the old Lightning Style Stoppers first seen in the 1870s.

Here's a better look at that label.

Metal rationing ended in 1946. OBC ditched its picnic bottles. The half-gallon growler is our modern equivalent. Like the old picnics, they're filled with unpasteurized, draft beer. More importantly, we again have local breweries to fill them.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gilt Edge, a Forgotten Oshkosh Beer

Gilt Edge Beer marked a turning point for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Introduced in 1900, the brand was designed to raise the profile of the brewery.

Since its inception in 1894, OBC had made its reputation on German-style keg beers sold in saloons. Gilt Edge was a deviation. This was to be an overtly modern beer. An American beer.

Gilt Edge was a light, pale lager. It was just over 4% ABV. It was sold only in bottles. The packaging was elegant. The bottles were clear. They were sealed with a porcelain stopper on a wire hinge. A yellow ribbon was tied at the neck of each bottle.

The intention was to produce a beer that could stand on the same shelf as the pricier, nationally distributed brands. Beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, and Miller's Buffet. Bottled beers sold in upscale restaurants and posh bars on Main St.

Gilt Edge became OBC’s most expensive beer. The target audience was young. American born. The affluent offspring of German and Bohemian immigrants.

Gilt Edge drinkers in the early 1900s.

By 1905, the marketing of Gilt Edge had taken an absurd turn. Like many breweries at that time, OBC often promoted its beer as if it were a health drink. With Gilt Edge, the brewery amplified that rhetoric.  At times, the claims bordered on parody. OBC suggested that Gilt Edge was non-intoxicating. That it was a stimulant. A tonic. A special kind of medicine to revive invalids.

1907. "She will build up rapidly if you will give her a glass of beer three times a day."

Nobody bought that. And fewer were buying Gilt Edge. The brand lasted until 1913. By then, the porcelain stoppers had been replaced with tin caps. Those yellow ribbons were long gone. The dainty beer with the fancy name was jettisoned as the brewery winnowed its lineup.

But at OBC, they never forgot. After Gilt Edge went out of production, the brewery established a real estate company to manage its saloon properties. The directors of OBC named their new company Gilt Edge.

Monday, May 15, 2017

From Brewhouse to Whorehouse in 1930s Oshkosh

The Kentucky Ave. Brewhouse
This has always been a wild town. Take 1930 for example. Prohibition was lingering on. Beer had been illegal for a decade. Yet it was everywhere in Oshkosh. It came pouring out of wildcat breweries. They were scattered across this city. Some wildcats were hidden in houses. Like this one...

1627 Kentucky Ave.

Looks like a typical Oshkosh home. It did in 1930, too. That was the point. Because in the basement was something else. A beer factory.

The Safford family lived there in 1930. It was not the best of times for the Saffords. Vette Safford, the family patriarch, had passed away in 1926. He was 50 years old. He left a wife named Mabel and six children. Five of the kids were still living at home. The youngest was nine.

After Vette’s death, the Saffords bounced around town. They lived on New York for a while. Then they moved over to Scott. Next they rented the house on Kentucky. It was between Bent and Murdock streets. Most of the block was empty lots.

Then and now on Kentucky Street. Location of the Safford’s home is marked by the red dots.

There are 14 homes along that stretch today. There were just four when the Saffords lived there. They were at the southern border of the Nordheim neighborhood. It was considered the toughest part of Oshkosh. Just the place for a bootlegger. Perhaps Neil Safford had already considered that.

The Nordheim highlighted in green.

At the start of 1930, Neil Safford was 29 and single. With Vette dead, he was supporting the family. Neil worked as an electrician. Apparently, that wasn’t cutting it. He turned his attention to bootlegging beer.

Neil had no background in the beer business. Neil was not deterred. He converted the basement of the Kentucky Ave. home into a brewery. He ramped up quickly. He got shut down even quicker. Safford’s brewery was in operation for less than a year when the feds came barging in.

The night of February 14, 1930, was blistering cold. The Daily Northwestern reported that Wisconsin was “plunged into sub-zero temperatures, whipped by biting winds… accompanied by whistling snow.” Good cover for cops. The Saffords never saw them coming. Federal Agents broke through the door just after dark.

The Milwaukee Sentinel reported that the raid occurred as bottling operations were set to begin. There was plenty ready to bottle. Safford had 2,000 gallons of finished beer on hand. Enough for almost 900 cases of beer. That’s production at a level consistent with some craft breweries operating in this area. And Safford wasn’t just making beer. He also had four gallons of moonshine down there.

The cops smashed the equipment. They drained the beer and booze onto the floor. They arrested Neil. He was taken to Milwaukee. Thrown in jail. The next day he ponied up $1,000 and was cut loose. He returned to Oshkosh. After that, young Neil went straight and narrow.

Ten months after his illegal brewery had been smashed, Neil Safford was the married father of a baby boy. He moved from Oshkosh to Wausau in the late 1930s. He eventually ended up in California. He died there in 1990.

Those are the facts. Now, let’s stroll into weeds. There’s a juicy, loose end to this story.

The Harrison St. Whorehouse
The Daily Northwestern alleged that Neil Safford was supplying beer to a soft drink parlor in the Nordheim. In Oshkosh, the term “soft drink parlor” was usually accompanied by a wink. The term was a euphemism for a speakeasy.

The Daily Northwestern didn’t give the address of the soft drink parlor allegedly connected to Safford’s brewery. In 1930, however, there was just one such place licensed to operate in the Nordheim. It was run by a woman named Olive Foelsch.

Straight out of St. Louis, Olive Fisher married an Oshkosh cab driver named Rudy Foelsch in the summer of 1913. Olive was 23. Rudy was 41. This at a time when cab drivers in Oshkosh were getting all kinds of flack. They’d become notorious for being conduits to prostitutes and whorehouses. As a 1913 Wisconsin vice report stated, “The drivers know all the sporting women and the prostitutes know all the drivers.”

Rudy and Olive dispatched the Foelsch Taxi Line in 1916. They moved up the food chain. They took over an old flophouse named the Blackstone. It was at what is now Pearl and Division streets. They renamed it the Foelsch Hotel and got a liquor license. All was swell until Prohibition arrived in 1920. With that, Rudy and Olive headed for the Nordheim.

Their new digs were out on Harrison St. On the east edge of the Nordheim. Out there you could get away with almost anything. Rudy and Olive were going to put that to the test. They established a soft drink parlor (wink!). The building still stands. And it’s still home to a tavern. Today it’s named Ginger Snap.

2314 Harrison St.

In 1926, Rudy Safford died at the ripe age of 55. Olive kept right on at it. When Prohibition ended in 1933 she went legal. At least on the booze side. Olive wasn’t just selling drinks, though. The Foelsch Tavern was well known for being a house of prostitution. Her reputation caught up with her on a Saturday night in July 1937.

A raid headed by District Attorney Magnusen and Sheriff Paul Neubauer late Saturday night led to charges of keeping a disorderly roadhouse against Olive Foelsch, of Foelsch's tavern... Mrs. Foelsch waived preliminary examination, pleading guilty… It was her first offense, she stated. Judge Hughes fined her $200 and costs or six months.

Two inmates of the establishment, Dorothy Smith and Jean Bois, waived preliminary hearings and entered pleas of guilty... They were fined $50 and costs or 60 days each. Both claimed it was their first offense.
     – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 19, 1937

Olive left town about five years later. She moved to San Diego. Just like Rudy, she died at age 55. Oh, the stories this woman could have told. Sadly, we’ll never get to hear them.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Putting a Cork in it...

I'm working on a project that'll take me away from the blog for a couple of weeks. If all goes well, I should be back to blogging right around May 15. Until then, Prost!

An Oshkosh Brewing Company bottle stopper, circa 1895.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fletch's Local Tap House

Fletch's Local Tap House opens Saturday, May 6 at 570 N. Main St. in downtown Oshkosh. Here's a video introduction to Oshkosh's new craft beer bar.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Old Ruedinger Saloon on South Main

There’s a crumbling mess at the northeast corner of 8th and S. Main. There's a story there, too. It was home to one of the South Side’s early saloons. Now it’s like this...

The first saloon at this corner opened in 1875. Over the next 45 years, a stream of barmen flowed through, each calling the place their own. They came and went. Aside from the bar, most of them had one thing in common. They were related, one way or another, to a farmer named Valentine Ruedinger.

Valentine Ruedinger emigrated to America from Württemberg, Germany in 1848. He was 19. He was broke. He settled in the Town of Nekimi. Ruedinger went to work farming. He acquired land and a wife. Both were copiously fertile. Before long, the Ruedingers had eight children, 100 acres, and money to spare.

In 1865, Ruedinger bought property at what was then Kansas and 8th streets. The lot was positioned on the north end of the “Brooklyn” side of town. Manufacturing concerns, hotels, and rooming houses stood clustered about it. Here's a drawing of that neighborhood circa 1867. The red star is at the intersection of 8th and Kansas (now S. Main).

It was an ideal location for a beer joint. But Ruedinger was no barman. His son-in-law on the other hand…

Joseph Kloeckner

Joseph Kloeckner was gregarious in the extreme. Born in Germany in 1848, he’d grown up in the hospitality business. The Kloeckner's operated a well-known hotel and winery in Heddesheim. Joe Kloeckner wasn’t interested. He turned 18 and left for America.

Kloeckner headed straight for Wisconsin. He hit Oshkosh. He said it was his first love. His second was Valentine Ruedinger’s daughter Anna. They married in the summer of 1875. Kloeckner opened the saloon shortly after. He and Anna moved into an apartment above.

Here’s an ad for the saloon from the 1879 Oshkosh City Directory. The address, however, appears incorrect. All other listings show the address as 49 Kansas St.

Call they did. The saloon thrived. Kloeckner made the most of it. Friendships formed over the bar led to business and political opportunities. Kloeckner partnered in a furniture company. He helped launch a bank. Joe’s neighbors elected him alderman of the Third Ward.

In 1882, Kloeckner was nominated for a State Assembly seat. One of his backers quipped, "We have got a candidate now who possesses the implements of war — a bar." It wasn't enough. Kloeckner lost the race. But not his momentum.

Kloeckner’s ambition outgrew the saloon. In the fall of 1885, a new deputy revenue collector would be appointed. Kloeckner coveted the post. The saloon would hinder his chances. In April, he sold the bar back to Valentine Ruedinger. Kloeckner got the job he was after. The bar got new proprietors.

Valentine Ruedinger’s sons Willie and John took over. It became the Ruedinger Brothers Saloon. The brothers went to town. Literally. They left their farms and moved into apartments above the saloon.
1886 City Directory
"Fresh beer always on tap..."  The Ruedinger brothers had an in on that. Brother John married the daughter of Leonhardt Schwalm, co-founder of Horn & Schwalm's Brooklyn Brewery. A good connection for a barman. There was a downside. John August Ruedinger couldn't stop drinking the stuff. His alcoholism flourished at 49 Kansas St. Rocky times were ahead.

Insurance map from 1890. The Saloon is shown at the corner of 8th & Kansas streets.
In 1890, the bar was commonly known as the Ruedinger Brothers Saloon. By then, though, the business was a one-man show. John Ruedinger's drink problem worsened. His wife, Henrietta, was headed down the same path. By 1887, they were out of the picture. John and Henrietta returned to their farm in Black Wolf. John's tailspin accelerated. He was placed under guardianship in 1898. He died in 1902.

Back at the bar, Willie was running things solo. He had his own ideas. He began selling English-style ales. At the time, locally-brewed lager beer dominated. Porter was not your typical South-Side fare.

1889 City Directory
In 1891, Willie purchased the property from Valentine Ruedinger. Ownership didn't make life any easier.

Willie had married a woman from New Glarus named Marie Genal. Her family had been in the hotel business forever. In 1893, Willie and Marie had a son. They named him William August Ruedinger. After the boy was born, their marriage went to hell. Things got ugly. Quick.

Willie had borrowed money to purchase the saloon. As the marriage soured, Marie's father, JF Genal, stepped in. He bought the mortgage. It meant Willie was now in debt to an adversary – his father-in-law. The Genal family had Willie boxed in. So he moved out. Marie and William Jr. stayed. Marie’s new boyfriend moved in with them. His name was Peter Reifer.

In the old days, the Reifers had been the Ruedinger’s neighbors. They lived in the Town of Nekimi on a farm adjacent to the Ruedinger farm. Peter and Willie had grown up together. Now Peter had Willie's wife, Willie's boy, and Willie's bar. Willie still held the deed, but it hardly mattered. By 1898, the place was known as Peter Reifer's saloon.

Marie married Peter Reifer. Willie washed his hands of all of it. He sold the property to Marie. Cheap. He unloaded it for a tenth of what he’d paid for it.

The arrangement at the saloon grew fluid. Marie maintained ownership, but from year to year the business was listed under different proprietors. Eventually, another Ruedinger got behind the bar.

Willie and Marie's son, William August Ruedinger, took over the saloon in 1914. He had just turned 21. Here's a picture of him at the entrance. He's wearing a white apron. This was taken about the same time he became the proprietor.

Did you notice the Oshkosh Brewing Company sign in the background? You couldn't have missed it had you been walking by in 1914. The monochrome photo doesn't do it justice. Here's how it looked in its day, in glorious color.

Young William bailed shortly after the 1914 picture was taken. Peter Reifer took over again. In 1916, he put his brother Ben behind the bar. That didn't work out at all. Ben Reifer contracted TB and died. It was straight downhill from there.

The impending doom of national Prohibition induced the shuddering of countless saloons. The old Ruedinger stand was among them. The building was already vacant when Prohibition hit in 1920. The beer and melodrama were drained from the place. Marie finally sold the building in 1946. She died three years later.

The building at 716 S. Main slowly eroded into what is there now. It's held everything from battery shops to the Sacred Circle Spirit Shop, which last offered "metaphysical supplies and services" there in 2009. Did they divine the spirit of a Ruedinger roaming around?

Last December, the property was purchased by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Oshkosh. It’s only a matter of time. The wrecking ball will soon arrive to pulverize the old Ruedinger saloon.