Tuesday, December 12, 2017


A new one from Fifth Ward for the growler collection. This is the first time since 1956, that we’ve had three breweries in Oshkosh.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bare Bones Brewery's Cookies and Milk Stout

Bare Bones Brewery's Cookies and Milk Stout hit the shelves at Festival Foods in Oshkosh yesterday. It's the first time an Oshkosh brewery has canned its holiday seasonal beer. And it's the first beer from an Oshkosh brewery to carry the Independent Craft Brewer Seal on its label. There's more on this year's Cookies and Milk Stout here...

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Century Later in Neenah

In 1917, the City of Neenah voted itself dry. A century later, that ghost has been exorcised This weekend people gathered at Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah to celebrate the brewery’s second anniversary. Long live beer in Neenah...

The taproom at Lion's Tail Brewing, Saturday, November 18, 2017.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HighHolder Breweriana

And here we have the first piece of breweriana from the HighHolder Brewing Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Drink Local

It was a great weekend for beer in Oshkosh. The sign painted on the wall at The Granary says it all.

The Granary opened with 30 beers on tap. All four Winnebago County Breweries had beer on the tap list. Three of those beers were from Oshkosh. It's the first time three Oshkosh breweries have appeared on tap together since 1956. And I doubt there's ever been a tavern that served beer from four Winnebago County breweries simultaneously.

Saturday night was the grand opening of Fifth Ward Brewing.

Fifth Ward brought out its third beer this weekend. It's a red IPA named Forman's Basement.

Ian Wenger (left) and Zach Clark of Fifth Ward with Forman's Basement.

The dry-hopping of that beer included hops grown by Tim Pfeister in Winnebago County. That makes Forman's Basement just the third beer since the early 1880s to be brewed with Winnebago County hops.

It's all coming back around. When it comes to beer here, we're living through a revival period. It's going to be looked upon with envy. Enjoy it while you can!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Opening of Fifth Ward Brewing Co.

This weekend we get to celebrate the grand opening of a new brewery in Oshkosh.

Ian Wenger and Zach Clark have been working to make this happen since 2012. For the last couple of years, they've been renovating the building at 1009 South Main in preparation for their brewery’s opening. 

On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, Fifth Ward Brewing began pouring its beer.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Book on the History of Brewing in Winnebago County

I just signed a contract to write a book about the history of brewing in Winnebago County. It’s going to cover every brewery that's operated in our county –  past and present. My hope is that’ll be released before the end of 2018.

Not the actual cover.
I'm starting on the book this week. And I’m going to try to keep this blog rolling along, too. I think I can manage both. The posts here will definitely be shorter, but there may be more of them.  We’ll see.

I was just looking at the long list of blog posts I still want to write. When I started this blog in 2010, I didn't know what I was getting into. I never imagined the beer culture of this place would prove to be so fertile. I'm closing in on 900 posts now. I don't know if I'm even halfway to being done. There are so many more stories to tell!

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Return of Casks and Caskets

After a two-year hiatus, Casks and Caskets returned Saturday night.

Casks and Caskets was launched in 2012 by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers (SOBs).  The plan was to have an annual homebrewed beer festival. All went well until the event was shut down by the state after Casks 2014.

Even though money generated from the event went to charity, the SOBs were informed that selling tickets to a festival where untaxed beer is poured would, in the future, be considered illegal. It took the club a couple years to find a way to work with that decision. The solution turned out to be fairly simple. Make it a free-beer fest.

This year, Casks and Caskets was held at the Oshkosh Hilton Garden Inn. And it remained a charity event. Money was raised through silent auctions, raffles, and donations. This year, the money will go to the Oshkosh Hunger Network.

There's not another beer fest like this in Wisconsin. There's no other that's absolutely free. And there's no other where all the beverages – beer, wine, cider, mead, soda – are homemade. It makes for an atmosphere different from any other beer event I've been to.

SOB president Mike Engel presenting Travis Sullivan his trophy for his "Best of Show" beer.

Let's hope we can all get together and do it again next year.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Peoples v. Chief, 1957

In 1957, Oshkosh’s two breweries owned this city’s beer market. Combined, Oshkosh Brewing and Peoples Brewing produced nearly 90,000 barrels of beer. The people of Oshkosh were dedicated to that beer. Other brands were available. They languished. Most folks here drank either Chief Oshkosh or Peoples.

December 1957.
In the glass, the two beers looked much the same. Each was pale-gold. Flavorwise, they were quite different. Peoples was a malt-driven beer. Lightly bitter, it was the sweeter of the two. Chief Oshkosh leaned heavier on hops. It was crisp and bitter. A true American pilsner.

The two beers were identically priced. Both were available everywhere in town. You might expect the difference in flavor to have been the deciding factor in determining who drank what. It ran deeper than that. The choice tended to cleave along socioeconomic lines. Who you were and where you drank often determined what you drank. In Oshkosh, your beer was part of your identity.

 Summer 1957.
This all gets drawn into focus by an extensive survey commissioned by the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC). In 1956, OBC hired the Chicago marketing research firm A.J. Wood & Company to conduct an extensive analysis of the Oshkosh beer market. Wood & Co. visited 5,091 homes in the Oshkosh area to ask people about their beer drinking habits. The survey results were delivered to OBC in April 1957.

The survey focused heavily on flavor. This was probably what most interested OBC. In 1956, the brewery had tinkered with its recipe for Chief Oshkosh. The beer was made even more hop-forward and bitter. OBC sought to draw a bead on what local consumers were making of the change. What the brewery got went well beyond a simple taste test. The result was the most comprehensive picture of beer drinking in Oshkosh for any single period.

The first thing that jumps out is the focus on local beer. A solid 75% of the respondents identified either Peoples or Chief Oshkosh as their favorite beer. The remaining 25% were devoted to a host of other beers including Blatz, Hamm’s, Kingsbury, Miller, Old Style, Pabst, and Schlitz. None of those beers had more than a 5% share of the market.

When it came to bottled beer, Chief Oshkosh had the edge with 41% going for Chief Oshkosh and 34% for Peoples. The numbers flipped when it came to draft beer: 41% preferred Peoples, 35% liked Chief Oshkosh. How heavily those people drank also came into play.

The authors of the survey summed it up this way, “Chief Oshkosh’s position is substantially weaker among heavier drinkers than lighter drinkers. Among light drinkers, Chief Oshkosh enjoys a significant lead over Peoples – 45% versus 33%. In contrast, among heavy drinkers, the two brands rank about equal – 38% and 37% respectively.”

Light drinkers were identified as those having had fewer than four beers in the previous two weeks. Heavy drinkers were people who drank 16 or more beers in that same time frame.

Drilling down further, the authors noted, “Peoples is somewhat overbalanced toward the working classes, while Chief Oshkosh shows greater strength among white collar people and the relatively higher income groups."

So, if you were a blue-collar worker who drank their beer in a tavern you were probably drinking Peoples. If you wore a suit to work and drank a beer from a bottle every now and then, you were likely to be a Chief Oshkosh drinker.

For the folks at OBC this had to be somewhat concerning. Especially in light of what the brewery was spending on advertising. Chief Oshkosh was the most heavily marketed beer in this area. It was advertised on TV, radio, and in print. Peoples, on the other hand, spent next to nothing on all that. They’d place a newspaper ad from time to time. That was about it.

The truly bad news for OBC came in the response to the new, hoppier Chief Oshkosh. Chief Oshkosh was the beer identified by drinkers as having the “sharpest taste.” That translated into a less appealing beer. The survey authors wrote...

“Chief Oshkosh’s lower product appeal in relations to Peoples can be attributed to the fact that drinkers consider the product to be somewhat stronger and more bitter than Peoples – an indication that recent changes have gone too far in this direction. This is particularly true of the draft beer.”

This certainly caught the eye of OBC president Arthur Schwalm. He scrawled notes across this page on his copy of the survey.

... this is a problem for a brewmaster.” That brewmaster was Wilbur Strottman, whose name Schwalm wrote on the survey. The other name, Siebel Co., is a reference to J.E. Siebel and Sons of Chicago, which did lab testing of OBC’s beer.

The response from drinkers that Chief Oshkosh had become too bitter was especially pronounced among people who drank the beer on draft. That’s not at all surprising. It was the same beer, but each was treated differently. The bottled beer was pasteurized and handled without refrigeration. For example…

The hops are bound to fade in beer treated that way. The kegged Chief Oshkosh wasn’t pasteurized. And it was stored at serving temperature. The flavors were better preserved. The bitterness would have been just as the brewer intended. Damn, I wish I could have tasted that beer.

There’s something interesting buried in this. People responding to the bitterness of Chief Oshkosh tended to conflate it with strength. They assumed Chief Oshkosh was stronger than Peoples. Nope. Peoples Beer was 4.6% ABV. Chief Oshkosh was 4.5%.

Looking at this 60 years later, it’s hard to appreciate how much has changed. Some for the better. Some not. Here’s the part that hit home for me. In 1957, it was like this...

All that was gone 15 years later. Oshkosh Brewing closed in 1971. Peoples shut down in 1972.

We have two breweries again in Oshkosh. Soon we’ll have a couple more. But it’s nothing like it used to be. Tastes have changed. So has the beer. And there’s so much less of it being made. Last year the two Oshkosh breweries produced close to 2,000 barrels combined. That’s about 88,000 fewer barrels than produced in 1957. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see anything like that again.

Oshkosh Brewing Company, May 1956.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bare Bones Cookies and Milk Stout and More

Last Wednesday, RJ Nordlund was at Festival Foods in Oshkosh pushing a cart with just two things in it: a salad and a couple hundred pounds of chocolate chip cookies. The salad was his lunch. The cookies were for his brew kettle.

Nordlund is brewmaster at Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh. The beer he’s making with Festival's cookies is named Cookies and Milk Stout. It’s the brewery’s holiday seasonal offering. Nordlund brewed it for the first time last year.

This year’s version has Bare Bones partnering with Festival Foods. The beer will be packaged in 12-ounce cans in mid-November and sold at Festival’s stores across Wisconsin. The last time an Oshkosh-brewed beer was distributed this widely was 45 years ago before the closing of Peoples Brewing.

This is a beer with a lot going on. The malt bill is extensive. It includes aromatic, honey, caramel, chocolate, and victory malts along with flaked oats. On top of that comes lactose, molasses, bakers chocolate, and chocolate chip cookies. Lots of cookies.

Nordlund used 200 pounds of Festival’s chocolate chip cookies in the 30 barrels of Cookies and Milk Stout he brewed last week. All those cookies go straight into the mash. Bag after bag of them. Here’s the first addition...

Cookies and Milk Stout should start hitting store shelves in the week running up to Thanksgiving. Just in time for the holidays.

Sun Powered
This week, Bare Bones is installing solar panels at its facility. Owner Dan Dringoli says he expects to have his new power grid up and running within a few weeks. "The system will generate all the power we need for the brewery and taproom," Dringoli says. Bare Bones will become Winnebago County’s first solar-powered brewery.

Best Budz
Mid-November will see the release of another Bare Bones beer in cans. Best Buds is a hop-saturated American Pale Ale hopped with Mosaic and nothing but Mosaic. Have a look at the label. If you can get past the double entendres you’ll notice a new symbol at the lower right-hand corner.

That's the Independent Craft Brewer Seal. Best Buds and Cookies and Milk Stout will be the first Oshkosh beers to carry it on their labels. More on the meaning of that here.

Brewing... Coffee
Bare Bones is getting into another kind of brewing. Coffee. They've purchased a roaster and have begun roasting and packaging El Salvador grown coffee beans at the brewery. At the moment, they're offering a medium roast sold in 1-pound bags. You can pick that up in the taproom.

Of course, some of those roasted beans will have to make their way into beer. Nordlund says he wants to put a different twist on it. He's thinking of making a coffee, blonde ale. More to come.

Bitchin' Bonfire Bone-Nanza 2017
Finally, tomorrow night (Friday, October 27), Bare Bones will host its annual Bitchin' Bonfire Bone-Nanza. That begins at 7 pm. They'll have BBQ, live music, and a pack of barrel-aged beers available only that night. You'll find all the info here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Peoples, Needles, and Women

In the spring of 1914, Peoples Brewing Company released a new beer named Aristo. To promote it, the brewery gave away a cardboard needle case. It was slathered with advertising. If you lived in Oshkosh, this may have landed in your mailbox (click on any of the pictures to enlarge them)...

The brewery hoped the recipient would tear off the postcard portion, fill out the order form on the reverse side, and mail it back to the brewery. Shortly after, beer would be delivered to their doorstep. Here’s a better look at the order form.

At 80 cents a case, Aristo was among the cheapest beers available in the city. Check out the beer listed below it. Standard, at 50 cents for a dozen pint bottles, was even cheaper. Not by much. By the ounce the difference was a fraction of a cent.

What is "un-steamed" beer? It's beer that hasn’t been pasteurized. That was unusual for a bottled beer of this period. The idea was to replicate the flavor of draft beer, which was also unpasteurized. Standard was the same beer Peoples sent out in wooden kegs to Oshkosh saloons. Here they refer to those saloons as “buffets.” They were putting a soft edge on things.

In 1914, there was a lot of trash talk being aimed at breweries. Much of it came from the Anti-Saloon League (ASL). The ASL was making huge strides in its push for a nationwide ban on alcoholic beverages. Breweries responded by trying to promote a more wholesome image. Aristo epitomized that. It was a “Family Beer.” What does that even mean?

This was also an appeal to women. By 1914 – a year after Peoples Brewing opened – sales of the brewery’s beer in saloons was booming. But there weren’t a lot of women hanging out in Oshkosh saloons. If Peoples was going to draw them in it would have to be done through bottled beer sales. The brewery increasingly directed its bottled-beer advertising towards women. Here’s an example from 1916.

After a day's hard work, tending to the many household duties…”  What about the women who were out there working in Oshkosh’s mills? They’re never mentioned in these ads. Peoples issued all kinds of ads featuring working men doing manual labor. But the brewery never portrayed women in such a light. They’re always depicted in the home, exhausted by household chores.

Here’s a more accurate picture of the period. These are the workers at the Oshkosh Grass Matting Co.

I’ll bet a few of those women drank beer. They couldn’t vote, but they could buy beer. That’s the truly dark side of all this. On the whole, breweries were opposed to women's suffrage. Big mistake.

The suffrage movement found an ally in the ASL. The two groups joined forces. And in 1919 they rammed through the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution establishing national Prohibition. A year later, the 19th Amendment was passed granting women the right to vote.

Had breweries supported a woman’s right to vote, they may have diffused the power of the Anti-Saloon League. Perhaps the calamity of Prohibition would have been avoided. Ironically, women’s groups would be instrumental in the eventual derailing of Prohibition.

After beer became legal again in 1933, Peoples generally steered-clear of gender-based advertising. If women appeared in their ads at all, the depictions were usually idiotic. Get a load of this from 1971. A year after this came out, Peoples closed.

It would have been so much easier to do so much better. The picture below could have made a nice ad. It’s from 1957. The happy couple in Jerry’s Bar is enjoying what else? Peoples Beer!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Todd’s Ale in Oshkosh

In the picture below is a storefront highlighted in yellow. Here may have been the place where IPA was first served in Oshkosh.

The year was 1885. There was a saloon in that storefront at the corner of Main and Market. It was run by William H. Englebright. In August 1885, Englebright had become sole proprietor of the place. He named it Star and Crescent Sample Rooms.

Englebright was anglophile. In fact, he was born in England in 1857. He reached Oshkosh at the age of 16. But he remained ever the English gent. Englebright and Bob, his full-blooded English pug, were familiar downtown characters.

Englebright maintained a love for the ales of his homeland. Star and Crescent became the “headquarters” for Bass Ale in Oshkosh. He imported it from England. He served it on draft from wooden kegs. And just a month after taking over Star and Crescent, Englebright brought in this...

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; September 5, 1885.

“Todd’s Ale and Porter and Schlitz’s Milwaukee Beer on draught at 5 Algoma street.”

Forget about the Schlitz. You had to pour some lager if you were going to run a saloon in Oshkosh. What’s of interest here is Todd’s Ale. There’s good evidence that meant IPA.

Todd’s Brewery was in Janesville. It was launched by John G. Todd in 1868. Wisconsin was in the midst of its great lager boom. All the breweries seemed to be making lager beer. Except Todd’s. Todd’s Brewery focused English-style ales. No wonder the brewery caught the eye of Englebright.

By 1880, Todd’s was the dominant ale brewery in Wisconsin. The Janesville brewery claimed it produced two-thirds of all the ale made in the state. Todd’s shipped its beer to Illinois, Michigan. It was sold throughout Wisconsin.

A year before Englebright brought Todd’s to Oshkosh, the brewery introduced its IPA.

Janesville Daily Gazette; June 2, 1884.
This was IPA in its elemental state. A distant cousin to the IPAs getting all the press today. Let’s compare. The most coveted IPAs today are hazy and flooded with hop aroma. The emphasis is on hop flavor as opposed to hop bitterness. They are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible. Not so in 1885.

Todd’s IPA would have been a stock ale – an aged beer. It would have been pale, brilliantly clear, and bracingly bitter. Notice in the ad where it says, “Will keep in any climate, and remain any length of time on draught.” Brewers today would consider that kind of talk heretical.

The two beers have a couple things in common.

Both are massively hopped. But the application was quite different. In the older beer, the hops would have been given a good, long boil to draw out the bitterness. In the modern IPA, the lion’s share of the hop load comes after the boil. The one thing these two truly agree on is strength. In 1885, IPAs were commonly in the 6-7% ABV range. Same goes today.

As good as Todd’s ale may have been, it never made much of a splash in Oshkosh. I haven’t found references to it being served here after 1886. The Todd family sold their ale brewery in 1890. In 1898 it was closed.

In 1900, William Englebright moved to Ripon where he ran The Hotel Englebright.

It was there that Englebright had his right ear torn off in a freak accident involving a kitchen door.

William Englebright returned to Oshkosh in the 1930s. He died here in 1940. He’s buried in Riverside Cemetery. His old ale house at Algoma and Market was demolished after a fire in 1996. The sundial is now there.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Roots of Big Ed's Hopyard Ale

Last fall, Fox River Brewing Company released Big Ed's Hopyard Ale. It was an unprecedented beer. It marked the first time a commercial brewery in Oshkosh made beer using fresh hops – hops that go directly from bine to brew kettle without being dried or processed. And it was the first time since the 1880s that a commercial brewery in Oshkosh made beer using hops grown in Winnebago County.

Big Ed's Hopyard
This year's version of Big Ed's Hopyard Ale has just been released. This time, the connection to place runs deeper. This is a beer with roots in the earliest days of Winnebago County's beer culture. To trace those roots you have to go back to the 1840s and a man named Silas Allen.

Silas Allen was said to have arrived in Winnebago County in 1846. It was also said that he came with a barrel of hop roots in tow. That seems entirely plausible. Allen migrated here from Madison County in mid-state New York. He'd lived and farmed there at a time when Madison County was the largest producer of hops in the nation.

Allen's migration was part of a westward diaspora of New York hop growers. Everywhere they went, they spread hops. Allen settled at what was then known as Ball Prairie. Today we know it as Allenville. He purchased land, cleared it, and began putting down roots.

By 1853, though possibly earlier, Allen's farm was producing hops suitable for brewing. By 1854, he had five acres of hops under cultivation. His yield that year was in excess of 6,000 pounds. This had grown into a significant hopyard.

Silas Allen died from sunstroke in 1859. He had been out tending to his field. His son Timothy took over the farm. The Allen's continued cultivating hops. It lasted until the late 1870s. By then the hop market had cratered due to overproduction.

The final blow for the Allens appears to have come in 1880. The Chicago & North Western Railway cut a track through the middle of their hopyard. Their hop farming days were over. That should have ended the story for those hops. It didn't.

Allenville Hops
Hops are tenacious. Once established, the plants can be nearly impossible to eradicate. They'll turn feral, sending out underground runners. The spread is often prolific. At the site of Silas Allen's farm hops still grow wild.

Those hops piqued the interest of Scott Clark and Steve Sobojinski. They cultivate the hopyard in Winnebago County that supplies the fresh hops used in Big Ed's Hopyard Ale. Last spring Clark and Sobojinski planted cuttings taken from roots of the hops growing wild at Silas Allen's old farm.

The plants flourished. This year’s version of Big Ed's Hopyard Ale includes hops grown on plants from the relocated Allenville cuttings. It’s the first time in almost 140 years that hops derived from those roots have been used in a commercial beer.

A bucket of the Silas Allen hops.
The Silas Allen hops are just part of the mix. This year’s Big Ed's Hopyard Ale also includes Columbus, Cascade, Sterling, Centennial, and Nugget hops. They were picked on the morning of September 13.

Brewers picking hops at Big Ed's Hopyard.
A few hours later those hops were in the kettle at Fox River Brewing in Oshkosh. The beer went on tap yesterday; Wednesday, October 11. It’s a wonderful beer.

Big Ed's Hopyard Ale 2017
The aroma showcases the hops. They’re bright and lemony. The flavor also favors the hops with more of that citrus fruit coming through. But the hops don’t entirely dominate. This year Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at Fox River, added locally harvested honey to the wort for Big Ed’s. The honey presence is subtle, but it sets a nice counterpoint to that brisk hop flavor. The bitterness is firm and clean and not at all oppressive. At 5.8% ABV, this beer is at the outer edge of being sessionable, but two or three go down easily.

Like all fresh hop beers this one is going to be at its best when it’s at its freshest. That’s right now. This is a rare beer in the truest sense. Don’t let it slip by.