Monday, July 17, 2017

A Beer By Any Other Name...

Spring, 1966. You grab a bottle of Chief Oshkosh. Out comes the churchkey. You apply it to this…

A year later, the Chief Oshkosh crown looked like this...

The inserted symbolism wasn’t meant to be cryptic. This new cap was about expediency. It was used on four different brands produced by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. We’ll get to that in a moment. First, some necessary background.

In 1966, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) went on a buying spree. It scooped up three defunct brands: Badger Brew of Baraboo, Liebrau of Two Rivers, and Rahr’s of Green Bay. Notice how the cap above is a blend of the labels below.

By late 1966, those left-for-dead brews had been revived. They were being produced by OBC in Oshkosh. To make things easier, OBC changed its bottle cap. The same cap could be used for each beer.

What distinguished the beers were their unique labels. Makes sense. Afterall, they were different beers, right? Well, maybe not.

I’ve been going through old brewing logs from OBC. Specifically, the years 1967 and 1968 when these brands were in production in Oshkosh. Looking at the logs, you’d never guess OBC was producing a number of different beers.

The logs show no variation. Aside from OBC’s seasonal beers – Bock and Holiday Brew –  the composition of each beer is identical. The same malts and adjuncts. The same hops. The same yeast. The same ratios. Here’s an example (click to enlarge it).

That’s the brewer's log from February 1967. This was when OBC was filling orders for the brands it had recently acquired. Yet, aside from the four bock beers brewed that month, the 12 other batches are indistinguishable. This log is typical. All of them from the period are like this. It leads me to suspect OBC was brewing one beer and putting four different labels on it.

I can’t say for certain OBC was playing this kind of game. But I also can’t find a shred of evidence from the brewing logs suggesting they weren’t. I suspect this sort of thing may have been occurring at a lot of breweries in the late 1960s.

The industry was contracting rapidly. The brands of belly-up breweries were being scavenged. The G. Heileman Brewery in La Crosse became notorious for collecting labels from the wreckage. Heileman produced beer under a dozen different labels during this time. Almost all were pale lager. There was piddling difference among them. How many would notice if there were no difference at all?

In 1971, the Oshkosh Brewing Company failed. Its brands were acquired by the neighboring Peoples Brewing Company. Peoples brewmaster Howard Ruff told the Daily Northwestern he would match as closely as he could the beers produced by OBC.

Had Ruff seen those brewer’s logs when he said that? His job may have turned out to be easier than he first expected.


  1. I recently discovered a Chief Oshkosh six pack can wrap I have was marked Peoples Brewing Co. I've seen the cans marked in this way but never noticed the carton these cans are scarce. Rahr Green Bay Holiday labels were found in the Oshkosh Brewing Co. these labels were never marked with the Oshkosh name.

    1. Bob, I haven’t seen a can wrap labeled that way, either. Cool!

  2. There was also a "Chief" beer from OBC during that era. Very pretty label.

    1. Dave, I know the label you’re talking about. The copyright on that was June 17, 1965. It was used on the “stubby” bottles; the beer inside was the regular Chief Oshkosh. I don’t think that label was in use very long. They later went back to using the regular Chief Oshkosh label on the stubbies.