Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Getting Cozy on Main Street, 1902

Fancy beer bars are hardly a new phenomenon on Main Street in Oshkosh. Here's one that was pouring the good stuff back in 1902. Enter the Little Cozy Sample Room…

The Little Cozy was located at what is now 216 N. Main Street. The building still stands. City records show it was constructed in 1900. I suspect it's actually a little older than that. It's now home to Screwballs Sports Pub.  The red arrow points the way in.

As you walked in you'd see the bar. In back was a sitting area where you could enjoy a drink, act civilized, and hawk loogies into spittoons.

Flying spit aside, this was a class joint. "A Specialty of High Grade Goods only..." This ad is from 1902.

The property's inner space was split down the middle. The sample room occupied the south half. The north half held a dining room. The picture below was taken in the dining area. Apparently, the mucus didn't flow as freely on this side of the wall.

Bert Gough and George Miller opened The Little Cozy in 1901. Both were the offspring of German immigrants. Bert Gough was 33 and born in LaCrosse. He'd been in the saloon business in Oshkosh for years. When The Little Cozy opened, Gough took up residence in a room above the bar.

George Miller was 25 and born in Fond du Lac. He was still a boy when his father died. After that, the family moved up here. He was living with his widowed mother. Maggie, over on Broad Street and working in a hotel when he and Gough launched The Little Cozy. This was his first stint managing a bar.

The Miller-Gough partnership didn't last. Gough was a transient saloonist moving from place to place. A couple years was all he lasted at The Little Cozy. Miller took on a new partner, John Larie; another veteran Oshkosh saloon man. Miller and Larie beefed things up, saying in 1905 that "They have entirely transformed The Little Cozy and have gone to much expense and spared no effort... The Little Cozy is new from one end to the other."

This was a fascinating period for Oshkosh gastronomy. Below we have the full Little Cozy menu.  This was published in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on October 28, 1905.  Click the image to enlarge it or do a right-click download for an even better view.

Digging down into the wine list, we find beer. On the restaurant side, there was no beer on tap, only bottled beer. This was typical of restaurants trying to project an upscale image. Bottled beer was comparatively rare. Draft beer was the norm. Bottled beer was a luxury item and presented in a haze of folderal about it being purer than the kegged stuff.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 21, 1906.

Customers paid dearly for that bit of bullshit. Here's The Little Cozy's bottle list.

Budweiser, Pabst, and Schlitz may not impress you today, but in 1905 this was premium beer. And at 15 cents a pint, it was three times what you'd pay for that same beer on draught. Oshkosh Select was brewed by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It was one of five beers the brewery produced during this period. Select was OBC’s premium bottled beer.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, August 7, 1907
The beer that grabs me on that list is White Label Bass Ale served up in pints and 7-ounce nips. This was a beer with little resemblance to the Bass Ale available these days. White Label Bass was brewed in  Burton on Trent, England and bottled in the U.S. by Thomas McMullen & Co. of New York. The White Label Bass Ale served in Oshkosh was pale amber, 7.25% ABV, and, in comparison to other beers on that list, hopped to the gills.

The Little Cozy did quite well. Nonetheless, Miller and Larie parted company in 1908. Miller then partnered with Byron Luther, the brother of his wife Enda. In 1910, they expanded into the property one door north, the former Greenwood Inn. Now with rooms to let alongside the restaurant and sample room, the operation was no longer little or cozy. In 1910, Miller and Luther rechristened the business as the Brunswick Hotel and Cafe. It was styled as a European Hotel specializing in German cuisine.

The sample-room days were coming to an end. In 1913, Miller closed the saloon and put the Brunswick Barbershop in its place. With Prohibition a looming threat, it probably seemed like the sensible thing to do. It would be 90 years before there was another tavern at 216 N. Main.

Miller left Oshkosh in 1919. He moved to Los Angeles where he continued in the hotel business. He died there in 1957 at the age of 81.

Meanwhile back in Oshkosh, the old Little Cozy was all but forgotten. The space was inhabited by a series of meat markets, dress, and dry-goods stores. The building was purchased by the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1927 which held it until 1963. For much of that time, the property was leased to the Montgomery Wards Catalog Store. Ho Hum.

North Main Street, 1950
Finally, in 2003 there was a bar there again when Screwballs Sports Club opened. The Chief Oshkosh Saloon was there for a brief time in 2010, which gave way to the Old Oshkosh Saloon for a couple years, before it became Screwballs once again. And so it remains. You can still get Budweiser at Screwballs, but that good Bass Ale and Oshkosh Select are long gone.  It’s a whole different world.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Beer Here: Bare Bones Nemesis Brown Ale

Wednesday, August 8, Bare Bones Brewery is partnering with the Oshkosh Area Humane Society for the release of Nemesis, a brown ale. Nemesis begins pouring at 6 p.m. with 10% of the evening's sales going to the Humane Society.

The Beer
Nemesis is an English-style brown ale, a style of beer rarely brewed around here. It's been years since we've seen one made in Oshkosh. It's a style that favors malt and Nemesis does just that, with notes of caramel, toffee, and chocolate. Despite that malt complexity, though, the beer is exceedingly quaffable. There’s plenty of flavor interest, but nothing that overwhelms the palate. This a true session ale at 4.4% ABV.

This is a beer with some roots. Nemesis was made using English malts and an English yeast strain that's purported to have been sourced from London's storied Whitbread Brewery. Whitbread was among the first breweries to produce the style when the modern brown ale emerged in the early 1920s. Something to chew on when your downing of few pints of Nemesis.

The Backstory
Nemesis was brewed by Jody Cleveland, the new head brewer at Bare Bones. And it’s the first time since taking over there that he’s produced a beer from his own recipe. It's no accident that Cleveland decided to start with a sessions beer. He came in as head brewer on May 1, with the idea of introducing more variety into a line-up that’s had a surplus of IPA and high-alcohol beers. “We'll still have our share of big and bold beers, but we need to have more balance here,” Cleveland says. We're going to strive for a more varied lineup. I want us to have something for everybody who comes in.”

Jody Cleveland
Cleveland began brewing professionally in 2016 when he started at Bare Bones as an assistant brewer. Later in 2016, he moved over to Fox River Brewing where he was an assistant brewer until April of this year. During the same period, Cleveland continued brewing at home on an electric one-barrel system he designed. It was on that system that he worked up the recipe for Nemesis.

"It's a beer I've been working on for four or five years now,” Cleveland says. I've always loved that style, but when I started brewing it I didn't like many of the commercial examples that were available around here. It kind of became an obsession to perfect this recipe. I wanted to make one that I liked. I'd love for it to be an ongoing beer, but we'll have to find out what customers think of it."

Nemesis marks the beginning of a turning point for Bare Bones, which opened in 2015. Much of the current line-up at the brewery’s tap room was produced by RJ Nordlund, who left Bare Bones in April with plans to launch a brewery in Michigan. Cleveland’s beers are just now coming to the fore at Bare Bones. The next few months should prove to be interesting there.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Beer Here: HighHolder's Opening Line-up

HighHolder Brewing Company will have its grand opening at O'Marro's Public House on Saturday, August 11, at 3 p.m. This will be the first time, since the brewery officially opened in March, that Oshkosh's lone nano-brewery will have multiple beers on tap. 

The Beer...
HighHolder has been stocking up and will release five beers for the grand opening: Borderlands, a dark, German-style altbier; EWECO, a New England style IPA; Raspberry Slide, a wheat ale conditioned on raspberries; Up N Down, a German-style K├Âlsch beer; and The Inky, an 8% ABV imperial milk stout. The Inky has been aged on vanilla and will start pouring as a special release at 6 p.m. Flights will be available.

The Backstory...
HighHolder Brewing is located at 221 Oregon Street, in a suite behind O'Marro's Public House. Launched by Mike Schlosser and Shawn O'Marro this is Oshkosh's first nano-brewery – loosely defined as a brewery that makes its beer in batch sizes of about three barrels or less. Those small batches have been met with enthusiasm. Each beer HighHolder has released has been finished off in less than a week. And that's left gaps where the brewery has had no beer available for sale. I asked Schlosser if those dry periods have been frustrating.

"It was at first," he said. "I wanted to always have our stuff available, but the reality is that it's just not possible at this point. We've been trying to tell people that when you see we've got it, come on in because it'll be gone next week."

Shawn O'Marro (left) and Mike Schlosser in the HighHolder Brewhouse
Nearly all of the brewery's production has been poured at O'Marro Public House. O'Marro says his customers have been understanding when they've come in to find they can't get a HighHolder. "Nobody really gives us too hard a time about it," he says. "And it's been kind of cool to see people getting excited when we do get a new beer out."

All of which should go to make the grand opening seem like a feast. And those periods of famine may be coming to end before too long. Just six months after its opening, HighHolder is planning an expansion. "We're looking to keep it a nano, but we're probably going to step up to a 3.5 barrel system," Schlosser says. "It's not a done deal, but that's where we're headed."

In the meantime, there are those five beers waiting in the pipeline for the grand opening. In addition to the HighHolder beer, there will be food, games, and live music by The MadPolecats and Swamp Water Boogie with special guest Max Jones. For more info, check in at the Facebook event page.