Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Beer Here: Oshkosh Lager

Here's the latest from Bare Bones, it’s named Oshkosh Lager

The Beer
Stylewise, this is a classic American lager and it absolutely looks the part. The beer pours pale yellow and almost brilliantly clear with a tight cap of white foam. There’s a light, grainy aroma here accompanied by a subtle note of sulfur. The flavor is well-balanced, leaning slightly towards the malt side. A gentle bitterness lingers in the background, creating a clean, snappy finish that's very refreshing. Oshkosh Lager is not a sipping beer, it's a beer to quaff. It's a model example of the style.

The Backstory
For such a seemingly simple beer, there's a lot going on here. Oshkosh Lager grew out of a series of pilot batches made by Jody Cleveland, head brewer at Bare Bones. For the past few years, Cleveland has been brewing small batches on his home system of historic Oshkosh lagers such as Chief Oshkosh and Peoples Beer. He’s continued to tinker with those recipes and those trials culminated in Oshkosh Lager.

"I wanted to make a contemporary version of these classic Oshkosh beers," Cleveland says. "Something that anyone who wants a more balanced, straightforward beer flavor can really get into. I'm super proud of this beer, and I'm glad I finally get to share it with everyone."

The recipe Cleveland developed bears a distinct resemblance to the 1950s recipes that produced Chief Oshkosh and Peoples Beer. It starts with a blended grist of malted barley with a minor addition of corn to lighten the body and bring up that crisp, dry character essential to the style. Cleveland hopped the beer with Cluster, the elemental American hop used by all of the Oshkosh brewers from the mid-1800s until the 1970s.

There isn't another beer like this currently being produced by an Oshkosh brewery. It's a beer that goes against the grain in a craft-beer world dominated by high-alcohol, palate slammers that rely on novel or extreme flavors. Who knows, maybe now the time is right for something less contrived.

Currently, Oshkosh Lager is only available on draft in the tap room at Bare Bones. You can also get it there in growlers and 16-ounce-crowler cans for takeaway. Within the next couple of weeks, the beer should begin appearing in area taverns. I’d like to see this go on at a place like Witzke's – a tavern built by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. A beer like this deserves another run in its native environment.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

When BLÜ Turned Red

Last week, Fox River's Red Bobber was released at the brewery's pubs in Oshkosh and Appleton. This Friday, February 15, bottles of Red Bobber will become available at Festival Foods stores. Red Bobber is a raspberry ale. It's the companion to Fox River's popular BLÜ Bobber, a blueberry ale. That association alone guarantees a degree of immediate success for the new beer. And then there's the label. The colorless face of the woman on the Red Bobber label blushes red when the beer is chilled.

A label that turns colors isn't the sort of thing you see from small breweries. Then again, most small breweries don't have a beer with the sort of mass appeal that allows them to engage in this kind of marketing. It all stems from the success of Fox River’s BLÜ Bobber. And as an extension of that brand, Red Bobber is as much about branding and marketing as it is about beer. The marketing is clearly working.

The first batch of Red Bobber sold out at Fox River's Oshkosh taproom four days after it was released (it's back on again). One of the bartenders told me they'd been pouring it constantly since the beer was released. The beer received widespread coverage on social media and from Gannett newspapers. The Gannett article is almost entirely about the color-changing label and branding. There's little mention of the actual beer. And here I am, four paragraphs in, having also said almost nothing about the beer.

Red Bobber is exactly what you'd expect it to be. It's mild, and easy drinking, with a light accent of fruit flavor. It's a well-made beer and not one you need to spend a lot of time thinking about. Just as advertised, it's the raspberry version of BLÜ. If you like BLÜ, it's a good bet you'll like Red. And there are a lot of people who like BLÜ.

BLÜ Bobber is the best selling beer made in Oshkosh. In fact, it may be the best selling beer produced in northeast Wisconsin. It's the one Oshkosh beer you'll see in neighborhood bars where everything else being poured is made by MillerCoors or AB/InBev. You can find BLÜ in cans and bottles in almost every grocery store and mini-mart in Winnebago County. But BLÜ's reach extends well beyond that.

Fox River began distribution of BLÜ in 2014. The beer is now sold across the state. Within Wisconsin, BLÜ is the Most widely distributed Oshkosh-brewed beer since the 1950s heydey of Chief Oshkosh.  Fox River is currently exploring options for distribution outside of Wisconsin. BLÜ will achieve another milestone this spring when it will be sold at Milwaukee Brewers games in Miller Park. There hasn't been an Oshkosh beer sold at Brewers games since Peoples Beer in 1971.

It's rare that a small brewery hits on a beer that gains that kind of momentum. The smart thing as a business is to make the most of it. That's just what Fox River is doing with Red Bobber. If Red Bobber works out the way Fox River hopes it will, I suspect you'll see a series of "Bobber" beers follow in its path.

For now, bottles of Red Bobber will be sold exclusively at Festival Foods stores in Wisconsin until the end of February when it will become more widely available. At the end of February, Red will also begin being packaged in cans. In March, it will be Festival Foods’ craft beer of the month. You're going to be seeing a lot of this beer.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Picture of Beer

Here's a lovely Oshkosh Brewing Company lithograph circa 1901.

And here's the real thing.

Not long after that lithograph came out, OBC abandoned those clunky, porcelain bottlers stoppers. The brewery switched over to bottles that fit crown-style caps, similar to those you see today. Those new caps may be more convenient, but the old plugs have an undeniable romance about them.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Beer Here: Rebel Beist

Rebel Beist is a Norwegian dark ale that's now pouring in Oshkosh in the taprooms at Bare Bones and Fifth Ward...

The Beer
This one is definitely different and in a good way. It starts with a wine-like aroma; juniper, mingled with dark cherry, orange, and plum. That aromatic complexity carries into the palate with a slight tartness that accentuates those fruity esters. There's a bedrock of toasty malt underneath it all (they used Ashburne Mild Malt for the base), but the star here is the dry, wine-like complexity that makes the beer light on the palate and quaffable. This was fermented with Kveik, a Norwegian farmhouse yeast. We haven't had many Kveik fermented beers appear in Oshkosh. This beer is an excellent point of entry if you're curious to see what this yeast can do. Rebel Beist is 8% ABV and just right for warming you during this sloppy freeze we're locked in.

The Backstory
Rebel Beist was brought here by Oshkosh-area homebrewer Tim Pfeister. Last fall, Pfeister enrolled in the Milwaukee Barley to Barrel program, a 10-week crash course in what it takes to launch a brewery. Part of that program entails seeing a beer through from recipe formulation to marketing and sales. Rebel Beist, which was produced at Gathering Place Brewing in Milwaukee, is the result of that effort.

The Barley to Barrel 2018 fall class. Pfeister is in the middle with plaid shirt and holding a flyer.

"I was on Team Gathering Place," Pfeister says. "We all generally agreed on a belly-warmer being a good beer to bring to market for winter. Corey Blodgett, the head brewer for Gathering Place, started talking about how they're using this new strain of yeast, Kviek, and that's when the whole thing got tied together into a Norwegian dark ale."

When the beer was completed, Pfeister reached out to some of his local friends in the Oshkosh beer community. "That's when I contacted Jody and Zach and Ian (Jody Cleveland, head brewer at Bare Bones; and Zach Clark and Ian Wenger, of Fifth Ward). They each committed to purchasing a keg and I purchased a keg of my own. I put the kids in the van, drove down to Milwaukee, and muled it on back to Oshkosh. And I feel pretty good about doing such." He should. And it's always good seeing local brewers – homebrewers and pro-brewers – supporting one another. Skål!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Lion’s Tail and the New-Model Brewery

In the spring of 2015, Alex Wenzel was busy planning the brewery he would open later that year in Neenah. At the time, there had never been a brewery in Winnebago County like the one Wenzel had in mind. Unlike the recently established breweries in the area, Wenzel's wouldn't be attached to a restaurant. There'd be no flagship brand or fixed set of beers. There would be no reliance on outside distribution or retail sales. If you wanted Wenzel's beer, you were going to have to come to his brewery.

Alex Wenzel in the taproom at Lion's Tail Brewing.

"I'd seen this taproom model work in other places and loved it," Wenzel says. "You go and you try different beers and that's it, that's what it's about. We knew we'd have to have really good beer and always be offering different experiences because we wouldn't have a restaurant as a draw. And it couldn't be a stable of four to six beers that we always have. We'd need to do twelve to twenty new beers every year to continue to be interesting and give people reasons to come back."

When Lion's Tail Brewing opened in November 2015, Wenzel was still trying to figure out how he'd make it all work. "The plan was to continually create new beers," he says, "but did I have any idea what that would mean? No chance."

Wenzel made it up as he went along. During the brewery's first full year, he made 19 different beers. "We had a few that stayed on all year, he says, "but the rest continually changed." It was a scattershot list of familiar styles. There was a Pilsner, a dark lager, a fruited wheat beer, a couple of IPAs and pale ales, a stout...  It looked like the kind of thing a homebrewer might do. That was no coincidence.

"I started homebrewing three or four years before we opened," he says. "During that whole time, I was trying new things and constantly experimenting. I figured that course would continue once the brewery opened. I wanted to maintain the spirit of a homebrewer as a professional."

But now instead of five-gallons at a time, he was brewing 310-gallon batches. The inevitable mistakes would be far more costly. Wenzel had readied himself for it. "It is scary, but I'm not afraid to send beer to the waste treatment plant if I have to and we've done a fair amount of that," he says. "If you don't get what you want and you're not proud of it, then it can't go on tap."

Wenzel in the brewhouse at Lion's Tail.

To mitigate the risk, he began relying on smaller, pilot batches to work up his new beers. "I got a little, 10-gallon system that I try to get the recipes dialed in on before I throw it on the 10-barrel," Wenzel says. Not all of them make it. "I usually don't tell people about the really horrible failures," he says and laughs. "There's some fun stuff I've tried, but a lot of beer has gone down the drain."

He'll often brew a recipe as many as five times on the smaller system, tweaking it as he goes, before it's ready for his 10-barrel brewhouse. "The most extreme example was Juice Cloud, our New England IPA," Wenzel says. "That one took 13 different batches from when I started."

The effort paid. Juice Cloud has become one of those rare beers that alters the trajectory of a brewery. Today, it's hard to envision Lion's Tail without Juice Cloud. To a certain extent, it defines the brewery.

A glass of Juice Cloud on the bar in the taproom at Lion’s Tail.

Juice Cloud was first released in August 2017 for the inaugural Wisconsin IPA Fest in Milwaukee. It was the only New England Style IPA entered that year. "I think we turned some heads down there with it," Wenzel says. "Hardly anybody in Wisconsin was making New Englands yet." At the time, the style was polarizing. The beer's dense haze and low bitterness set it apart from what had come to be expected from an IPA. "The judges didn't like it," Wenzel says. "It didn't even make it out of the first round." But festival attendees loved it. Juice Cloud won the award for being the first keg to kick.

A month later, Juice Cloud went on tap at Lion's Tail. It soon became the brewery's best selling beer. "That was a noticeable bump," Wenzel says. "We ended up getting blurbs in OnMilwaukee magazine and some other beer blogs and then we won a People's Choice Award with it at Hops and Props last year. Its really helped put us on the map in the state beer scene."

The success of Juice Cloud led Wenzel to make a series of hazy IPAs using an array of American hops and sometimes adjuncts like lactose or vanilla. Each new release seemed to generate a buzz. At the end of 2017, Lion's Tail was still the only brewery in Winnebago County to have released a New England Style IPA. The style helped set Lion’s Tail apart and became an essential feature of the brewery’s identity.

It wasn't all hazy. In 2017, Lion's Tail released 20 different beers, six of them were barrel aged, and about half employed flavoring adjuncts in a variety of forms including blackberry tea, blood orange, blueberries, and pineapple. And then there was Number 90 Red, a straight-up Vienna lager that became surprisingly successful. It grew into one of Lion's Tail's best-selling beers despite it going against the grain of what the brewery was becoming best known for.

20-barrel fermentor about to be squeezed through a window at Lion's Tail.

In October 2018, Wenzel added a 20-barrel, double-batch fermentor to his brewery. Even with that, he'll soon be running up against the limits of his brewery. His target for 2019 is to produce about 750 barrels of beer, which is near the brewery's total capacity. There's little room left within his current space for further expansion. "We would either have to expand within the building somewhere or maybe have an off-site production facility," Wenzel says. "But I don't want to grow for the sake of growing or to put out numbers. I don't see us making 3,000 barrels a year. I just don't think that will be our model, but who knows. I won't say never."

The great majority of Lion's Tail beer continues to be sold over the bar in the brewery's taproom. But increasingly Wenzel's beer finds its way into area restaurants and craft-beer bars in Milwaukee and Madison. The distribution is handled entirely by Wenzel and Eric Henzel, who became the brewery's general manager in 2017. "I like doing our own distribution," says Wenzel. "You meet the customers and you're out making those relationships. That feels right to me."

He'd still rather be selling the beer over his own bar. "Here, we get to serve our beer how we think it should be served," he says. "The more successful small breweries don't distribute a lot. They sell most of it themselves. It's almost impossible to compete at the retail level and maybe you shouldn't want to. There are so many reasons to try and keep it in-house as much as possible."

Evening in the taproom.

Last year, Lion's Tail again produced another 20 beers that the brewery hadn't offered before. Wenzel doesn't show any signs of creative burnout. "I like working on new things," he says. "As a brewer, it's not as fun being shackled to a certain beer. If we ever got to a point where we had seven or eight beers that we always had to have on tap, that I think would be more of a burnout to me. I mean, just the amount of commercially available malts, hops, and yeast...  Each year there's another five or ten experimental hop varieties that come out. The possibilities are unlimited."

The constant experimentation makes for an evergreen brewery. But now in its fourth year, Lion's Tail isn't the only Winnebago County brewery taking such an approach. Since Lion's Tail opened, five more breweries have been launched within the county and another in nearby Appleton. All of them were started by homebrewers. Most of them adhere to a taproom model similar to Wenzel's. He’s not exactly sure yet what to make of that.

"There's a lot of new local breweries, but it doesn't seem like the customer base has grown a ton," Wenzel says. "When you go to a beer event, you see largely the same population at each of the different places. It has to be growing some. That's the hope with having new competitors that, in the long run, it expands the customer base. We've seen nice steady growth, so things have to be growing somewhat."

Back in 2015, Alex Wenzel had a plan for a new kind of brewery in Winnebago County. That type of brewery has since become the norm here. In a local brewing culture that now spans 170 years, there's never been a transformation come so swiftly. It all happened so quickly that it's difficult to fully appreciate how sweeping the change has been.

Wenzel tapping a firkin at Lion's Tail's third-anniversary party.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Helles at Fox River

If you’re a lover of lager, here’s a beer to check out…

The Beer
H-E Double Hockey Sticks recently went on tap at Fox River Brewing. This is a German-style Helles, the Bavarian answer to Pilsener, but with less hop bite and more malt presence. In this case, that malt brings subtle notes of biscuit and honey. The understated hop flavor adds just enough spice to keep things in balance. This is a companion beer, easy drinking and flavorful. It's one of the better examples of the style I've tasted from a Wisconsin brewery.

The Backstory
H-E Double Hockey Sticks is the work of Fox River assistant brewer Dylan Jones. This is the first time Jones has had one of his beers in the Fox River pipeline.

Jones began working up this recipe on a homebrew system in the fall of 2017. For the Fox River iteration, he went authentic using all German malts and a traditional, German hopping technique known as first-wort hopping, wherein hops are added to the wort as it is being collected prior to boiling.

“Hallertau (a German hop) was added at first wort to give a more balanced bitterness that wouldn't cut into the malt character,” Jones says. “The thing that I've liked most about the different Helles I've had was that malt backbone that wasn't as apparent in other light lagers.”

Jones is happy with the results. "It turned out better than I'd hoped," he says. "And all the attention just makes me feel a little more confident in my choice to continue brewing as a career and a hobby. Hopefully, my next creation turns out just as well."

H-E Double Hockey Sticks is 5.3% ABV available now on draft at the Fox River Brewing Company Taproom in Oshkosh.

Fox River's Dylan Jones in a filed of hops.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

All the Oshkosh Breweries, 1849-2019

There have been 21 breweries in Oshkosh since Jacob Konrad launched the Lake Brewery here in 1849. The peak year was 1878 when the city had nine breweries. Today, we have four. And that's about the average over the course of the city's history.

So, where in Oshkosh were all these breweries? I've made an interactive map to answer that question. The map below shows the location of every Oshkosh brewery from 1849 until right now. Click on any of the beer mugs in the map and it will pull up the brewery located there and its dates of operation. Zoom in to draw a better bead on where a brewery was within a particular neighborhood. To get the full experience, click here and view the full map in a separate browser window. Prost!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Beer Gone Bad

In 1888, Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery was the largest brewery in Oshkosh. That big facility on Doty Street was pumping out nearly 10,000 barrels of beer annually.

Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery.
The Brooklyn Brewery sat 100 yards from the shore of Lake Winnebago. That was a convenient place to be. Horn and Schwalm used their lakeside location to distribute beer on ships traveling the Winnebago waterways.

The beer they sent out on those ships was packaged in wooden kegs. They’d seal the insides of those kegs with molten pitch. When the pitch cooled it formed an antiseptic coating over the interior of the barrel, which helped prevent bacteria lurking in the wood from spoiling the beer. Here's one of those barrels from Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery.

Despite all the care, sometimes the beer in those barrels went bad anyway. Here's an instance of that happening as reported by the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on April 4, 1888.

Floated Them to Shore
Capt. Bangs endeavored to land with the K.M. Hutchinson yesterday near Horn & Schwalm's brewery to unload a number of kegs of beer returned from a northern point as sour. The steamer became stuck and the captain was obliged to dump the kegs overboard and float them to shore.

The K.M. Hutchinson docked in Oshkosh, 1887.

Wooden kegs of sour beer being tossed off that boat and floating to shore on the south side of Oshkosh. I would have loved to have seen that.

The occurrence was a minor setback for Horn and Schwalm. The brewery continued its explosive growth into the 1890s when it merged with two other Oshkosh breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

The K.M. Hutchinson didn't fare as well. It was once described as "the strangest vessel that ever plied the Fox and Wolf Rivers." The ship sank several times before catching fire in 1895 and burning down on a sandbar between Lake Poygan and Lake Winneconne.

Emelius Prawl Bangs, former captain of the K.M. Hutchinson (from Oshkosh Down Under).
After his ship was destroyed, E.P. Bangs needed a job. He wound up spending the summer on the south side running the horse carousel at EWECO Park. A single season of that was enough for Bangs. When summer ended, he launched Bangs Rapid Transit Company. He had one horse and one wagon.

Bangs Rapid Transit in front of the Oshkosh Public Library (from Oshkosh Down Under).

Bangs had better luck carting his freight on land. His transit company, which became E. P. Bangs Trucking, operated in Oshkosh until 1981. Bangs was long gone by then. He died in 1930 at the age of 75. They still called him Captain. Bangs is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

For more on E.P. Bangs and his transit company, check out Julie Krysiak Johnson’s excellent book Oshkosh Down Under.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The White Beer Breweries of Oshkosh

In the 1870s, a new type of brewery sprang up in Oshkosh. They made what was known locally as white beer.

Weisse Beer served in its traditional "bowl" at the turn of the century

White Beer
American white beer of the 19th century was a reconstruction of the Berliner Weisse style; Weisse being the German word for white. Like its European counterpart, white beer was pale, light bodied, and sour. It was fermented with a mixed-culture of ale yeast, Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces. The grist was composed of barley malts, sometimes wheat malt, and often corn. It was very lightly hopped.

The resultant beer was thirst quenching and highly effervescent. It was also low in alcohol. Just right for summer drinking. Its popularity in Wisconsin grew dramatically in the 1870s. And with that, white beer breweries began appearing in Oshkosh.

The Breweries
Oshkosh’s white beer breweries were substantially smaller than the lager beer breweries that were pervasive here in the 1870s. These were rudimentary breweries. They operated from private homesteads, often in conjunction with some other business.

Oshkosh's first white beer brewery was launched by Leonard Schiffmann, a German immigrant who came here in the mid-1860s. By 1868, Schiffmann was running a saloon in the area that is now 416-418 North Main. That didn't last. His saloon was destroyed in July 1874 when fire leveled much of downtown. Two weeks after the fire, Schiffmann purchased land on Doty Street. There, he opened a white beer brewery with his son Andrew.

The Schiffmann brewery appears to have been up and running by 1875. It was located on the east side of Doty, south of 18th. What was the brewery property is currently addressed as 1864 Doty. That area of town in the old 3rd Ward would become the base for white beer brewing in Oshkosh.

From the 1879 Oshkosh City Directory.

Like most brewers of white beer, Schiffmann bottled his beer. It underwent a secondary fermentation in the bottle imparting a level of carbonation often compared to that of champagne. That was more pressure than most glass bottles could sustain. So like many early white beer brewers, Schiffmann packaged his beer in stoneware bottles. Several of Schiffmann's bottles have survived. The bottle below, with "L. Schiffman" stamped just below its shoulder, was found in 1962 during a construction dig near the corner of Ceape and Main streets.

Leonard Arnold launched his white beer brewery shortly after the Schiffmann's opened theirs. In 1875, Arnold purchased land at what is now 1610 S. Main Street.  He was across the street from Horn and Schwalm's Brooklyn Brewery and just a block up from the Schiffmann place.

By 1876, Arnold was making beer. He also made vinegar, a fairly common practice among white beer brewers. The Arnold Vinegar and Yeast Company would continue to operate well into the 1920s.

In 1879, a third white beer brewery was operating on the south side in the old 3rd Ward. The brewer was Frederick Voelkel, a saloon owner and sometimes butcher. Voelkel's brewery appears to have operated in conjunction with his saloon at the northwest corner of Doty and 17th streets. Today that land is addressed as 1673 Doty Street.

The blue boxes indicate the locations of Oshkosh early white beer breweries.

By the end of the 1870s, these small, simple breweries were being set upon by larger breweries specializing in white beer. These "shipping" breweries sent their product into Oshkosh by rail and commandeered the local market. One by one, Oshkosh's white beer breweries closed.

Frederick Voelkel's brewery closed in the early 1880s. The Arnold brewery had stopped making beer by 1881. The Schiffmann brewery was destroyed by fire in 1879. The Daily Northwestern's report on that fire gives a rare, though meager, glimpse inside an Oshkosh white beer brewery.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 31, 1878.

Schiffmann bounced back. In 1880 he was making white beer again. But the competition finally grew too stiff. In 1883, Schiffmann shuttered his brewery and moved to Montana. Oshkosh's white beer breweries were gone. People here still had a taste for the beer, but now it came from Milwaukee.

Graf and Husting
In the 1880s, the John Graf Brewery and E.L Husting Brewery, both of Milwaukee,  were sending their white beer into Oshkosh. Husting used the Charlie Marsch saloon as its local depot. Marsch was on the west side of North Main Street near the river. He sold Husting’s white beer by the bottle and also on draught, which was something of a rarity in the world of white beer.

John Graf was the white beer heavyweight here during this period. Graf’s beer was widely available in Winnebago County. As the turn of the century approached, brewers like Graf ditched the prosaic white beer appellation in favor of the Teutonic weise, weiss, or weisse. The spelling was apparently at the discretion of the typesetter. The ad below, from 1898, targeted the northern portion of Winnebago County. It was typical of the upscale image Graf like to project.

Here’s another ad for Graf’s Weiss Beer. This one appeared in the mid-1880s in the window of Charles Raasch’s saloon on North Main in Oshkosh. You can see the Graf placard in the window on the right.

Courtesy of Steve Schrage.
Here’s a closer look at that Graf placard…

Oshkosh Berliner Weiss
White beer’s last burst of popularity here began at the turn of the century when the Oshkosh Brewing Company introduced its Berliner Weiss Beer. OBC was something of an anomaly in this regard. Most lager beer brewers steadfastly avoided making white beer. The souring bacteria necessary for its fermentation was anathema to any brewer whose business was reliant upon the production of "clean" beer. Contamination was a near mortal fear.

But OBC had an advantage most other lager breweries lacked. The company had three separate production facilities. One of them, the old Kuenzl Brewery on Harney Avenue, was no longer making beer. OBC had been flirting with the idea of turning the Kuenzl plant into a white beer brewery since the merger which created the company in 1894. Finally, in 1899, OBC pulled the trigger.

A 1903 ad featuring OBC's Berliner Weiss.

OBC's Berliner Weiss Beer became the brewery's fastest growing brand. In March 1900, a  brewery spokesman told the Daily Northwestern, "The indications at present are that the business in Weiss Beer alone next year will be doubled."

Berliner Weiss remained a bottled beer, but the stoneware bottles Schiffmann had used were now passé. OBC's Weiss was sold in heavy, glass bottles capped with a swing-top ceramic stopper. Here's one of OBC's bottled-beer delivery wagons. Across the back gate you can see the words WEISS BEER.

Incidentally, it appears OBC used no wheat malt in its Berliner Weiss. Inventories for the brewery during this period show plenty of barley malt, corn, and rice, but not a shred of wheat. Purists held wheatless Weiss in low regard. The 1901 edition of the American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades notes, "(Corn) grits will under no circumstances yield those albuminoids that give Weiss beer its character, as wheat malt does. Certainly there seems no reason why American Weiss beer brewers should not be able to procure a good wheat malt."

People in Oshkosh didn't seem to miss the wheat. Berliner Weiss remained one of OBCs main brands of bottled beer until 1906. But as the decade came to an end, sales of OBC’s Berliner Weiss began to slump.

Tastes were changing and the beer changed with it. White beer's best years in Oshkosh coincided with a time when beer variety here was at its peak (present era excluded). Brewer's in Oshkosh were making beers ranging from pale and hoppy to dark and malty. But in the early 1900s, lighter, crystal-clear lagers began to win out. The older, more rustic and flavorful beers fell away. White beer, cloudy and sour, didn't stand a chance. By 1911, OBC had abandoned the production of Berliner Weiss. That was the end of white beer in Oshkosh.

More than 100 years later, Fifth Ward Brewing brought the production of sour beer back to Oshkosh. In early 2018 Fifth Ward released its first sour. A series of sour beers have followed. Unlike the old white beers, though, Fifth Ward's sours are aged on fruit. They've become a popular feature on the brewery's tap list. We're a long way from the days of Schiffmann, but the thirst for a locally-brewed sour remains.