Monday, January 27, 2020

The Oshkosh Beer Blog, Ten Years In

The Oshkosh Beer Blog began 10 years ago today. This will be post number 1,021. I never would have guessed it would last this long.


The idea for the blog came to me in November 2009. The beer scene in Oshkosh was just starting to take off. Places like Oblio's, O'Marro's, and Peabody's were already putting on a wide range of beers, but those bars were unusual. When Becket's opened in 2008 followed by Dublin's in 2009 it seemed to signal a broader change. Both restaurants emphasized their beer options. More and more people here appeared interested in drinking something other than big-brewery pale lager. When 2010 began, there was a wider variety of beer available in Oshkosh than we had ever seen before.

My initial plan was to set up a web site that would have up-to-date tap lists for places in Oshkosh that had a decent draft-beer list. That idea had inflated considerably by the time the site was up and running. I decided I’d make it a blog and in addition to the tap lists, I’d post stories featuring bar owners, and beer geeks, and homebrewers. And every now and then, I’d post something about the history of beer in Oshkosh. It took a good year before I felt like I had figured out what I was trying to do. I committed a lot of lousy blogging during that time. Luckily, people were patient enough with me to keep visiting the site.

After that first year, the grind of keeping those tap lists up-to-date was getting to be too much. At the peak of that, I was keeping tap lists for nine different places in town. About half of the owners of those places would email updates to me when their list changed. The others I had to go out and update myself. Because of my job, I wasn't getting back to Oshkosh most nights until about 11 p.m. That's when I'd go around hitting the bars seeing what they had on tap. Of course, it was impossible for me to step into a tavern and not have a couple of beers. I’d get home late and then wake up early so I could get some writing done for the blog before I had to start dealing with my other responsibilities. I did that for more than a year. It was fun, but it wasn’t healthy. Something had to give.

I gradually eased out of tap listing and started giving more and more time to researching Oshkosh beer history. I've always loved doing that part of the blog. I was spending hours at a time down in the basement of the courthouse where they stored old documents having to do with property, and court cases, and death. None of that stuff had yet been digitized. You had to go plowing through shelves full of moldering indexes and ledgers to find what you were looking for. That basement was a goldmine. I was discovering things down there about Oshkosh brewers and saloon keepers that had been long ago forgotten.

Then in 2012, I met Ron Akin. Over the previous 30 years, Ron had assembled an amazing collection of Oshkosh breweriana. He wanted to do a book about the history of brewing in Oshkosh that would feature his collection. So, in April of 2012, I shut down the blog and went to work on the book with Ron.

I thought at that point that the blog was dead. The book was going to say everything there was to say about Oshkosh brewing and beer history. I figured the book would make any future blogging unnecessary. But after a couple of months of work on the book, I realized we'd never be able to cover all of the information I had accumulated. Some of the cuts we had to make were painful. But there was nowhere near enough space to fit it all in. I decided then that I was going to revive the blog.

In August 2012, the book was wrapped up and I returned to blogging. The first post was an announcement that The Breweries of Oshkosh; Their Rise and Fall was coming soon. The book was released on September 22, 2012. The release party was at Fox River Brewing. Kevin Bowen, who was the brewer then at Fox River, and I made Chief Oshkosh Beer for the book release. It was the first time in 40 years that Chief Oshkosh had been poured in Oshkosh. That alone made all the work worthwhile.

The blog was going along pretty well again, but by the end of 2013 I was getting frustrated. I didn't want to write any more about craft beer being sent into Oshkosh from other places. I wanted the blog to be about what was happening locally. But Fox River was still the only brewery in town. I liked Fox River, but historically the city had almost always had multiple breweries. Why not now? The beer scene here was certainly vibrant enough to support more than one brewery.

I thought about dropping all the other stuff and only writing about Oshkosh brewing history. But in 2014, something new began bubbling up. People were talking seriously about launching new breweries in Oshkosh.

You could hear that talk at almost every Society of Oshkosh Brewers meeting. Mike Schlosser and Shawn O'Marro were at those SOB meetings talking about their plans for what would become HighHolder Brewing. Ian Wenger and Zach Clark were there talking about starting what would become Fifth Ward Brewing. Jody Cleveland, now head brewer at Bare Bones, was there sharing his homebrew and trying to learn everything he could. I don't think you can overestimate the influence the SOBs have had on our current beer scene. So much of what is happening here now was incubated in that club of homebrewers.

In late 2014, I learned about what Dan Dringoli wanted to do. I met and interviewed Dan and his wife Patti for the first time on April 4, 2015. They didn't have brewing equipment yet, but they were definitely serious about launching Bare Bones Brewery. Their plan came together quickly. On July 16, 2015, former homebrewer Lyle Hari made the first batch of beer at Bare Bones. A couple of years, later Fifth Ward and HighHolder were up and running. In 2018, Oshkosh had four breweries again for the first time since 1894.

Seeing all this come into being was incredibly interesting to me. I had spent so much time researching, thinking, and wondering about those earlier periods when breweries were being established in Oshkosh. Now, here I was living in the midst of one of those times. Those events gave shape to a vague thought I began having shortly after starting this blog. It was about the person who I was writing all of this for.

I realized fairly early that everything I was writing about the history of brewing in Oshkosh was representational at best. I mean, what if there had been a beer-loving person living in Oshkosh in the 1860s who had kept a journal about the beer scene that was then blooming here. I'm sure their depiction of that time would have been altogether different and more accurate than mine has been.

So now when I'm writing about beer in Oshkosh, I tend to think about a person who might live here sometime in the future. A person who loves beer, and this city, and its history. I imagine that person stumbling upon all these words and wondering, what the hell was this guy trying to do? If that person ever exists and somehow manages to find this, here's their answer: I want you to understand that my time was strange and wonderful. I want to give you a sense, as best I can, of what it was like being here. And how fortunate I was to have been a part of it.

5 comments:

  1. Keep up the great work. Always enjoy the read.

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    1. Thanks Charles, I'm glad you've liked it!

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  2. We are thankful you share your passion and your gift of writing with us. The many thousands of hours of work to post those 1021, and the many thousands of hours more of research. Thanks Lee

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    1. Thanks, Randy, you've been quite a bit of help over the years. I appreciate that!

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