Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Breweriana Show at Fifth Ward

The B'Gosh It's Good Breweriana show is this Sunday, May 16 at Fifth Ward Brewing.


Stop by, grab a beer, and peruse all manner of choice brewery memorabilia. They'll have 26 vendors and lots of Oshkosh items on hand. And it is FREE! The show starts at Noon. Last fall's show was great, this one should be even better...

Last year's breweriana show at Fifth Ward.


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Chilton's Last Call

Here's a growler I picked up last weekend from Rowland's Calumet Brewing in Chilton. It was filled with Last Call Pale Ale.


Last Call was made with malt from the last batch of malt made at the Briess malthouse on South Irish Road in Chilton.

The Briess facility in Chilton.

Briess' Chilton malthouse went into operation in 1902 as the Chilton Malting Company.


The Briess family became involved with the business in the 1950s and then bought the facility in 1978.

1978

The Briess malthouse in Chilton has been the source of brewing malt for many small breweries and homebrewers in Wisconsin. Earlier this year, Briess ended its malting operations in Chilton and moved that output to the old Rahr Malting facility in Manitowoc. 

I've been brewing with Briess malt for years. I always liked the idea that the I was making beer from barley that had been malted just across the lake. Right now, I have about 70 pounds of malt in my basement that came from the Chilton plant. I'll be thinking about that retired malthouse with every beer I make this summer.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Return of Oblio's

When Oblio's Lounge re-opened on April 12, it marked the beginning of another chapter for one of Oshkosh's best-known and longest-lived bars. Oblio's had been closed for more than six months beginning last October when COVID-19 infections were spreading rapidly in Oshkosh. Locking the door was a step that owners Mark Schultz and Todd Cummings didn't take lightly.

Mark Schultz (left) and Todd Cummings of Oblio's.

"We thought that what we were doing was right for us and the community," says Cummings. "I don't begrudge anybody for staying open. We have 42 years of business here, so it's a little bit different for us. It was just what we thought was right for us and our customers."

"That was the thing," Schultz says. "We think what we did was the right thing for our situation. Some people disagree. That's their right to disagree. But we were both on the same page this whole time."

It was just the second time in the past 135 years that the beer had stopped flowing at 432-434 N. Main Street. The building that is home to Oblio's was built in 1884 from a plan drawn by noted Oshkosh architect William Waters. The first saloon there, the Schlitz Beer Hall, took up residence shortly thereafter.

The sign for the Schlitz Beer Hall appears at the upper right. Circa 1887.

Schlitz Brewing purchased the building in 1886. At the time, there were already more than 80 saloons in the city. All but six of them sold nothing but locally-made beer. The Schlitz Beer Hall was one of the few places where variety was featured. The saloon became the 19th-century equivalent of a craft beer bar. Everything from Pilsner and Vienna lager to porter and stout was served there.

More than just pale lager; the Schlitz beers of1891.

It was a precocious start for a location that would go on to have more influence on the beer culture in Oshkosh than any other series of saloons or taverns in the city's history. But that high profile wasn’t always advantageous.

At the turn of the century, the Beer Hall became the target of prohibitionists who lobbied city hall to have its saloon license revoked. When Prohibition arrived in 1920, the Beer Hall became a speakeasy. The now renowned taproom was the sight of the first raid in Oshkosh by federal agents on a doomed mission to stem the flow of illegal liquor here. In 1927, during the depths of Prohibition, the bar was finally forced to close. It remained closed for the next nine years.

What is now Oblio's Lounge is shown at the extreme left, circa 1927.

Though the recent, six-month closure of Oblio's was comparatively short, it felt much longer for Mark Schultz and Todd Cummings. “It's become such a part of our DNA after doing it all these years," says Cummings.

When he and Schultz purchased the building in 1985 they became just its fourth owner. By that point, the two of them had already been running Oblio’s for 6 years and had managed to again make the bar into a destination for beer enthusiasts.

1997

The roots of craft beer in Oshkosh were established at Oblio's. But at the moment, things are different. Almost half of the bar's 27 tap lines are not currently being used.

"After we closed, we emptied all of the beer lines and had the distributors take the kegs back," says Schultz. “ We're gradually building the line-up back up. At this point, we want to make sure we're only putting fresh beer on.”

“We're also doing smaller barrels," Cummings says, "which is quite a bit more expensive. We want to keep the beer flowing and fresh. We're trying to ease back into it with a nice balance of beers."

Balance has long been a hallmark of the tap list at Oblio’s. It's become something of a rare take in a craft-beer market besotted with gimmickry. “Our demand isn't that great for those sorts of beers,” Cummings says. “We've dipped our toes into that, but overwhelmingly that's not what our clientele is asking for. Maybe it’s a clientele that's a little more experienced; or knowledgable. I don't want to sound condescending, but I think Oblio's customers come in looking for certain types of beer. We're not pushing an agenda, we're more trying to provide what our customers want.”


It’s that relationship with the customer that Cummings and Schultz say they missed the most during the time Oblio’s was closed. “There was never the thought of not reopening,” Cummings says. “It’s more than just Mark and me, it's this building and its history and the generations of people who come here. There's a lot of feeling of family here.”

“We really missed everybody,” Schultz adds. “It's so good just to see them again.”

Notes
A slightly different version of this post will appear in Wednesday’s Oshkosh Herald.

This piece touches only lightly on the deep history of this bar. There’s so much more to the story. You can find the full story in two parts Here and Here.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Get Your Brew On With the SOB’s

Here's a welcome sign: The Society of Oshkosh Brewers is back in action. This month, Oshkosh’s homebrewing club held its first in-person meeting since last fall. And this weekend the tribe is gathering for its annual Big Brew.


This Saturday morning, the SOBs will gather for a communal brew day in the parking lot behind The Cellar Brew Shop at 465 N. Washburn. 

The brewing begins about 9 am with at least nine homebrewers there with their gear making beer. Get there early if you can, as the bulk of the actual brewing is likely to occur before 11 am. It's great way to see how homebrewing gets done. And if you’re nice to them, those SOBs might even share some of their homebrew with you. It’s a free event and always a hell of a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Here’s something of a preview... This minor masterpiece was shot at the SOBs’ 2010 Big Brew event. You’re bound to see a few familiar faces...


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner

Long before the Fox River Brewing Company was there, the sawmill for the Paine Lumber Company held that spot on the river near the Oshkosh/Congress Avenue bridge.


Fox River Brewing opened on that parcel in 1995.

Fox River Brewing, circa 1996.

The first beer made there was named Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner. It was brewed on Saturday, November 18, 1995. It was also the first beer made by a commercial brewery in Oshkosh in 23 years.


The brewers who made that beer were Al Bunde and Rob LoBreglio. Bunde would be the head brewer at Fox River for the next two years. LoBreglio, who had co-founded Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company in Madison, was there as a consultant.

Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner was a part of Fox River’s core line-up until 2003. It has appeared as a seasonal offering many times since. The recipe has gone through a number of permutations; changing with every Fox River brewer putting their own slant on it.

Here's the original recipe. This first batch of Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner went on tap at Fox River on Friday, December 15, 1995.


Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner

Original Gravity: 1.048
Final Gravity: 1.009
ABV: 5.1
IBUs: 20-25
SRM: 5.22

Malt
93% Briess Brewers Malt 2-row
3.5% Briess Caramel Malt - 40L
3.5% Briess Carapils

Mash: 40 minutes at 157
Sparge: 95 minutes with temp rising to 171 during the sparge
Water: Untreated, City of Oshkosh municipal water.

Boil Time: 90 minutes

Hops
Czech Saaz: 90 minute boil for 12 IBUs
Czech Saaz: 10 minute boil for 6 IBUs
Czech Saaz: whirlpool addition for 4 IBUs

Yeast
Wyeast 2278 Czech Pils

Ferment at 50f for 17 days
Lower Temperature to 35 and rest for 7 days
Transfer to serving vessel.

For a deeper dive on the history of Fox River Brewing...
A full history of the brewery can be found here.
And a full history of the brewery’s beer production can be found here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Chief Gets a Cleaning

In March, I had a post here about the meanderings of the 110-year-old, 800-pound terra cotta emblem of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. A couple of days ago I noticed that the folks at the Oshkosh Public Museum, where the emblem now resides, were giving the piece a thorough cleaning. With the protective shield off you can get an even better look at the old chief. Here you go...


Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Barrel of Fun

Here’s a jewel from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of Monday, June 9, 1879.

“There was a lively row on Seventh street last night. A small but select party got a keg of beer and took it to a private house and proposed to have a little picnic of their own. After the disappearance of the beer a row ensued in which a man named John Florrip was terrible pounded. In fact Florrip was almost killed, and was not able to attend court this morning when the case came up.”


By Tuesday, Florrip was well enough to stand in court and face the two men who had “terrible pounded” him. John Baker and Louis Terrill were brought in on charges of assault. They told the judge that it was all Florrip’s fault.

"The defendants claimed that Florrip abused the hospitality and was too much at home; that he played on the accordion, sang, whistled and raised Ned generally."

So they beat the hell out of him. Then they tossed him out the door leaving him in a bloody heap. This is what can happen when you "raise Ned" with an accordion in Oshkosh.

Florrip’s rebuttal was to wave a shirt caked with blood that had come from the wounds pounded into his skull. The judge took pity. He fined Baker $5. Terrill got a $3 fine.

About a Keg
That’s a nice story, but as always, I’m here for the beer. So what about that fateful keg at the heart of this drama?

Most likely, it was an eighth-barrel keg holding about four gallons of beer. During this period, these small wooden kegs were the most popular form of packaged beer in Oshkosh. They were much more common than bottled beer, which in 1879 was still relatively rare and too pricey for the average drinker. The small, wooden kegs were the go-to for people having a beer party at home.

Kegs stacked outside Josef Fenzl’s saloon at 10th and Rugby (now Jeff’s on Rugby).
Atop the pile is an eighth-barrel keg.
Beneath it are quarter barrels and half barrels.

Kegs leaving the Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave.
Most of the vertically stacked kegs appear to be eighth-barrels.
The photo is from the early 1890s when Kuenzl had 300 eighth-barrel kegs in his inventory.

A standard, eighth-barrel keg was approximately 16 inches in length and 13 inches in diameter at its midsection. If it was full of beer it weighed about 55 pounds. The barrels were lined with pitch to preserve the flavor of the beer. To get at that beer, you hammered in a spigot (made of either brass or wood), loosened the bung, and let gravity do the rest. You could get about 30 pints of beer out of one of these diminutive barrels.


So where did Florrip, Baker, and Terrill get that keg? It was common to purchase these kegs directly from the brewery that made the beer. The Oshkosh breweries kept plenty of them in stock. For example, the Horn & Schwalm Brewery on the south side had 1,500 of these kegs in its inventory. They accounted for almost half of all the brewery’s kegs.

There's a decent chance that the Horn & Schwalm Brewery was the source of the keg that Florrip and his pals drained on that Sunday evening in June. It was, after all, the nearest brewery to their picnic on Seventh Street. Here's a look at one of those eighth-barrel kegs from Horn & Schwalm. This barrel is at least 130 years old (and probably quite a bit older than that). You can’t see it in this picture, but on the head of the keg is the Horn & Schwalm brand.

Of course, the beer that inspired that south-side brawl could have come from any number of sources. In 1879, this city was beer soaked in a way that's almost unimaginable now. Oshkosh was home to six breweries in 1879. The previous year, those breweries had combined to produce more than 3,800 barrels of beer. Most of that beer was consumed here in Oshkosh.

Let's put that in perspective.

In 1879, Oshkosh’s population was about 15,000. That means there was one brewery for every 2,500 people. Today the ratio is one active brewery for every 22,257 people. If we were keeping pace with the spirit of 1879, we'd now have 26 breweries in this city.

Here's another way of looking at it. The breweries of 1879 were producing 7.85 gallons of beer for every person living here. Last year, our breweries produced less than four ounces of beer for every person living in this city.

This makes one thing absolutely clear: it's incumbent upon each of us to drink more locally made beer. I'll end here so as to not keep you any longer from that mission. Have one for me while you're at it.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Allenville 2021

Silas Allen was Winnebago County's first hop grower. He came here from New York in 1846. I found his farm using old land records and county maps. This plant is from that site. I've been growing and brewing with these hops since 2013. They’re off to a good start this year!

More on the Allenville hops is available here, here, and here.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Oblio's

Circa 1927

The building in color on the left is the home of Oblio’s Lounge. It was built in 1884 from plans drawn by Oshkosh architect William Waters. The first saloon there – the Schlitz Beer Hall – opened in the spring of 1885. When Prohibition began in 1920, the saloon became a speakeasy. This postcard shows the building during that period. The bar closed in 1927 after it had been raided by federal officials. It remained closed for nine years. It’s the longest stretch of time since 1885 that the bar there has been closed. The second-longest closure is about to come to an end. Oblio’s has been closed for the past six months due to the pandemic. The home of the old Schlitz Beer Hall – Oblio's Lounge – reopens Monday.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Omega Brewing Experience Three Years Later

Three years ago, Omega Brewing Experience opened its taproom at 115 East Main Street in Omro. In celebration of that anniversary, the brewery is releasing a series of special release beers throughout April. This weekend, the little brewery in Omro is going big.

The Omega taproom in Omro.

When the taproom opens Friday, the heaviest hitter on the list will be Clearly Ambiguous, a 12% ABV barleywine aged in a rye whiskey barrel. Next in line is Westhaven XII, an 11.8% Belgian quad that Omega owner and head brewer Steve Zink says was inspired by the famous Trappist ale Westvleteren XII.

“I’m still keeping things balanced, though,” says Zink. “We’ll have beers and seltzers ranging from 4% to your 12%.”

The current taplist at Omega (click to enlarge).

Omega opened in 2018 as Winnebago County’s first nano-brewery – a designation applied to breweries that produce beer in batch sizes of three barrels or less. The first beers went on tap in Oshkosh at the Chalice Restaurant and Pilora’s Cafe in early 2018. The Omega taproom opened in April that year. And in the time since, Omega has carved out a comfortable niche as Omro’s sole brewery. It has developed into one of the more unique beer destinations in the state.

Both the brewery and taproom coexist in the same space. When you’re sitting in the taproom, you are also sitting in the brewery proper. “We don’t have a lot of extra space, so we have to do everything right here,” says Zink.

Omega's barrel-aging rack doing double duty as a taproom counter top.

Beyond the back door is another world entirely. The taproom exits onto a deck that ushers you to a gentle slope of lawn that meets the Fox River. It's all part of the taproom property and includes park benches and boat docking. It's become a popular spot for Omega customers to picnic with a couple of beers.

The beer garden.

Built in 1927, what is now the Omega taproom was initially Anton Bang's Meat Market. Since purchasing the property in 2016, Zink and his wife Kathy have transformed the building inside and out. “Every wall has been taken down, and the floors taken up. We cleared this place out and entirely redesigned it,” Zink says.

2017, pre-restoration.



During the interior remodel in 2017.

Steve and Kathy Zink behind the bar in the Omega taproom.

The brewery has been a family affair from the start. It began as an outgrowth of the homebrewing Zink was doing with his son Eric and son-in-law Cory Tellock. It continues to be a family brewery in the truest sense with Zink's daughter Becca Tellock now part of the brewing team. "Our lead-assistant brewer is Becca," Zink says. "She works on most, but not all of the brews. She also has a background in the sciences and biology that will help in the future as we refine our water treatment, process controls, and yeast program."

The output has been prolific. Since its opening, Omega has released 60 unique beers, including a number of sour beers and hard seltzers. And though, the output has been wide-ranging, it is still very much a nano-brewery with Zink's 40-gallon, glycol-chilled, fermenters sharing space with patrons.


Like most small breweries, Omega was hit hard by the Pandemic, but the rhythm now seems to have returned. "We're back to running at full capacity," Zink says. "Right now, our number-one challenge, due to the size of our brewing system, is keeping up with demand."

This month will offer the full range of what this small brewery is capable of. Updates on new releases for the April anniversary celebration will be posted to the brewery's Facebook page. The Omega taproom is open on Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 4 p.m.