Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ken Stuber Takes on Central Waters’ 2010 Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine

Late last week four cases of Central Waters’ 2010 Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine showed up in the back cooler at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. This is a truly massive beer and today we're lucky to have Ken Stuber sharing his tasting notes. Ken is a homebrewer, a genuine SOB, and in May he’ll be taking the Beer Judge Certification Program exam. Obviously, he knows his beer. So let’s get to it; here are Ken’s notes:

Served at cellar temp (58ยบ)

Strong dark fruit aroma, though the bourbon and caramel also come through. The blend of the three is heaven on the nose as they all complement each other so well. Virtually no hop aroma to speak of. (9/12)

A finger or so of loose foam that dissipated quickly. A deep copper, nearly red, color. Perfectly clear, no haze at all. I was concerned that the seller had it in their cooler and this beer is not meant to be chilled, but fortunately there was no chill-haze to speak of. (3/3)

Wow, what a medley of flavor! As with the aroma, the blend of oak/bourbon, caramel and dark fruit is perfectly balanced. The effect reminds me of port wine or sherry. While no hop flavor came through in the aroma, there was a modest level of hop bitterness present, placing it in the high end of the English Barleywine style, by my guess. The strength of the beer is noticeable up-front, but not in a harsh or unpleasant way, though you can certainly taste the alcohol. This isn't entirely unexpected for such a young barleywine. There is a brown sugar or carmelly sweetness, but it is partially offset by the impressive 11.5% ABV. (17/20)

For a beer of this 'size', it is neither overly dry or heavy on the mouth. Carbonation is low, and to style. It does leave a slight residual syrupy feel on the tongue, but it's forgivable for the style. (3/5)

A fine brew and a welcome addition to my cellar. I look forward to revisiting this 'vintage' again in a year or two, to see how the flavor develops. I expect some of the alcohol hotness to diminish and the fruity character to come forward, but only time will tell. The bourbon barrel/oak flavor is present, but not overpowering like so many oak-aged beers tend to be. It perfectly complements the port/sherry - like qualities. Probably the best barleywine I've yet tasted. (8/10)

Last Thoughts
I scored it a 40. An excellent, though not outstanding beer. With time, I expect it to improve. In a year or two, I would be surprised and disappointed if my impression of this beer didn't improve. We'll see!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Barley & Hops’ Wednesday Night Lakefront Kick-Off

Barley & Hops has been running a great series of monthly beer tastings that focus upon a single brewery and for the next entry in the program they’ll be pouring the beer of Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. The sampling is Wednesday (March 31st) and will run from 7-10pm. Tickets are 10$ in advance or $15 at the door. Either way, it’s a fairly incredible deal as you’re welcome to unlimited pours of all the Lakefront brews they’ll have on hand. All told, there’ll be more than 30 brews and liquors available. You can’t go wrong with this one!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Birth of the Oshkosh Brewing Company

This post has been substantially updated and expanded here.

On March 28, 1894 – 116 years ago yesterday – the Oshkosh Times ran a story announcing that there was a new business in town calling itself the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Actually, there wasn’t much “new” about the new company. The Oshkosh Brewing Company resulted from the consolidation of Oshkosh’s three largest breweries, The Horn & Schwalm Brewery (aka the Brooklyn Brewery) at the 1600 block of Doty St.; the Union Brewery (aka the Glatz Brewery) also on Doty; and the Kuenzl Brewery (aka the Gambrinus Brewing Co.), located on the East Side of town near the intersection of Harney and Evaline.

You’d think this would have been big news. After all, here were three of the city's most prominent and visible manufacturing concerns joining forces to create an organization that would surely dominate the brewing and sale of beer in a city that already had a reputation for loving its brew. But there wasn’t much public celebration over the formation of a company that the Times claimed would “undoubtedly attract considerable attention throughout the state and country.” In fact the mood of the merger was downright sullen.

The Times article points out that the “interested parties are very reticent about the matter and for some reason have attempted to keep it out of the papers.” After being outed by the Times, the new company released its own glum account of the merger stating that, ”Through the influx of foreign beer, competition has become so strong that in order to cope with it, these companies have been compelled to combine their interests.” Not exactly a happy sounding start to a new business. And if you swap the word Milwaukee for foreign, you’ll know who was causing their worry. Schlitz was already well established here and when Pabst moved its Fond du Lac branch to Oshkosh in 1890 it was obvious to the locals that they’d need to bulk-up to hold their own.

It took a while for the three breweries to adjust to their new allegiance. Two years after the merger, the Brooklyn Brewery contingent was still running ads that made no mention of their stake in the new company. That would gradually change and by 1900 you begin to see ads that no longer make a point of identifying the distinct entities within the Oshkosh Brewing Company. This is also when the image of Chief Oshkosh starts coming to the fore as the company finally coalesced into one big, beer-soaked family.

Friday, March 26, 2010

People Who Drink Plenty Of Beer Are Always Strong And Healthy

This may be the most amazing piece of beer advertising I’ve ever seen. It’s from 1908 and I believe every word of it. Especially this bit:
Solid foods often remain in the stomach a long time and retard digestion. Liquid foods like “Oshkosh” Beer, are an aid to digestion
Oh yes, let’s not plug up the works with anything so retardant as solid food. The weekend is upon us! It’s time for some “nourishing” liquid food. Bring on the beer!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beer Run: The Tap Room at Central Waters Brewery

Fifty-Five minutes north of Oshkosh, the small town of Amherst is home to one of the best breweries in the United States where on Friday and Saturday evenings you can take a seat in the heart of their brew house and drink all the beer you care to.

The Central Waters Tap Room is a beer bar like no other. When you first walk in you get the sense that things have gone out of whack. The Tap Room is seated in the midst of a production brewery. So unlike the brewpubs we’re all familiar with, the brewing equipment doesn’t appear as an afterthought to an elaborate dining room or bar. At Central Waters, that scenario has been inverted. Here the simple bar is dwarfed by the breweries out-sized mash tuns and fermentors. Having a few pints amidst all that gear as the crowd rolls in, the atmosphere takes on the unique feel of a brewery tour turned beer bash. And there’s a distinct vibe that comes with drinking the brewery’s beer while standing in the heart of its production area. It’s as if the brew is coming straight off the teat. I like Central Waters’ beer anyway, but it just seems to taste better here.

The atmosphere is relaxed and inviting and the beer, all Central Waters of course, is excellent. The bar area is causally decorated with recycled, beer-related knickknacks that are easy not to notice in such a big space. The one drawback, is that the bar area does tend to fill up fast and you sometimes have to be patient when getting your next brew.

People watching here is great as the crowd is an odd mix of beer geeks and locals looking to whet their whistle after work. And the pride these regulars take in having the brewery in their town of just over 1,000 people is unmistakeable. They’ve got a right to be proud. Most towns this size are lucky to have some dive with a couple taps of macro-bland swill. The Tap Room at Central Waters stands as proof that you can find a crowd for good beer where ever you pour it.

Central Water is located at 351 Allen St. Amherst, Wisconsin. Hours are Fridays 4-9pm & Saturdays 3-9pm. Here’s a Link.

And here's our lo-fi, 30-second tour of the joint.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Moon Man Lands in Oshkosh

Moon Man No Coast Pale Ale is the new beer from New Glarus. It hit the shelves in Oshkosh late last week so let’s see what it’s all about.

Moon Man is an American Pale Ale, a style of beer that continues to evolve in the direction of increasingly pronounced hop character. This brew is no exception to that trend. The beer presents itself with a bright, citrus-fruit aroma – I’d guess there’s some Simcoe and Amarillo dry-hopping going on – that promises a lot of hop flavor. To a certain degree, it’s false advertising. The slightly grassy hop flavor is apparent, but it comes across as oddly subdued in the wake of the initial, pungent aroma. The beer has a beautifully light feel in the mouth and then ends with a lingering bitterness that seems out of place considering the somewhat restrained hop flavor.

I’ve had five of these and I haven’t given up on the beer, but it hasn’t won me over, either. It’s a well-made ale, it’s just not my thing. And I can’t help wondering whose thing it will be. Most hop lovers are going to find Moon Man too lightly hopped while the hop adverse will likely perceive the beer as too bitter. That said, you can’t deny that Sierra Nevada Brewing has had plenty of success with a very similar approach.

What bothers me, though, is that Moon Man is going to replace Hop Hearty Ale in the New Glarus lineup. Pity that. If you love hops, Moon Man is going to make you miss Hop Hearty Ale all the more.

So why call it Moon Man? According to the bottle, the beer is named in honor of a cat owned by one of the New Glarus brewers. That’s Moon Man’s paw print that dominates the label. As you’ll see below, our cat couldn’t care less about any of this.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One Last Case of Peoples Beer Makes Its Way Home to Oshkosh

Last Monday I posted THIS about a case of Peoples beer that was being sold on the Milwaukee Craigslist. I was curious about where the beer had been found so I contacted the seller and... well... now I own a case of Peoples Beer. Funny how these things work.

The bottles are still full of beer and aside from a little dust, some rust and a few tattered labels, these 7 oz pups look ready to drink. At least, if you don’t look too close. Put a bottle up to a light and the beer inside appears cloudy as new homebrew. There’s also a significant amount of sediment congealed at the bottom. When I first thought of making an offer on this, I had every intention of drinking a bottle or two. I’ve changed my mind. Over the last few days I’ve talked to a couple people who drank quite a bit of Peoples beer in the brewery’s final years. Their descriptions of the brew weren’t exactly kind. The bottles are dated 1971. It’s not the sort of beer that would improve with age.

One of the best parts of this whole deal was getting the chance to talk to the guy who actually found the beer. His name is Bryon Kolitz. He now lives in Franklin, but he grew up in Oshkosh. He found the case in 1998 when he was renovating an old bowling alley in Milwaukee at King and Vine (the site had earlier been the Dreamland ballroom, a place where my parents used to dance). Being an Oshkosh native, Bryon knows a few things about the city’s brewing history. As a kid, he said he used to like to explore the ruins of the Oshkosh Brewing Company on Doty. So when he spotted this case of Peoples, he couldn’t just throw it away. He took it home where it’s been ornamenting his kitchen.

Now the beer is back in Oshkosh. I paid $60 for it, the most I’ve ever paid for a case of beer. I don’t know if that’s a good price or not. I don’t really care. Hell, I may end up being the last person in Oshkosh to have walked through their back door totting a full case of Peoples beer. What a strange feeling that was. Even if I can’t taste it, that alone made the beer worth every cent I paid.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Beer Job in Oshkosh

Enjoying your job (or lack thereof) this fine Monday? Rather be a pro-brewer? Here’s your shot. Fox River Brewing Company in Oshkosh is looking for an assistant brewer. Or more specifically, “a passionate, technically gifted, quality focused, safety driven, and team oriented Brewery Assistant/Cellarman... a vital part of a three person brewery staff responsible for Fox River Beers both on and off site.”

Brewing beer is a tough job. The work is demanding and the pay is notoriously lousy. But if you really love it... here’s a LINK to the posting. And here’s a LINK to something that may temper your enthusiasm. Or maybe not.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Joe Walts and the The RePublic Brewpub

We’ve added a new section of links to the side-bar under the heading The View From Wisconsin and there’s one site in particular within that batch, we’d like to encourage you to visit. The RePublic Brewpub is a blog by Joe Walts, now the assistant brewer at Fratellos here in Oshkosh and Appleton (that's Joe over on the right).

The blog tells the story of Joe’s two-year struggle to establish his own brewpub in an economic climate that was hostile at best. But the site covers a lot more than just the business of starting a business. As it moves along, the blog grows into the personal story of someone dealing with the inevitable obstructions that arise as they pursue their passion. If you’ve ever dreamed of starting your own brew pub, you won’t want to miss it. And for homebrewers, the site is loaded with brewing notes and information. All the way around, it’s a great read.

Brewers: Here’s a LINK to Joe’s File Cabinet of brewing info. It’s a terrific resource and most of it is presented in a manner that’s easy to understand for brewers of all levels.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Of Schlitz and Oblio’s and Oshkosh

When Schlitz brought back their “classic 1960s formula” in 2007 the beer was aimed at drinkers in their 50s and 60s who came of age drinking the brew at the height of its popularity. But when the “new” Schlitz went on tap at Oblio’s in Oshkosh in 2008, there was a lot more in that first pour than the nostalgic pull of 60 or 70 years. “Oblio’s was built by Schlitz in 1884,” says Todd Cummings, co-owner of the bar with Mark Schultz. “When it came back to Oshkosh, this is where they launched it.”

A year later, much of the marketing hype Schlitz generated has subsided. And though it’s nice to have a local bar with deep roots keep a link to the past on tap, people don’t come to Oblio’s to drink history. A good portion of the bar’s patrons are beer enthusiasts and with 27 tap lines, there are plenty of beers on hand that offer more than mere nostalgia. At this point you’d expect that Schlitz would have faded away, once again. That hasn’t happened, though.

“Schlitz is still holding its own,” Todd says. “It has it’s own niche.” He says the appeal is fairly broad based. “Some of it is nostalgia, people who remember drinking it when they were younger.” Or the guy whose father worked at Schlitz who brings his dad in when he comes to town to have a beer and talk about his brewery days. But another part of it, Todd says, is “younger people who come in wanting to know what Schlitz was all about.“

There’s one aspect of having a Schlitz at Oblio’s that separates it from other places and it has nothing to do with the history of the beer or the bar. Whatever you think of Schlitz, there’s no denying the beauty of that pale lager as it swirls up the sides of the fluted pilsner glass that Oblio’s serves the beer in. “It’s contagious,” Todd says. “People see that and they want try it.”

That’s probably how it worked in 1884, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oshkosh and the Beer Belly of Wisconsin

Last month the blog Floating Sheep ran a post entitled The Beer Belly of America which mapped the dense concentration of bars in the upper Midwest of the United States. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin was prominently featured.
We thought it might be fun to break this down even further and look at the clustering of bars within Wisconsin and see where Oshkosh stands in the mix.

Taking the ten largest cities in Wisconsin and determining the number of bars each city has per 10,000 people, here’s what we’ve come up with. Note, the cities are listed in order of total population.
As you can see, Oshkosh comes in second with 12.09 bars for every 10,000 people. To make this all somewhat easier to digest, the actual people to bar ratio would be as follows.
1) Green Bay: 687 people for every bar.
2) Oshkosh:  827 people for every bar.
3) Racine: 1015 people for every bar.
4) Milwaukee: 1048 people for every bar.
5) Kenosha: 1065 people for every bar.
6) Appleton: 1116 people for every bar.
7) Eau Claire: 1212 people for every bar.
8) Madison: 1528 people for every bar.
9) Janesville: 1563 people for every bar.
10) Waukesha: 2125 people for every bar.
However, you have to dig a little deeper to find the true Bar-King of Wisconsin. And that would be La Crosse, the twelfth largest city in the state. La Crosse supports a whopping 17.09 bars for every 10,000 people or 585 people for every bar in town. Oshkosh, we’ve got some catching up to do!

Monday, March 15, 2010

One Last Case Of Peoples Beer

Last week a posting  went up on the Milwaukee Craigslist from someone trying to sell a case of Peoples beer. The seller says they found the case of 7 oz bottles in “an old bowling alley building that I purchased years ago.” I contacted the seller and she told me the bowling alley was located on King Drive in Milwaukee. Incredible. Almost forty years after the brewery closed, their beer is still being sold... sort of.

It’s ironic that this would show up on the Milwaukee Craigslist. In the brewery's final years, Peoples’ owner Theodore Mack, who came to Oshkosh from Milwaukee, tried desperately to establish a foothold in the Milwaukee market. It was an irreverent strategy for a regional brewery. While other regionals were fighting tooth and nail to preserve their local markets in the face of overwhelming competition from the likes of Miller, Pabst and Schlitz; Peoples took the unique approach of fighting the behemoths on their home turf. Unfortunately, Peoples didn’t fare any better than most of the other small Wisconsin breweries. In 1972 Peoples brewed their final batch and shut down. Now, the last place you can get it is Milwaukee. I’ll bet Theodore Mack would have appreciated that.

Here's a Link to the Craigslist posting.
Here's a Link for more on the Theodore Mack years at Peoples Brewing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It's 312 at Barley & Hops

If you spend some time talking with Nate Stiefvater at Barley & Hops you’ll soon discover he has no shortage of ideas designed to get people involved with the beer he’s pouring. Here’s his latest: As you may have heard, today is March 12th. Or 3/12. Coincidentally (or not) Nate happens to have Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat tap. I think you can see where this is heading... To commemorate 3/12 Barley & Hops is going to be pouring $2.50 pints of 312 Urban Wheat. It’s a tasty, light-bodied ale and a few pints would be just about right for easing yourself into the weekend. Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Point’s Black Ale Arrives in Oshkosh

It’s easy to take Stevens Point Brewery for granted. They’ve been around forever. And most of the dedicated beer drinkers who came of age in this area have passed copious time guzzling the brewery’s flagship lager. Unfortunately, extended familiarity of this type isn’t much help when it comes to inspiring the kind of consumer passion craft brewers rely upon. So what. Point keeps plugging away. And we’re lucky to have them near-by, making a range of good beers that rely more on accessibility and brewing skill than extreme flavors or hype.

Point’s newest brew hit the shelves in Oshkosh this week and it may be the best of their your-round offerings. 2012 is a black ale named for the year the dead-ending Mayan calender purports to dooms us all. Well, let’s not give a shit about that. We’re here for the beer, and this one is good.

The ale pours jet-black with a nice stand of creamy, brown foam. The aroma is toffee-sweet with a hint of coffee. The beer drinks light and smooth with a nice blend of subtle chocolate and roast flavors that are clean and well-defined; not the least bit overbearing. It finishes with a surprising kick of hops that compliment the preceding maltiness. You could easily drink a lot of this. Overall, it reminds me most of a well-made Dark English Mild.

That’s enough talk. Here’s the beer. Enjoy!

If you'd like to catch them bottling this stuff HERE is another little video for you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Bocks of Oshkosh

Fifty-Five years and six days ago the Oshkosh Northwestern ran a long, thirst-making article about the return of Bock beer being a sure sign that spring was near in Oshkosh. It’s doubtful the author’s enthusiasm  for strong beer would be welcome in the Northwestern these days and that’s too bad. But you can’t keep a good beer down! It’s starting to feel like spring and the Bocks are back so let’s see what’s pouring.

Blonde Doppelbock from Capital Brewery
On tap at Becket’s
Capital makes a couple of the best Bocks in the country right now. This one is my favorite. The beer pours so clear and golden that its appearance belies the deep malt flavor within. It’s a little sweet and slightly sticky, but with just enough lingering hop bitterness to keep it from becoming cloying. At almost 8% alcohol, this is a dangerously drinkable beer.

Autumnal Fire Doppelbock from Capital Brewery
On tap at Barley & Hops
This one has almost nothing in common with the Bocks that used to be made in Oshkosh, but it’s a brew not to be missed. Saying this brew is complex doesn’t begin to do it justice. It pours a hazy, copper and each sip seems to deliver a different spray of flavors. Apples, pears, cherries, figs, cinnamon... it just keeps coming at you. All of it wrapped in a caramel malt sweetness. Perfect for dessert. A session ending beer, if there ever was one.

Optimator Doppelbock
On tap at Oblio’s
Bock beer is sometimes described as bread in a bottle. A couple swigs of this one will make clear how they arrived at that characterization. A classic representation of the style, this is a full-bodied, chewy, brown lager. Sweet, rich and intensely malty with plenty of well-hidden alcohol warmth. I always seem to think of butterscotch when I have this. I can’t drink two of them, but that first one makes you so happy you don’t really need to.

1888 Bock
On tap at Barley & Hops and Peabody's Ale House
Here’s Leinenkugels’ homage to the Bocks all those German immigrants to Wisconsin loved to brew and schwill back in the day. I’m generally not a fan of Leinenkugels, but this one is pretty damned good. Amber in color, it has a nice, if slightly light, malt quality that finishes very clean. If you like malt, but don’t want all that breadiness that comes with bigger Bocks, this would be the beer to go to. And if you want to get a feel for the Bocks that People’s and Oshkosh Brewing were making in their heyday, this would be a good place to start.

Big Easy Lager
On tap at Barley & Hops
Here’s a Milwaukee entry in the full-bodied, blonde doppelbock division. The aroma is at first of sweet malt and then turns slightly floral. It’s a little syrupy and a little hot. You can tell this is coming in at over 7%. I’m not a lover of this beer, but I have a friend who swears by it and when I tried it again a couple weeks ago at Barley & Hops I found myself coming around. There’s a faint vanilla flavor in there that’s kind of nice. I’m still not won over, though. Maybe I need to go have another round.

Bocks are brews to keep you warm in Spring as you shed those big winter coats maybe a little sooner than you should. To hell with the coats! Bring on the Bocks!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Building of Oshkosh Brewing Co.

The Oshkosh Public Library recently added a selection of Postcards of Oshkosh to their Online Digital Collection. Included among the images of businesses, churches and parks is this beauty:


The postcard isn’t dated, but since the inscription at the top reads “New Building of Oshkosh Brewing Co.”, it’s probably safe to assume that it was printed within a few years of 1911, the year of the brewery's construction. The four-story, red brick structure with its three tiered, gabled brewing tower became one of the tallest buildings in Oshkosh.

The new brewery marked several important changes for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It allowed them to significantly increase production and it brought an end to their malting operations. Prior to 1911 Oshkosh Brewing made their own malt with barley supplied by farms in the Oshkosh area. But when the new brewery came online that practice ceased, as the company began purchasing their malt from commercial malting houses in Milwaukee and Manitowoc. The rush to modernization and specialization was on.

This was a state-of-the art facility and one of the most admired brewhouses in the Midwest. In fact it was still being praised for its beauty years after the company had ground to a halt. In his 1992 book Breweries of Wisconsin Jerry Apps wrote, “The old Oshkosh Brewing Company brewhouse remains one of the most attractive brewery buildings in the state.” He was a little late to the party. In 1992 there was nothing left of the place. It was demolished in the winter of 1986.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hops & Props 2010

A sea of great beer, a gang of good people and some lousy camera skills. Here’s our one minute tribute to Hops & Props 2010.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Round Two at O'Marro's

Hops & Props is now a sell-out, but if you didn't already get your ticket it doesn't mean you're out of luck as far as beer-tastings go tonight. O'Marro's is throwing an After-Fest Fest starting around 10 pm. They'll be pouring Brews from Central Waters, O'so, New Belgium, Flying Dog and Strangford Lough. A couple brewery reps will be on-hand and there's going to be live music from McSorleys Ghost. There's no cover and no excuse for not getting your fill of great beer tonight in Oshkosh.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Last week I let it slip that I have an unwholesome and groundless love for Schlitz. That admission has been met by a number of derisive comments from fellow beer lovers. Never one to shrink in the face of insult, I’ll now happily demolish any minor beer cred I may have gained up to this point. I give you the Tall Boy.


Seriously, isn’t that lovely! These babys hit town last week. I found mine at the Blue Moose Beer Cave on Murdock, which just might be the perfect place to buy such a beer. As I walked out of there with beer in hand, I experienced the same righteous thrill that used to visit me as a youth when I was stealing this stuff from the neighbor’s garage.

Thanks for indulging me.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Beer Run: The Sugar Maple in Milwaukee

We want to occasionally feature some of the great beer destinations within driving range of Oshkosh and now that the weather is warming, it’s time to get started. Let’s kick things off with Wisconsin’s tap-beer king, The Sugar Maple in Milwaukee.

Here’s what you really want to know: The Sugar Maple has 60 American craft beers on tap. Sixty! Walking in and seeing that long row of tap handles is enough to set any beer lover’s heart racing. But shortly after the initial rush you realize you’ve got a problem. You’re going to need to make a decision. What are you going to drink? You might want to start with their sampler, which gets you 5 oz of any four beers for $10. It’s a start.

Prices here are mostly in the $5 range, about the average for pints around Milwaukee, and the atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. The servers seem generally well informed about the beer and are more than willing to guide you along if you need help making a choice.  One thing you may want to consider is making your first visit earlier in the afternoon, say 4 pm or so when the crowd is lighter. It’s a large room, but in the evening this place tends to fill up fast, which doesn’t make navigating all that beer any easier.

The Sugar Maple is located on the South East side of Milwaukee, in the Village of Bay View. You can get there from Oshkosh in about an hour and a half and it is definitely worth the trip. At their website you can see their tap list and get directions. How you'll ever find your way back home is something you’ll need to figure out for yourself.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Few Notes On New Beer

A trio of noteworthy beers have recently gone on tap here in Oshkosh, so let’s belly up to the bar and see what we’ve got.

Crooked Tree IPA
On tap at Oblio’s
I don’t know why, but Michigan and hop-heavy beer seem to go hand in hand. Bells’ Hopslam, Founder’s Centennial IPA and New Holland’s Mad Hatter IPA are three that immediately come to mind. Crooked Tree, by Dark Horse out of Marshall, Michigan, is definitely up to that standard. This is one for the hop freaks. Lots of woody-pine aroma that bursts open as it pours into your mouth. The bittnerness builds and builds as you drink it. There’s just enough malt presence to keeps the bitterness from growing overwhelming, but not enough that you’ll ever forget the hops. Another really good beer from Dark Horse.

Samuel Adams Noble Pils 
On tap at O’Marro’s (coming soon to Dublin’s)
Here’s another brew that’s all about the hops, yet it has almost nothing in common with the Crooked Tree IPA. This is an extremely drinkable, straightforward Czech style pilsner brewed with all five varieties of Noble hops. Saaz seems to be the dominant strain, but in quite a different way than you get from something like Pilsner Urquell. The bottled version might be a touch over-carbonated, but the draught pint I had last night was dead on. The beer finishes dry with an easy blend of hay-like malt and earthy hops, inviting the next drink. I could make a summer habit of this one.

St.Patrick's Best Ale
On tap at Barley & Hops
Here’s a new Irish ale from Strangford Lough (pronounced lock) Brewing of County Down, Ireland. Just in time for you know what, here’s a beer you could drink all night on that Sainted day. It’s got that easy going, Irish malt character that to me tastes like lightly smoked caramel, but it’s not cloying in the least. I picked up a bit of lemony hops in there, too. I only had a sample of this so I’m not going to go too far out on a limb to describe it, but it definitely came across as a highly session-able brew. As a side note, Strangford brews the wort for this in Ireland and then ships it over here where it’s fermented into beer. They’re not the only brewery to do such a thing, but as a homebrewer this practice always amazes me. I get nervous totting my wort halfway across the room.

If these don't pique your palate, Hops & Props is just a few days off. Tickets are still available. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beer Shopping in Oshkosh

When Jordy’s Beverage Mart opened in 1962 there were just seven Class “A” (or retail) liquor license’s held in the city of Oshkosh. Now there are almost 130 of them. Jordy’s, though, is the last of the old-guard liquor stores. For the rest, selling beer, wine and spirits serves as a highly-profitable compliment to their primary offering, be it gasoline, food or pharmaceuticals. My personal favorite of these hybrids is JT's Wash & Mart on Wisconsin, the only liquor store/laundromat I’ve ever seen.

Jordy’s continues to do what they’ve always done - sell mainstream beer and booze to people who aren’t looking to be surprised by what they pour into their glass. And most of the other Class “A” beer peddlers in town adhere to this same profile. So when it comes to craft beer, the lion’s share of the retail action in Oshkosh falls to Festival Foods and the two Pick 'n Save stores.

At Pick 'n Save you get the impression craft beer is something they’d rather not bother with. Their coolers are dominated by BudMillerCoors and even the segment they’ve given over to “better” beer is largely occupied with InBev imports such as Corona and Becks; beers that may have possessed a foreign allure 20 years ago, but are hardly considered premium now.
Most of the micro-brews are shunted off to the side. At the North-side store they have something of a craft-beer ghetto - a dusty set of shelves where the beer cures under a bank of fluorescent lights.

Pick 'n Save may not respect the beer, but they certainly like to pay it lip service. A few weeks ago they had a sign harping “Wisconsin Owns Craft Beer.” Ironically, this came on the heels of another reduction to the cooler space given to Sprecher. Empty sloganeering aside, Pick 'n Save is rapidly being outflanked by gas stations such as the Blue Moose on Murdock where their “Beer Cave” is packed to the rafters with macro-brew, but fringed with surprising offerings such as Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Chimay and the Unplugged series of New Glarus beers.

And that leaves us with Festival Foods on Westowne. It may not be the perfect place to buy beer, but it’s head and shoulders above anything else in town. The selection is good and their prices are usually excellent. At Festival, they also seem to actually enjoy having all that beer on hand. They’ve made a point of  featuring  Wisconsin beer and they treat almost all of it well by keeping it in their huge cooler. And rarest of all, a few of the clerks actually seem to know a thing or two about what they’re selling. The Oshkosh store may not have quite the selection of, say, the Fond du Lac store, but you’ll usually be able to find something to satisfy whatever beer urge you’re currently having.

The thing to keep in mind with all of this is that you never really need to put yourself at the mercy of any retailer. The best solution to scratching your own peculiar beer itch is to brew your own. It’s not that hard and there’s no shortage of information to get you started. Here’s one LINK that will lead you to all the information you’ll need to get started. The beer you make will taste like no other you’ve had and best of all, it’s fun. A hell of a lot more fun than shopping.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Oshkosh Brewing Company Emblem and Its Strange Journey to the Public Museum

In March of 1987 the City of Oshkosh was trying to figure out what to do with the thousand pound emblem that had once been the crest for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. An advisory committee appointed by the parks director was mulling over five possible locations - the Oshkosh Public Museum, the City Centre (now the Oshkosh Convention Center), South Park, the corner of Algoma and Jackson or back at Doty Street where the brewery once stood.

That the city even had possession of the huge logo was itself something of a fluke. When the emblem went up for auction in December of 1986 the city was prepared to spend $6,600 to keep it in Oshkosh. But they were outbid when a 27-year-old collector of brewery memorabilia from Tomah named Paul Winter put up $9,240. A week later Winter, who grew up near the brewery and had his own sentimental attachment to the emblem, made a deal to sell it back to the city for $200 less than he'd paid for it... with the stipulation that the city make a replica for him.

After much public hand-wringing and one very informal poll taken by the Northwestern that the paper proclaimed resulted in an “Outpouring of public sentiment” favoring the museum site, the emblem was hitched to the south wall of the City Centre overlooking the river. It wasn’t a bad spot, but it was a little confusing for non-locals. “Is there a brew-pub in there?” an out-of-town friend once asked me.

When the Convention Center was remodeled in 2008, the logo was disassembled and removed. The Oshkosh Public Museum took formal ownership in March 2008 and at the end of 2009 the emblem went on display. It was placed just outside the entrance to the Museum at a cost the museum director estimated to be around $12,000.

History may not be cheap, but this piece of it is great to see. The emblem, made of fired-clay, looks terrific and now that you can get up close it seems all the more impressive. This is an especially good time to go see it, as the museum is featuring a new exhibit of incredible panoramic photographs taken in Oshkosh around 1915. Included is a photograph of the Oshkosh Brewing Company and what was then their new brewery. If you look especially close, you’ll see the roaming emblem where it originally resided.

Snapshots of History at the Oshkosh Public Museum.