Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reviving Oshkosh’s Lost Ale

From a 1938 Advertisement
The late 1940s through the mid-1950s were peak years for beer production in Oshkosh. During that time Oshkosh’s three breweries, Oshkosh Brewing, Peoples and Rahr, combined to brew approximately 100,000 barrels of beer annually. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount of beer New Glarus Brewing now makes each year.

Almost all of the Oshkosh beer brewed during those years was lager beer of a sort that would be familiar to anyone who has ever drank Miller, Coors or Budweiser. There was, however, one notable exception. Old Derby Ale was produced by Peoples Brewing from 1937 until (at least) 1951. Production may have stretched into 1952, but by 1953 the ale had dropped off the map. Aside from homebrew, there wasn’t another ale brewed in Oshkosh for more than 40 years when Fratellos opened in 1995.

Old Derby Ale probably originated in Ripon at the Ripon Brewery, which after prohibition in 1933 began producing a beer named Old Derby. Ripon Brewery went out of business in 1937, the same year that Peoples began brewing Old Derby Ale. I haven’t been able to find anything verifying that Peoples actually purchased the brand from Ripon, but the dates coincide a little too neatly to assume otherwise.

Ales of the post-prohibition era were quite different from the Cream Ales that had an upsurge in popularity during the late 1950s. The post-prohibition ales were pale beers known for their use of native grains such as corn. The classic example of this lost style is generally considered to be Genesee’s 12-Horse Ale. Michael Jackson, the late doyen of beer writers, wrote this about the post-prohibition ales and 12-Horse:
If there is a classic in such a contrived style as the old-generation, golden American Ale, it must be 12-Horse Ale from the Genesee Brewery. Launched in 1934, it has a hint of sweet, soft fruitiness in the aroma; a light, perfumy sweetish palate; and just a hint of (faintly winey?) dryness in the finish.

Detail of a Tray From Paul Esslinger's Collection
It’s very likely that Old Derby Ale was brewed along these same lines. And it’s interesting to note that many of the ales of this variety had names that involved horses or featured horses on their labels. I’m not going to venture a guess as to why that would be.

The post-prohibition ales didn’t have a long run. Most of the beers of this style went out of production around the time of WWII when American breweries were forced to cut back on production and discontinue their secondary brands. Old Derby Ale hung around longer than most, but the timing of its demise was in keeping with the general trend.

But we’re not going to let it stay dead. What follows is a clone recipe for Old Derby Ale. To call it a clone, I suppose, is somewhat presumptuous since neither Joe Walts, who designed the recipe, or myself have ever tasted the beer. We don’t even know of anyone who has tasted the beer. Working within these limitations, Joe, who currently brews for Fox River Brewing, has designed a recipe that replicates this lost style of ale. How close this is to the actual taste of an Old Derby Ale, is anyone’s guess. But this is as close as any of us are likely to ever get. That said, I’m hoping this will be the first version of this recipe. I’m continuing to search for information that will get us closer to the actual beer with the goal of turning up an original recipe from the brewery. Until then, let's call this the 1.0 version of Joe Walts’ recipe for Old Derby Ale

Serving volume = 5 gal
Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.040
Original Gravity: 1.048
Post-Boil Gravity: 1.048
Final Gravity: 1.013
IBU = 30

This recipe assumes a pre-boil volume of 7.7 gallons and a post-boil volume of 6.5 gallons.
  • Mash water volume: 4.1 gal.
  • Sparge water volume: 5.4 gal.
  • Target mash temperature: 150 degf

Treating Oshkosh Water.
Gather 9.5 gal of water (this will include both the Mash and Sparge water) and add:
  • Gypsum = 5 g
  • Calcium Chloride = 9 g
  • Lactic Acid (88%) = 6 mL

  •    6-Row = 8 lb 10 oz (80%)
  •    Flaked Corn = 2 lb 4 oz (don't mill the flaked corn) (20%)

Hops (60 min boil)
  •    31 g Cluster boiled for 60 min
  •    10 g Cluster boiled for 20 min

  • 10g Danstar Nottingham hydrated in 100 mL water

Cool the wort to 64 degf and aerate the hell out of it before adding yeast.

Carbonation: 2.5 volumes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Couple Browns Around Town

Brown Ale is an ancient style of beer, but the Browns we see around now are of a somewhat more recent stock. These beers trace their lineage to just the early 1700s and the malty, often unhopped, ales brewed in Northern England. Jump forward about 300 years and you arrive at the American style of Brown Ale. The American Browns grew out of the homebrew scene of the early 1980s where the beer was brewed bigger in every way. Right now in Oshkosh, we have a couple classic examples of American Brown Ale being poured so let’s have at ‘em.

Bell's Best Brown on tap at Oblios.
This comes from across the lake in Comstock, Michigan and it may be the classic American Brown Ale. Hell, the BJCP even lists it as part of their style guide to Brown Ale. This beer is all about malt flavor. Caramel, chocolate, biscuit; if you like a malt profile that’s slightly sweet without being sticky, here’s the ale for you. It’s a medium bodied beer with a steady stream of mellow, malt flavor and just a hint of hops to clear the way for the next drink. Don’t stop after one, this is a beer made for drinking in multiples.

Dark Horse Boffo Brown Ale on tap at Becket’s
Here’s another Michigan Brown. Dark Horse Brewing of Marshall, Michigan has become known for brewing strong, intensely flavored beer and their Brown Ale certainly fits that profile. The beer pours deep brown and the rich, sweet maltiness of it is immediately apparent in the aroma. As full as the beer is, it still has a nice drinkability due to the slightly grassy hop presence that dries the beer out. Boffo may be a little big to be a true Brown (this makes Newcastle seem like mother’s milk) but it’s still in the sessionable range. If you like Browns, this is a beer to seek out.

By the way, if you stop at Becket’s to try out the Boffo Brown, you might want to give the Moon Man Pale Ale from New Glarus a shot, as well. I haven’t been a fan of the beer from the bottle, but the keg they have on at Becket’s right now seems to be a different animal entirely and substantially better than the packaged version.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can a 39-Year-Old Bottle of Peoples Beer Still Hit The Spot?

A month ago, I posted this about a 39-year-old case of Peoples Beer that I bought from a Milwaukee couple. As I mentioned then, the bottles were still full of beer and before I had the case in hand I was thinking about drinking a couple of them. I just wanted to know what the beer was like. But when I saw what was inside those little, 7 oz bottles I had second thoughts. Even through the thick, brown glass you could see that the beer had turned cloudy and dark. And at the bottom of each bottle was a nest of gelatinous slime. I changed my mind.

So for the next few weeks I lived with this case of beer. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t pluck one out of the case and look it over. The more I looked the more the urge to drink some of this stuff asserted itself. After a while, it was as if the beer was taunting me. Beer is not meant to be bottled up and stared at. It’s made to drink! Of course, I finally gave in and drank one of them.

Here, then, are probably the oddest tasting notes I’ve ever made: Upon opening the bottle, you can hear the last of its tired carbonation wheeze out. The beer pours a turbid amber with the aroma of black mold and musty water. It reaches the palate Dead on Arrival; utterly flat and with a nasty, viscous quality similar to what you get eating battered fish seared in over-used frying oil. The taste isn’t as bad as you’d expect. The flavor is somewhere in the vicinity of cooking sherry spiked with vinegar. If Old Speckled Hen were brewed by the people who make Cobra Malt Liquor, it might taste something like this.

The worst of it, though, came about 25 minutes after I’d finished. And yes, I did finish it. It was as if a couple of mice had been let loose in my stomach and were trying to claw their way out. I’m not going to be vulgar about it, let’s just say that for the next 12 hours I didn’t leave the house. The thing about all this is that even though I swore I’d never drink another one of these, I’m already starting to waver. What if that was just a bad bottle? There’s only going to be one way to find out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

O'so Now at Festival Foods in Oshkosh

In Oshkosh, we’ve been seeing beer from O'so Brewing on tap for several months now, but thanks to the fickle whims of distribution, that’s been the only way to get their beer here in town. That changed late last week when a few cases of O'so showed up at Festival Foods. You might not see it on the shelves yet, but if you dig around back in the cooler you’ll find a few cases tucked into the coveted spot next to the Old Milwaukee tower.

If you haven’t tried O'so recently, you ought to give them a shot. They’ve worked past the early issues they had with consistency and are making fine beer. My favorite of the bunch is Hopdinger, a beer that is fairly representative of what O'so is all about. Like most of the O'so brews, Hopdinger doesn’t comfortably fit within any particular style guideline. It falls somewhere between an American Amber Ale and an IPA. It’s full of American hop aroma and character, but it also comes across with a good hit of Munich malt that balances the beer beautifully. Call it what you will, it’s an excellent beer.

Located about 65 miles north of Oshkosh in Plover, O'so is a true a Mom & Pop operation run by Marc and Katina Buttera. The brewery, which launched in 2008, occupies a small store front next door to Point Brew Supply - the Buttera’s homebrew shop - where they brew in batches of 250 gallons and are just barely keeping up with demand. If you’d like to try O'so on tap, the only spot you’ll currently find it in Oshkosh is at Peabody’s where they have the Night Train Porter on. The O'so beers don’t tend to hang around long, so you might want to get on this stuff before it slips away.

O'so on the web.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Another Chief Oshkosh Ghost Sighting

Earlier this month we posted a piece about a couple of Chief Oshkosh ghost signs that can be seen around town. This week another ghost sign appeared along County Road A. And this one isn’t going to be hanging around much longer.

The house the sign appears on is the original incarnation of what is now known simply as Payne’s Point Tavern. Back in the day, it was Van’s Payne’s Point Tavern and, as you can see, they weren’t shy about pouring Chief Oshkosh beer. Last week, as the siding was being torn off the building, this fairly well preserved sign appeared. Driving by on Wednesday, I spotted a couple guys working on the place so I pulled over and asked if their remodeling included plans to keep the old sign visible. I got a flat “No” and a look that was even flatter. It won’t be long before this ghost drifts back into the shadows.

If you'd like to see the sign, you can find it at 6392 County Road A in the Town of Neenah. It's about a 10 minute drive from Oshkosh.

View Larger Map

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beer Run: The Cellar In Fond du Lac

The Cellar door 109 N. Main St.
There’s a burgeoning homebrew scene in Fond du Lac and its epicenter is The Cellar, Dave Koepke's beer brewing and wine making supply shop. The Cellar shares a downtown building with an aquarium shop so when you first walk in you might think you went through the wrong door. What’s with all the bubbling tanks and fish? Just keep walking. Soon you’ll begin to smell the malt and you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Malt truly is the first thing you notice about the place. That wonderful smell is coming from the bags of grain stacked on carts and the rows of grain buckets shelved along the length of the store. “I stock 60 different types of grain,” Dave says. It’s not just a pound of this and a pound of that, either. He’s got it in bulk and his prices might be the best of any homebrew shop in Wisconsin. He says, “I try to make it as affordable as I can.”

The other thing you’ll soon notice about The Cellar is the owner’s enthusiasm for what he’s doing. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than teaching people to brew beer," Dave says. "It’s not just brewing, but the philosophy of brewing, as well.” You can see that in the way he deals with his customers. When I was there last Saturday I saw him working with a couple new brewers. One looked to be in his mid-20s, the other was pushing 70. Each came in with simple questions and each walked away knowing a whole lot more about beer and brewing than when he’d walked in. Later on Dave said, “I guess if you're a beer lover then we can talk all day long.”

He’s got plenty to talk about. Dave has had his hand in just about every aspect of the beer trade. He’s been a bar owner, worked for a liquor distributor and is a graduate of the Siebel Institute’s Diploma Course in Brewing. But he first fell in love with good beer during a backpacking trip through Europe. There he drank Czech Lagers and English Ales and in Amsterdam had a Belgian Whit that sealed his fate. When he got back home he immediately started brewing. His initial brews were, if nothing else, memorable. “The first two batches were terrible,” he says. The third was even more interesting. He smashed a carboy and had an exploding fermentation “but it ended up tasting awesome!” As so often happens, he was hooked.

Dave got into the homebrewing business in 1997 when he opened Valley Homebrew Supply, Fond du Lac’s first store for homebrewers. The store went under when the business it was attached to closed its doors. So what does a homebrewer do when he loses his job and winds up with a load of grain he can’t sell? He starts brewing, of course. Within six months he had brewed a hundred gallons of beer. He brewed everything - Lagers, Belgian Whits, Pale Ales and, one of his favorites, Vanilla Stout.

Dave Koepke at work
Dave’s hoping he’ll have a longer run with The Cellar. The store is still young, it opened just last May and it’s off to a great start. “I’ve tried to take all the things I don’t like about homebrew shops and do them differently,” he says. Eventually, Dave would like to see the shop develop into a brewery, but for now he’s focused on the immediate future. Within a year or two he expects to relocate and he's hoping to keep the shop in downtown Fond du Lac. And then there’s the new homebrew club he’s helping to get started. The club, which doesn’t have an official name yet, is going to have its kick-off gathering on Big Brew day, May 1st at the Denevue Shelter in Fond du Lac's Lakeside Park. “We’re just going to get together and see who turns out and have a good time.” That seems to be the re-occurring theme that runs through all of Dave’s endeavors. As he says, “I’m 15 years in and still having fun with it.”

For more information on The Cellar and to check out their incredible prices on malt visit the store’s website

For more information on the new Fond du Lac beer and wine making club visit their Facebook page.

And finally, what's the point of talking about homebrewing without a recipe or two. Here’s Dave’s recipe for his Vanilla Stout. He’s been good enough to supply both the extract and all-grain version. Enjoy.

Dave's Vanilla Stout - All Grain

11 gallons
SG 1.052
SRM 47
IBU'S 19.5

  • 13 lbs. 2-row
  • 4 lbs. Cara-pils
  • 3 lbs. Chocolate Malt
  • 1 lbs. Roasted Barley
  • 1 lbs. Wheat
  • .25 lbs. De-bittered Black Malt
  •  1 oz Northern Brewer 8.0% alpha acid @ 90 mins.
Add 1 or 2 vanilla beans in secondary for 1 month or put them in the keg - your choice.

Dave's Vanilla Stout - Extract

5 gallons
SG 1.052
SRM 65
IBU'S 18

  • 6.6 lbs. Briess Dark LME
  • 1 lbs. Briess Pilsen DME
Steeping Grains
  • 1.5 lbs. Chocolate Malt
  • 2 lbs. cara-pils
  • .5 lbs. roasted barley
  • .5 lbs. wheat
  • .25 De-bittered Black Malt
  • .5 oz Northernbrewer 8.0% alpha acid @ 60 min
  • Add 1 or 2 vanilla beans in secondary for 1 month or put them in the keg - your choice.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Are You an S.O.B.?

What do you call a room of full of good people who can’t keep their beer to themselves? S.O.B.s, of course. This evening at 7pm The Society of Oshkosh Brewers, the S.O.B.s for short, will gather at O'Marro’s Public House for one of their regular meetings. It’s a chance to drink beer and talk beer with a crew of friendly brewers who’d like nothing more than to introduce you to the arcane mysteries of zymurgy. If you brew your own beer or just daydream about brewing your own beer, this is the club for you. And let’s not forget about the wine and mead makers. If you’re the fermenting kind, you’ll feel right at home. All are welcome to come check out the club and see what’s pouring. Tell you what, if you become a club member tonight, I’ll buy you a beer at the bar. Then you, too, will be a real S.O.B.

HERE's the website for the The Society of Oshkosh Brewers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Peoples Beer Documentary

Here’s a decent, five-minute documentary about Peoples Brewery produced by Wisconsin Public Television for their In Wisconsin series. The focus here is on the early 70s and the Theodore Mack era at Peoples, but it also includes a few interesting images of Oshkosh that pre-date that time. Local beer stalwarts Jim Lundstrom of The Scene and Allen Repp from Repp’s Bar both make appearances to help flesh-out the story. It’s definitely worth taking a look at and if you’d like to see it without squinting you can catch it on WPT this Thursday, April 22 at 7pm.

 Here’s a direct LINK to the WPT page that hosts the video.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Brewing With Oshkosh Water

If you’re brewing beer with water supplied by the City of Oshkosh you can consider yourself lucky. We have good water for making beer. It’s fairly neutral and well suited for most styles of Ale and Lager. The majority of brewers I’ve talked with over the past couple months do nothing to treat their water. The few who do aren’t doing much more than using Campden tablets to strip the chlorine from it. At the commercial level, the brewers at Fratellos sometimes use acidulated malt to lower their mash pH, but as Head Brewer Kevin Bowen succinctly puts it, “the water source for Oshkosh doesn't require much tweaking, so I don't.”

With that in mind, it’s still a good idea to get know the make-up of your water and its influence on the beer your brewing. In the next month or so, I’ll be posting a couple simple methods for treating Oshkosh water to brighten hop flavor and create a richer malt profile, but for today let’s concentrate on which styles of beer are best suited for the water coming straight out of the tap in Oshkosh.

Below are two charts. The first is a current City of Oshkosh water profile supplied by Stephan Brand of the Oshkosh Water Utility. The second is a simple water calculator created by John Palmer and presented in his book How To Brew. By plugging the Oshkosh numbers into the calculator you can see that the water here is best suited for beers where the residual alkalinity of the mash pH hovers around 5.9.

Have your eyes begun to glaze over yet? Let’s cut to the chase. What this boils down to is that Oshkosh water is particularly well suited for just about any style of Ale or Lager that tends towards Amber, Red or Brown. Hovering in that middle area means that most styles neighboring that range should do well, also. So everything from Pale Ales all the way through to Porters should do just fine with the water we have here. That’s about 80% of the beer listed in the BJCP Style Guide. And if that’s not enough, you can always start treating your water. We’ll get to that, too. Someday.

City of Oshkosh Water Profile
  • Chloride: 25 ppm   
  • Sulfate:  27 ppm   
  • Calcium: 42 ppm   
  • Magnesium: 26 ppm   
  • Sodium: 10 ppm   
  • Alkalinity: 120-160 pm

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    The Big Brew In Oshkosh and Fond du Lac

    The Big Brew is an annual event conceived in 2001 by the American Homebrewers Association as an elaborate excuse to get together and brew beer. And, of course, drink a few while you’re at it. The national event takes place the first Saturday in May – that’s May 1st this year. If you’ve ever kicked around the idea of brewing your own beer or are just curious to see how it’s done, this is a fun and free way to discover what homebrewing is all about. Homebrewers are welcoming people so don’t be shy about dropping by, saying hello and trying a beer or two.

    The Oshkosh Big Brew is going to be an all day affair organized by the Society of Oshkosh Brewer's (SOBs). The SOBs will be setting up their gear and brewing in the parking lot in front of O'Marro's Public House. It’s a good spot for a brew day and I’m sure the party will continue well after the brewing has wrapped up, but you’ll definitely want to get there early to take part in the collective SOB toast being held at noon.

    Fond du Lac will have it’s first Big Brew this year at the Denevue Shelter in Lakeside Park. This will be the kick-off event for the Fond du Lac Area Beer & Wine Making Club. If you’re a homebrewer in the Fond du Lac area this is a great opportunity to get in early on a club that’s going to attract a lot of adventurous and enthusiastic brewers. The Fondy crew also wants to encourage Wine Makers to stop by and see what they’re up to.

    For a taste of the Big Brew, here’s a video from last year’s Oshkosh event put together by Chief SOB Mike Engel. Mike’s movie took 2nd in the Big Brew YouTube video contest (shoulda won). Watch it with homebrew in hand and you’ll almost feel like you’re there.

     Here’s more information on The Big Brew in Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Beyond.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Joe Walts - Hijacked By Homebrew

    Hydrometer Joe
    Joe Walts has brewed for Otter Creek, J.T. Whitney's and now brews for Fox River Brewing in Oshkosh and Appleton. But it all started with a mess in the kitchen. Here’s Joe telling his own story of how a simple homebrewing kit upended his life.

    My poor, poor wife.  When we began dating in 1999, I was studying aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan.  I played music in my free time, but it was a fairly easy hobby to weave into the fabric of everyday life.  After graduating in 2002 and spending the summer goofing around on campus, I accepted a job offer from Williams International - a jet engine manufacturer where I had spent the prior year and a half working as an intern - and my future wife went back to school to become a nurse.  We rented a house together and adopted a dog.  In three years' time, we'd be able to move someplace cool like Seattle or Hartford (Boeing or Pratt & Whitney).  We'd spend a few years as DINKs, taking a nice vacation or two each year, and eventually settle down to raise a family.  Aside from being apathetic about my job, life was excellent.

    In November of 2002, my stepdad's birthday was approaching.  In a last-minute attempt to think of a present, I made a random connection: a friend of mine brewed his own beer when we lived together in college, and my stepdad would love that!  My mom would hate it, too.  It was perfect.  After a meager amount of research, I bought my stepdad a homebrew kit from some shop in California.  Thinking "what the hell, that sounds like fun" (I have no idea why it didn't occur to me when my friend was doing it in our kitchen), I bought one for myself as well.  I was about to become a fundamentally different person than the guy my future wife had fallen in love with.

    I brewed my first batch of beer in March of 2003.  It was an amber ale.  The kit's instructions didn't include sanitation and, regarding the dry yeast packet, simply said "cool the wort below 95 degf and pitch."  When I woke up the next morning, the airlock was plugged and the lid of the 6-gallon bucket had formed a two-inch-high dome.  I tried to gently crack the lid to relieve the pressure, but it made a loud “POP” and sent trub all over my kitchen.  When I noticed the solids on top of the beer, I concluded the batch was ruined and dumped it down the sink.  I didn't give up, though!  Not wanting to leave my failure open-ended, I ordered the same ingredients again.  While I waited for them to arrive in the mail - I wasn't aware that local homebrew shops existed - I scoured the internet for info and found How to Brew by John Palmer.  After reading the first edition, which was (and still is) published for free online, I knew what had gone wrong.  Batch #2 was a drinkable success.

    By 2004, homebrewing had taken over my life.  I was brewing or bottling almost every weekend, I worked on recipes during my lunch hours and the only things I read were brewing-related.  I had recently joined the American Homebrewers Association and, after seeing an ad for their National Homebrew Competition in Zymurgy magazine, decided to enter a Chocolate Stout in the New Entrants category.  When the regional score sheets arrived in the mail, I was shocked to learn that my beer had qualified for the national finals by taking third place and earning a Gold Certificate.  The day of the national awards ceremony, I received a phone call from a guy I'd never met named Jeff Renner.  He basically said, "who are you and why don't you belong to our homebrew club?  You won bronze and I have your medal."  Holy @#$%!!  I quickly joined the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, adding "social life" to my list of things that homebrewing had upended.  Amazingly, I got married three months later.

    Being a member of a homebrew club was extremely rewarding, and joining the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild was one of the first things I did when I moved to Madison in July of 2005.  I was hired as the assistant brewer at J.T. Whitney's at the end of August, but I continued homebrewing (although less often) and remained active in the club.  I stayed involved for my own enjoyment, but I'd be lying if I claimed that Whitney's didn't benefit from it.  Homebrewers and beer aficionados still set the tone of a brewery's reputation, even if they only account for a small portion of sales, and Whitney's sold about 12% more beer in 2006 than 2005.  I'd like to say it was because I improved the beer, but I didn't.  As the assistant brewer, I simply followed my boss's procedures that had been in place for ten years.  The only difference is that it had been a long time since an MHTG member brewed there.  As a consumer, I definitely frequent establishments more often - and spread the word about them - when I know their employees or owners.

    My long-term goal as a commercial brewer has always been to have creative and procedural control over what I brew (that goal has evolved over the last few months, but we'll run with it for now).  Because I haven't accomplished it yet, brewing at home is still the only way for me to do things my way.  Even if I was in charge of a brewery, I'd probably still homebrew from time to time to test new ideas or escape from the constraints of commercial viability.  When you're hooked, you're hooked.

    Speaking of beer that isn't commercially viable, I brewed a strong raspberry ale in 2006 to celebrate our wedding anniversaries.  My wife and I share a champagne bottle of it every year, and it keeps getting better.  If I were to brew it again, here's what I'd do:

    Serving Volume = 4.5 gal
    Original Gravity = 1.120
    Bitterness = 40 IBU
    Final Gravity = 1.022 (80% apparent attenuation, 11.6% estimated abv)
    Carbonation = 2.8 volumes

    Water treatment for Oshkosh municipal water:
       9.4 gal cold tap water
       7 g calcium sulfate
       12 g calcium chloride
       3 g slaked lime (sold as pickling lime in grocery stores)
       1/2 crushed campden tablet or the equivalent weight of potassium
          metabisulfite or sodium metabisulfite

    Mash Fermentables:
       20 lb, 2 oz Pilsner malt
       3 lb, 1 oz malted wheat

       42 oz corn sugar
       58 oz raspberries

       54 g Magnum pellets (13% AA) for 90 min

       Wyeast Trappist High Gravity or White Labs Abbey Ale
       Lalvin EC-118 (Champagne), if necessary

    • Two days before brewing: make a well-aerated yeast starter with 2821 mL of water, 337 g of dried light malt extract and 2 packets of Wyeast Trappist High Gravity or White Labs Abbey Ale yeast.
    • The evening before brewing, treat water and allow to sit overnight.
    • Before using, decant treated water from sediment.
    • Mash grain with 7 gallons (measured cold) of treated water at 162 degf.  The target mash temperature is 149 degf.
    • During the lauter, the add corn sugar to the kettle and mix well.
    • Sparge with the remaining treated water and collect 6.7 gal of wort at a specific gravity of 1.100.
    • Add Magnum hops at the start of the boil.
    • Boil for 90 minutes.  Post-boil wort should be 4.8 gal at a specific gravity of 1.143 (the yeast starter and raspberries are included in the 1.120 original gravity).
    • Cool to 68 degf, pitch yeast starter and aerate/oxygenate the hell out of it.
    • Try to maintain a fermentation temperature of 72 degf (62-64 degf ambient during high krausen).
    • After two weeks: add smashed raspberries to a secondary fermenter and rack the beer onto them*.  If attenuation is poor, add a hydrated packet of Champagne yeast.
    • After another two weeks, cool beer to 58 degf.
    • After another six weeks, bottle or keg the beer. If bottling in champagne bottles: warm to room temperature beforehand, add a hydrated packet of Champagne yeast, prime with 157 g of corn sugar dissolved in 500 mL of water (use 164 g of sugar if raspberries were pasteurized) and let the beer carbonate for months.

    *Depending on the source of your raspberries, you may want to pasteurize them.  To do so, add 750 mL of water to the smashed raspberries and heat to 150 degf for 30 minutes.  Pectin formation shouldn't be a concern at 150 degf, but adding this pasteurization step will reduce the beer's target OG to 1.116.

    By the way, my stepdad still hasn't opened his homebrew kit.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    The Night Theodore Mack Bought Peoples Brewery

    Forty years ago today, Peoples Brewery of Oshkosh became the first black-owned brewery in America. The deal was sealed just before midnight on April 14, 1970. After a three-hour meeting at the brewery on South Main Street, 135 of the company’s shareholders agreed to sell the business to a group of Milwaukee investors led by Theodore Mack, who would become the brewery’s president and board chairman. Mack and his associates had awaited the decision in room 903 of the Picasso Plaza in Oshkosh. They arrived at the brewery shortly after 11:30 pm and at the close of day signed-on to purchase Peoples for $365,000, with an additional cost of about $70,000 for the existing inventory.

    The sale brought to a close several years of struggle by Mack to purchase a brewery. A year earlier his group had unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Blatz Brewery. When asked for his reaction shortly after the agreement to purchase Peoples was complete, Mack said, “I worked so hard. I don’t have any feelings yet.”

    He wasn’t given much time for rumination. Earlier that day The Milwaukee Sentinel published a story reporting that if the deal went through Mack would fire all the top and middle managers at Peoples and that “the policy would be to hire blacks.” Mack spent a good part of the evening of the 14th trying to refute the report calling the Sentinel story “unfounded” and “very much irresponsible.”

    But the Sentinel story took root and Mack spent the next several days talking to reporters and brewery workers attempting to quell rumors, among them that the name of the brewery would be changed and that Peoples would now brew its beer for the “Milwaukee ghetto”. Mack said “I can’t understand why all these lies are coming out. There seems to be someone in the Oshkosh area trying to completely destroy Peoples Beer.”

    Within a couple of weeks, though, Mack appeared to grow tired of having to defend himself for buying a brewery that was on its last legs. On April 28th he spoke with reporters and he was no longer conciliatory. He cut to the heart of the matter and said “Myself and Oshkosh are very much on the spot. This is regarded as one of the most bigoted cities in the country, north and south. If sales are down it will be a black eye on Oshkosh, not on me. I can hold up my end. It’s a matter of whether Oshkosh can hold up its end. The brewery will not go out of business. If it does it will be a black eye on Oshkosh.”

    Eventually, Mack would work past the storm that followed April 14th. But there were bigger struggles ahead. Peoples, then the 11th largest of Wisconsin’s 14 breweries, was rapidly being squeezed out of the market. Just over two years after Mack took over, his brewery went out of business for reasons that had little to do with race or bigotry and almost everything to do with corporate hegemony. Oshkosh's days as a brewing center were over.

    For more on Theodore Mack and People’s Brewery HERE is terrific article by Jim Lundstrom.

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Wisconsin at the 2010 World Beer Cup

    Fox River Brewing's 2010 Silver
    Wisconsin did all right Saturday night at the 2010 World Beer Cup in Chicago. Five Wisconsin breweries won a total of 7 awards. That two of those awards went to Miller Brewing for beers that have more to do with delivering alcohol than flavor isn’t anything to get excited about, but so what. The Grumpy Troll in Mount Horeb had a great year and our own Fox River Brewing surprised a lot of people by bringing home a Silver in the Kӧlsch division. Here’s the Wisconsin rundown at this year’s World Cup.

    Category 1: American-Style Cream Ale or Lager, 17 entries
    Gold: Red Dog, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI

    Category 3: American-Style Wheat Beer with Yeast, 24 entries
    Gold: Point Horizon Wheat, Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, WI

    Category 4: Rye Beer, 22 entries
    Silver: Rye Bob, The Grumpy Troll Brewery, Restaurant & Pizzeria, Mount Horeb, WI

    Category 35: American-Style Specialty Lager, 19 entries
    Silver: Mickey’s Malt Liquor, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI

    Category 36: American-Style Amber Lager, 24 entries
    Bronze: Riverwest Stein, Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI

    Category 69: German-Style Kӧlsch/Kӧln-Style Kӧlsch, 23 entries
    Silver: Fox Light, Fox River Brewing Company, Oshkosh, WI

    Category 78: Foreign-Style Stout, 21 entries
    Bronze: Spetsnaz Stout, The Grumpy Troll Brewery, Restaurant & Pizzeria, Mount Horeb, WI

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Riding the Tavern Beer Trail With Frankie Mengeling and Her Friends

    Beer Trail Riders
    Ever wonder what the women’s bathroom at the Packer Pub in Oshkosh smells like? Me neither, but now I know. And I have Frankie Mengeling to thank for it. Frankie’s blog, Riding the Tavern Beer Trail, is an ongoing travelogue of the Oshkosh bar scene. Sounds like typical fodder for a local blog, until you start reading and realize that this tour is being undertaken by a most unlikely group of pub-crawlers. Frankie and her friends are all retirees and for almost a year now they’ve been dropping in on some of Oshkosh’s most unassuming bars and reporting what they find. It’s always amusing and usually surprising.

    Each entry of the blog concerns itself with a single Oshkosh bar. Often they’re hitting the older spots in town such as Jerry’s, Oblio’s or Witzke’s. But these are hardly your typical bar flies and they’re seeing the old places with fresh eyes. That’s good. There’s so much local history and culture tied up in these bars and it’s largely taken for granted. Frankie often passes along a brief history of the bar they’re visiting, but the real beauty of Riding the Tavern Beer Trail is that it presents these places as still vital and full of interesting stories.

    Frankie at Work
    Frankie, who taught writing and literature at Lourdes for 18 years, does all the writing for the blog and she does it wonderfully. She has a light touch and that’s a nice contrast to some of the hard cases she runs up against. When she meets a rude bartender who tells her “usually I flip off old people,” it doesn’t ruffle her at all. It’s added to the mix as just another part of the scene. My favorite aspect of Frankie’s pieces tends to be her odd, little asides. Like finding a dead skunk in a purse after visiting Jerry’s Bar or the small, burping woman at the B & E Lounge. It’s informative and absurd all at the same time.

    Oh, and that smell coming from the women’s bathroom at the Packer Pub. Tavern Trail Rider Elaine says it’s a strong sweet scent.

    Check out Riding the Tavern Beer Trail HERE.

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Fox River Brewing Wins Silver at World Beer Cup

    Last night in Chicago, Oshkosh’s Fox River Brewing took a silver for their Fox Light in the German-Style Kölsch/Köln-Style Kölsch category. Congratulations to Head Brewer Kevin Bowen and Assistant Brewer Joe Walts. Today would be a great day to drop by Fratellos and try out this excellent brew.

    The full list of winners can be seen HERE.

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    Making Nice With Peoples Beer

    Peoples Brewing Ad From Late 1940s
    Here’s another piece of incredible Oshkosh memorabilia from Paul Esslinger’s collection. This is from the late 1940s and it’s somewhat typical of the way beer was being promoted at that time. When Prohibition came to an end, brewers attempted to distance themselves from the seedy, beer hall image that the anti-fun crowd had preyed upon. They began promoting beer drinking as a family friendly, cheerful endeavor, suitable for both men and women. That approach sometimes resulted in ads like this one, which is so completely innocuous and absurdly innocent that it’s hard to figure out what exactly they’re trying to sell.

    And what are they trying to sell here? If ever there was a beer ad crying out for deconstruction this is it. Take a look at that dog on the left. The one who’s keeping his tongue to himself. There’s something sinister playing about his eyes. And what about that woman. Can you really trust a person who is that happy? I wouldn’t. In fact, the entire ad stands in conflict to the product it’s attempting to promote. If picking up a couple terriers and clutching them to your breast was all that was required to reach this level of manic bliss, there never would have been a need for the beverage we’ve all come to cherish. Have a “nice” weekend.

    Thursday, April 8, 2010

    Taking the Beer Cure at Barley & Hops

    The “beer cure” is an old German remedy for staving-off the winter blues that tend to set in towards the end of the season. The beer those Germans used to cure themselves was Bock, a rich, malty brew that was traditionally ready for drinking in late April and early May. My late-winter blues haven’t been too bad this year, but I haven’t been taking any chances, either. I’ve been drinking plenty of Bock. And Tuesday night at Barley & Hops I had one that was so good, it caught me off guard.

    Lakefront Brewery’s Bock Beer is a traditional Bock that is dead-on style wise. Amber hued with a deep, malty aroma the beer is smooth and rich and just slightly sweet. Still, it finishes clean and isn’t the least bit cloying. It’s a full, satisfying beer that’s incredibly easy to drink. I’ve had this Bock from the bottle before and it hadn’t made much of an impression on me. Wednesday was the first time I'd tried it on draught and the beer came across much better. Maybe it was the right beer at the right time.  Or perhaps this is an exceptional batch. I know I’ll be back for more. After all, going the German route and taking the “beer cure” seems like an absolutely reasonable prescription; especially on a day like this in Oshkosh when winter seems unwilling to go into remission.

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    New Beer’s Day

    From Oshkosh Daily Northwestern April 1933
    On this day in 1933 it became legal to, once again, sell beer in the city of Oshkosh. Well, sort of. This wasn’t real beer as we know it today. What became legal was beer that contained no more than 3.2 percent alcohol. Prohibition had yet to be repealed but the recently passed Cullen-Harrison Act allowed for the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer and wine in states that were legally considered wet. Wisconsin, which didn’t have state laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol, was wet as wet could be.

    In the days leading up to Friday, April 7, Oshkosh was rocking with anticipation. A vote held four days earlier on whether Wisconsin should ratify a Constitutional amendment to repeal Prohibition resulted in a record turnout in the city. The Oshkosh “wets” won by an overwhelming margin of 8 to 1. Reading through the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of that week, it’s impossible to miss the palpable sense of excitement that was building around the prospect of legal beer. Every section of the paper contains articles related to its return. There are stories about bartenders and tavern owners flooding City Hall for permits and whether or not beer was going to be served in the White House. Some of the articles amount to little more than prattle spiced with the word beer. A story that landed on the sports page is really about nothing, but it does mention that it will be more enjoyable to watch baseball now that you can have a beer in hand while doing it. Best of all are the ads and notices dotting the paper that herald beer’s return. A notice posted by the Eagles encourages its members to get together on Friday night and “have one of our OLD TIME Meetings. It’s Time to Smile Again.”
    From Oshkosh Daily Northwestern April 1933

    The Editors of the Northwestern may have realized they were all getting a little carried away. On April 6th the paper printed a grouchy editorial calling for restraint, warning that “If a lot of “rough stuff” is pulled after 12:01 o’clock tomorrow morning it will be a thing to be deeply regretted later.”

    It doesn’t look like the 3.2 beer inspired much rough stuff. The headline the following morning has a chaste tone, stating that beer was back “Like a Prodigal Son.” That’s tagged with a subhead explaining that poor beer had been away “Consorting With Low Characters.” Sounds kind of meek. But then this was meek beer. Much of it had been rushed into production and most of it probably tasted watery and unsatisfying. To legally get the real stuff you’d still have to wait a few months. Prohibition was finally abolished on December 5, 1933. That’s when the real fun began.

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Ghost Signs of Oshkosh

    Ghost signs are those faded, painted advertisements – often for a discontinued product or an obsolete trademark – that you see on the exterior walls of old buildings. Oshkosh has a number of ghost signs including the enormous Quaker Oats sign on the side of Murray's Irish Pub at 103 Algoma. Another good example is the blanched, towering sign for Castle-Pierce Printing at 103 High.

    But, as always, we’re here for the beer so let’s head south to 1329 Oregon Street. Here you can see a classic example of a ghost sign. It’s an advertisement for Chief Oshkosh Beer fading away on the north wall of the Acee Deucee Lounge. This is a fitting place for such a sign. The building  dates from 1876 and might be the oldest tavern structure in Oshkosh. The original saloon was run by John Koplitz; it was also his home and a grocery store. Herbert Pollnow bought the bar in 1944 and the tavern has been in the Pollnow family ever since.

    Now to the East Side and 709 Otter where Tony’s Deluxe features a sign that appears lost in time. Tony’s sign for Chief Oshkosh Beer may not qualify as a true ghost sign, as it has been maintained over the years and remains in pretty good shape. In fact, it’s a little startling to see an antiquated sign in this condition. By the looks of it, you’d think you could walk into the bar and order a “Chief” any day of the week. Like Acee Deucee, Tony’s has a good story. Prior to prohibition, there was a saloon at the location and when prohibition kicked-in the tavern began listing itself as a retailer of “soft drinks”. Although it’s difficult to verify, the place was almost certainly a speakeasy. Anton Lux bought the business in 1928, naming it Tony’s Deluxe. In 1933, the year prohibition finally collapsed, Lux went back to selling beer and then liquor - legally, that is.

    If you have a ghost sign to share leave a comment with a location and a brief description.

    And if you’d like to learn more about the Acee Deucee, check out this LINK to the great Oshkosh blog, Riding the Tavern Beer Trail.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Meet The Fuggles

    If you ordered hop rhizomes from Homebrew Market in Appleton this year, you probably received the call last week that your plants had arrived. I picked-up my two roots of Fuggles on Friday. They’ll be hitting the dirt within the next day or two. Wisconsin soils and temperatures aren't known for being especially hospitable to Fuggles, but I’ve had some fairly good luck with hops in my yard so I thought I’d take a chance. They’re looking healthy and ready to grow.

    I heard from two local hop growers last week who said their hops are off to a quick start and well ahead of where their plants were at this time last year. My hops are going crazy. On Thursday the largest shoot on my Nugget plant grew four inches in 12 hours (that’s the Nugget in the foreground).

    If you’re growing hops in or around Oshkosh, get in touch. I’d love to post more pictures of hop plants as the growing season progresses.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Belgian Taps at O’Marro’s

    Seems we’re on a beer tasting binge around here so let’s round out the week with three Belgian style brews currently pouring at O’Marro’s. Two of them are pretty damned good. The last one.... well....

    Rare Vos from Brewery Ommegang
    There are a lot of decent Belgian Ambers being brewed these days, but this one is especially good. It’s a cloudy, almost murky, beer that presents a dense wash of flavor, yet it’s light on the palate and so drinkable that it’s easy to down pint after pint of it. Lot’s of herbal and ripe fruit notes up front that give way to a pleasing, bready malt character. The beer is highly carbonated, but not in a harsh way. It turns buttery towards the end with a hop bitterness that sneaks up after it finishes. If Belgian ales are your thing, this one shouldn’t be missed.

    Stone Soup from New Glarus
    Here’s a crisp, Belgian Pale Ale with a surprisingly complex flavor profile. The Belgian yeast character presents itself right away with hints of banana, clove and pepper, none of which are overt. That earthiness doesn’t linger as the beer finishes tart and slightly dry with the lightest touch of hop bitterness. At 5.3% this isn’t quite a session beer, but it certainly drinks that way. A nice beer for Spring.

    Wittekerke Rosé From Brouwerij Bavik
    Beer geek reverence for Belgian ales too often translates into the misguided notion that if it’s from Belgium, it’s just gotta be good. Here’s the antidote to that strain of bullshit. Wittekerke Rosé is a Belgian made fruit beer that has all the flavor interest of children’s cough syrup with none of the kick. Pink and poofy this brew tastes like it was stirred up in a half-empty drum of raspberry sherbet about 3 minutes before it was served. Actually, it might be the perfect Easter beer. Pair it with a fistful of grape jelly beans, a dozen yellow Peeps and slip gently into sugar shock. My wife said it tastes like a kid’s beer. Maybe it’s good we don’t have kids.

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    English Mild at Fratellos

    Here’s what's most important about the English Mild currently on tap at Fratellos in Oshkosh: It’s a great beer.

    Now for a little context. Mild Ale is a low-alcohol, subdued, yet flavorful beer that’s made for quaffing. Once the largest selling style of ale in England, its popularity began to wane by mid-century as lagers and bitters came to dominate. There’s been something of a Mild revival in England, but as this is a beer that's at its best when it's fresh, the English brews rarely make their way here. In America, Mild was mostly absent until craft brewers began to take notice of it. Unfortunately, few American brewers have an affinity for this sort of ale. This is a beer that requires restraint (at least on the brewing side). That’s never been our strong suit. Often American Milds come off as either too chewy and full or, worse yet, watery.

    The English Mild at Fratellos gets it just right. The beer pours with a deep ruby hue followed by the inviting aroma of toasted malt. The mouth feel of this beer is perfect. It’s light and silky with enough body to keep it from being aqueous, yet it has none of the syrupy thickness that often plagues this style. The flavors are subdued, but there’s a wonderful complexity to the brew. There’s a hint of roasted malt at the start followed by notes of chocolate, light caramel, a little licorice and even some tobacco. The beer finishes with an easy dryness that urges you to drink more. And at 3.6% you really can drink this beer all night long. One caveat, however, is that this beer performs much better after you've let a growler of it warm and rest for a good half-hour before drinking. At Fratellos the beer is being served at the brewpub's standard temperature and carbonation levels, which mask how flavorful this ale really is.

    A final note for the geeks: At our Fratellos page you can get a glimpse into Assistant Brewer Joe Walts' recipe formulation for this beer. There, too, you’ll find Head Brewer Kevin Bowen’s excellent notes on this and the other beers currently on tap at Fratellos.