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.

1 comment:

  1. In the original post I neglected to mention that I’m going to be attempting to brew the Old Derby Ale clone on Saturday at Big Brew Day in Oshkosh. If you’d like to stop by and see it happen, the event starts at 9 am in the parking lot in front of O’Marro’s Public House. Here’s more info on The Big Brew Day: