Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Night They Tried to Drink Oshkosh Dry

On this day in 1919 the people of Oshkosh set out to drink the city dry. And dry it was, when midnight arrived. June 30, 1919 was the true beginning of Prohibition in the United States. At midnight the Wartime Prohibition Act went into effect outlawing any and all intoxicating beverages. It would be another 14 years before you could enjoy a legal beer in Oshkosh. The drinkers of this city weren’t going to let this night pass without one last plunge.

In the days leading up to June 30th confusion reigned. The Wartime Prohibition Act was hastily drawn up. The perimeters of the new law were poorly defined. Many believed President Wilson would negate the Act altogether and that the scope of the law didn't include beer or light wine. Others seemed to realize exactly what was coming down. The Oshkosh Wine and Liquor Company took out a series of ads in the Northwestern notifying its customers that they were selling off their stock. “This is your last chance,” was their sober warning. Oshkosh’s three large breweries, Oshkosh Brewing, Peoples and Rahr’s, abruptly halted brewing operations and discontinued advertising their products. And the Elk’s Club announced they’d march a funeral procession down Main Street for John Barleycorn where the “Final disposition of all worldly effects of the deceased will be made.”
From June 26, 1919
 The early action of June 30th centered around the breweries, where they scurried to unload the last of their beer. The Northwestern reported that all three breweries sold-out their entire stock of bottled beer and “one brewery engaged extra autos, wagons... even sending out goods with bicycle riders.” As the work day ended things began to heat up. By early evening the Oshkosh's 107 saloons were crowded with rowdy drinkers out for a last, legal binge. “It was more or less of a wild night about town,” according to the Northwestern. “Jags were numerous and many people got a ‘bun’ on who have not been intoxicated in a long time.” The paper also noted that there was “considerable singing of barroom choruses” and at one unnamed saloon drinkers smashed their glasses after every round. Meanwhile the promised Elk’s Lodge Funeral March never materialized. Lodge members couldn’t be coaxed away from their clubhouse bar. The onlookers who had gathered along Main Street hoping to see something “unique” went home disappointed.

June 28, 1919
At midnight the saloons closed and the crowds took to the streets. The Northwestern reported that “beer parties were numerous,” with “groups of people who had not yet had enough carting away bottles and other containers and holding further revels in the open.” All that aside, there wasn’t much trouble. Only four arrests were made for intoxication and all four were released in the morning without having to face a judge.

The next day many of Oshkosh’s saloons opened once again... to sell soft drinks. At least, that was their story. Though July 1st would make it illegal, beer and liquor were never hard to come by in Oshkosh. The trade went underground. As the Northwestern put it in an editorial the day before the lid went down, many “will probably find ways and means to keep in the swim.” They were never more right.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A 1956 Tour of the Oshkosh Brewing Company

Unless you were lucky enough to traipse through the Oshkosh Brewing Company when it was up and running, almost 40 years ago, the three minute movie below is as close as any of us are going to get to actually seeing the place in operation. This short clip is taken from the 1957 movie Oshkosh Story, a four-hour documentary that was underwritten by a coalition of Oshkosh businesses calling themselves the Associated Industries of Oshkosh. Filmed in the fall and winter of 1956 by an Iowa company that made civic and industrial films, the movie was shown on WBAY in half-hour segments at 2 in the afternoon on consecutive Sundays beginning Easter Sunday in 1957. That first segment included this tour of the Oshkosh Brewing Company.


“The pleasant, relaxed moments of the citizens of our town.” I just love that! If that floats your boat, there’s more. A condensed (two hour) version of the original movie is available on VHS tape at the Oshkosh Public Library under the title This Is Our Town. It was produced by the Oshkosh Public Museum as part of Oshkosh’s 150th Anniversary celebration in 2003. It’s an incredible glimpse into 1950s Oshkosh and if you have a functioning VHS player you really ought to check it out. The Oshkosh Public Museum holds the footage to the film, let’s hope that one day the rest of the movie finds its way to the digital age.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Central Waters Illumination Double IPA Arrives in Oshkosh

It didn't look this blurry at the time.
Hop lovers and oral masochists of all stripes will want to add this beer to their shopping list. Central Waters Illumination Double IPA recently landed at Festival Foods in Oshkosh and if you’re out to terrorize your tonsils, dousing them with 12 ounces of this is guaranteed to leave them quivering.

You’ll know what you’re in for as soon as you put your nose to it. The beer gives off a meaty breeze of pine and candied grapefruit (is that Citra in there?) that won’t be leaving your nostrils anytime soon. The first gulp is almost overwhelming. The bitterness is so intense that it goes beyond mere taste and becomes a physical experience. It needles into your pharynx and travels up into your ears like a slow moving electrical shock. Is this pleasurable? In an odd way, yes. As I drank it I tried to sort out what I was tasting and soon gave up. What’s the point? It’s like going on a roller coaster ride and trying to appreciate the scenery. To hell with subtlety, this is a thrill-show beer that clocks in at 9% ABV and 108 IBUs. But that’s not to say this is some kind of gimmick. The beer is obviously well made and the fact that a brew this intensely bitter is still incredibly drinkable is testament to its quality. Often beers that are this aggressive become more of a chore than a pleasure about three quarters of the way through, but this one never grows overly thick or sappy. It does, though, cast a long, bitter shadow over anything that follows in its wake. After the Illumination I opened a New Belgium 1554, thinking I’d counter it with something malty. No luck, there. The Illumination just wouldn’t quit. That was the worst damned 1554 I’d ever swallowed.

Festival Foods in Oshkosh is selling 4-packs of Central Waters Illumination Double IPA for $10.49. They’ve got a stack of it in the back cooler. Go to it hop fiends!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Trio of IPAs

You can have your Shandys, your Wheats and your Fruit Beers. When I think summer I think IPAs. In particular, American IPAs. There’s something about the stinging, herbal flavor of American hops that goes perfect with a hot summer day. And if you’ve been trolling the locals lately you may have noticed that we’ve got a decent crop of hoppy beers pouring around town. Hop lovers, here are three IPAs currently on tap in Oshkosh that you shouldn’t miss.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA at Oblio’s

Here’s a big, sticky glassful of hops for you. I like that this beer tends to vary somewhat from batch to batch and if you’re familiar with DFH90, you’ll notice that the keg they’ve got on at Oblio’s is a breed apart from the bottled version. Local homebrewer and beer aficionado Mark Stanek was drinking this at Oblio’s on Tuesday night and here’s what he has to say about it: “I thought the DFH 90 on tap was better than the bottled versions I have had.  The hops were fresher and the beer was tastier and had less of a syrupy feel to it.” I agree completely. Oblio’s has had this on for about a week now, so you might want to get to this one sooner than later.

Founders Centennial IPA at Becket's
Here’s an IPA that doesn’t bother much with trying to balance its pungent, citrusy, hop character with too much malt. Good on them. After all, if you’re drinking an IPA are you really there for the malt? This is an incredibly well-made beer that is generously hopped, yet never grows harsh. The beer comes across with layer upon layer of hop flavor without the mucky accumulation of bitterness that often accompanies beers that are hopped to this degree. You might want to pace yourself with this one, though. It drinks with an easiness that doesn’t hint at the 7.2% ABV it’s delivering.

Central Waters Glacial Trail IPA at Barley & Hops
I was glad to see Barley & Hops put this one on as I’ve been dying to try it on tap. I wanted to see how the keg version would match up to the bottle. If you’ve ever poured a bottle of Glacial Trail into a glass you know it’s one of the most rustic looking beers available. Unfiltered, the bottled version is hazy and full of dancing, little “floaties” that circulate through the brew as if it were still in ferment. The keg they’ve got on at Barley & Hops isn’t quite as dynamic as that, but it’s still like nothing else you’ll find from a commercial brewer. One thing that really comes across from the keg (aside from a load of hop flavor and aroma) is the deep, biscuit malt flavor that forms the foundation of this beer. It lends the beer a creaminess that works as an ideal counterpoint to the citrus and pine aspects of the beer’s hop profile. Another excellent beer from one of the best Wisconsin breweries.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Get Ready for Brews n' Blues 2010

Summer must be here because Brews n' Blues is just around the corner. On July 17th the 15th annual microbrew and music festival organized by the Oshkosh Jaycees will take place at the Leach Amphitheater in Oshkosh from 3-7 p.m. This year’s event is looking good. More than 30 breweries will be on hand pouring  samples of over 100 brews. Meanwhile, the blues side of things will be taken care of with live music from Greg Waters and The Broad Street Boogie and Donnie Pick and The Unit .

This year, the Jaycees are adding a new wrinkle. They’re including a “Brew School” hosted by the Society Of Oshkosh Brewers. The SOBs will be on-hand to brew a few beers and talk about the process to anyone yearning to learn how the good stuff gets made. If you’re interested in making beer, this would be a fun way to take the short course on brewing your own.

This is a nicely priced festival with tickets just $30 in advance and $40 at the door. And you can feel good about buying them, too, with proceeds going to help the Christine Ann Center for Domestic Abuse and other Oshkosh area charities. Be one of the first 700 people through the gate you’ll get a 2010 Brews n' Blues collectible sampling glass.

These things have a tendency to sneak up, so don’t put off getting those tickets. In Oshkosh, advance tickets are available at Barley & Hops, Dublin's, Festival Foods and O’Marro’s. July 17th is going to be a great day at the Leach!

For more info check out the Oshkosh Jaycees website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Introducing The Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh

On June 21, 1913 The Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh announced they were open for business. The company introduced itself with a half-page advertisement in the Daily Northwestern that showed off their new brewery, told of the beers they were producing and asked the people of Oshkosh to give them a shot, “A Trial Is All We Ask.”

Daily Northwestern June 21, 1913
It was a quick start to a large-scale brewing business that had been little more than an idea bouncing around a table at the Revere Hotel two years earlier. In November of 1911, William C. Kargus, a former employee of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, filed articles of incorporation for what would become Oshkosh’s first and only cooperatively owned brewery. By the end of 1911, the group led by Kargus and Joseph J. Nigl had gathered approximately 200 shareholders and were looking for a brewhouse. They tried to purchase Charles Rahr’s Oshkosh brewery in January of 1912, but the deal fell through so they decided to build their own. A week later Peoples Brewing bought a block of land between Fifteenth and Sixteenth Streets on the east side of South Main. Construction of the new brewery began in April of 1912 (a couple blocks away The Oshkosh Brewing Company was just then wrapping up construction of its new brewery). A carpenter’s strike temporarily delayed construction, but a year and a month later the plant was fully operational and spilling out beer.

The first two beers Peoples Brewing produced were Asterweiss, a pasteurized, light-bodied, low-alcohol, beer sold in clear bottles; and their “Standard” beer, which would eventually come to be known as Aristos. Aristos sounds like the interesting one. It was their full-bodied, draught beer served from brown, pint bottles or wood barrels. Wood Barrels! I’m not much for nostalgia, but wouldn’t it be great to have an Oshkosh beer served from a wood barrel again?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hoppin' Around Oshkosh

We’ve reached the mid-season mark for hop growing in Oshkosh. So far, it’s been a great year with most plants well ahead of where they were last year at this time. If you have an established vine it’s probably nearing it’s full height and beginning to display those bright yellow buds that eventually develop into the bitter fruit that makes beer drinkers happy. So let’s take a look at some of the interesting hop plants growing this summer in Oshkosh.
We’ll start off with what is probably the most impressive hop growing set-up in town. This is Nick’s Hop Operation near the corner of Jackson and Murdock. We featured Nick’s hop garden a little over a month ago and his rate of growth since then has been startling. Here’s the earlier post. Compare those pictures to this one and you’ll see what I mean. Nick is growing Zeus, Brewers Gold, Willamette, Cascade and Hallertau.

Nick's Hop Operation
Across town on Adams, Scott has a unique method for growing his hops. His Cascade plant grows horizontally, using an evergreen bush instead of a vertical trellis for support. It’s a huge, sprawling plant loaded with buds. This method may not be practical for most hop growers, but it obviously works.

Scott's Hops

These are mine on Evans Street. I’ve got Cascade and Nugget growing together. They shot over the trellis weeks ago and have grown into a knot, but they seems to like the set-up. I’m anticipating a banner harvest.

My Hops

Finally, this may not be the biggest plant in town, but it’s my favorite. Here’s a bit of guerilla gardening that’s resulted in a dense, healthy bush of hops (Cascade?). These grow on a terrace along New York Ave. For the next few weeks I’m going to find one excuse after another to peddle by and have a look.

Guerrilla Hops

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Screwballs to Become the Chief Oshkosh Saloon

Screwballs Sports Pub will soon be no more. According to Oshkosh Mayor Paul Esslinger, the owner of the tavern at 216 North Main Street, Screwballs will close for remodeling on July 5th to reemerge about a week later as the Chief Oshkosh Saloon. The tavern will feature a historic Oshkosh theme with items from Esslinger’s collection of Oshkosh memorabilia prominent in the redesign. A focal point of the tavern will be a display of Esslinger’s collection of brewery related pieces from Oshkosh’s brewing past and at each end of the bar will be a life-sized, fiberglass lion from the Pride of Oshkosh project of 2004. 

Esslinger, who took over Screwballs from Joe Jungwirth last June, says he’s been toying with the idea of transforming the tavern for while and decided that with Main Street construction “putting a damper on things” now was a good time to move ahead. “I’m thinking of it as a complete overhaul,” he says. The new sign for the tavern will show the Chief Oshkosh Saloon logo and Esslinger says, “I’m hoping to have the first protruding sign back on Main Street.”

In keeping with the historic theme, Esslinger will introduce the Chief Mug Club awarding persistent patrons with a t-shirt showing the recipient among a gathering of Oshkosh historical figures, including Chief Oshkosh. And to help kick things off, the tavern will have a Waterfest special on Thursday,  July 14th.  For $10 you’ll get a ticket to Waterfest, a pint of beer and a brat or sausage of your choice catered by Kodiak Jack’s.

Esslinger says that if all goes to plan the Chief Oshkosh Saloon will be open for business July 12th.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Magnet: Wisconsin's First Beer Bar

On this day in 1940 the Magnet, at 519 N. Main St. in Oshkosh, became the first tavern in the State of Wisconsin to be issued a beer-only license. Teenagers in Oshkosh finally had a place to drink beer. Legally.

The Magnet was at the vanguard of what would become a memorable Wisconsin phenomenon, the teen-age beer bar. These were spots where people 18-20 years old could enjoy their brew of choice in an atmosphere unspoiled by hard liquor. After Prohibition, Wisconsin reserved a “local option,” allowing municipal governments to set the age for legal beer drinking. The local option hadn’t been exercised, though, until Frank M. Hayes took out a class “B” liquor license and convinced Oshkosh officials he could run a clean-cut beer and billiard hall. By July of 1940 Wisconsin’s first beer bar was in business.

From July 6, 1940
But it didn’t start out as The Magnet and it didn’t start out on Main Street. The Magnet began as the Playdium on Washington Blvd. Its proprietor, Frank M. Hayes, was born in 1888 and lived on E. Irving. He’d been a semi-pro baseball player in Omaha and a postal clerk in Oshkosh. As a publican, Hayes proved to be a no-nonsense sort of guy. He didn’t tolerate rude behavior in his beer bar. Fighting, swearing and loud noises were not welcome at the Playdium.

The Road Construction View
In 1950 Hayes moved his bar to Main Street, but kept his beer-only status. He was walking a thin wire. Others had followed in Hayes’ wake and by the mid-50s the teen-bars had come under intense criticism. Now there were “wet” islands dotting the State. Cities like Oshkosh became destination points for traveling 18-20 year-olds who would come to get their fill of beer before taking to the highways and returning to their dry hometowns.

When Hayes died in 1959, Winnebago County was attempting to enact a law that would fix the beer age at 21 County-wide. They failed and the Magnet passed to Frank M. Hayes, Jr. In 1963, though, things changed. The Oshkosh Common Council decided it was time to abandon the local option and beer in Oshkosh once again became the privilege of those over 21. At the time there were five beer bars in Oshkosh. Though, the Magnet remained a beer-only bar for several more years, the tavern would eventually take a full liquor license.

The Magnet continues to carry on much as it always has. It’s still primarily a beer and pool hall and they’re still serving their famous Magnet chili dogs. After all these years of see-sawing liquor laws, the Magnet remains a good-time Oshkosh fixture. A place where you can have a beer, shoot some pool and touch history where it lives.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Brief History of Beer by Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth

Oshkosh author and historian Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth suggested that we ought to include a history of brewing on this site. Not only that, he was good enough to go ahead and write it. Here’s Inky’s history of beer.

Sumerian Beer Recipe, 3200 BC
The Cities of Oshkosh and Milwaukee have been known since their founding for their large production and consumption of Beer, especially in the early years. One only has to look at their City Directories, especially those printed in the 19th Century and early 20th Century, to see the number of Taverns listed under the heading of either Sample Rooms or Bars or Taverns. The following is a History of Beer throughout the ages and is taken from various sources published many years ago.

Beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by extracting raw materials with water, boiling (usually with hops) and fermenting. In some countries beer is defined by law as in Germany where the standard ingredients are water, germinated barley, hops and yeast.

Egyptian Beer Brewing
Before  6000 B.C.,  beer was made from barley in Sumeria and Babylonia. Reliefs on Egyptian tombs dating from 2400 B.C. show that barley or partly germinated barley was crushed, mixed with water, and dried into cakes. When broken up and mixed with water, the cakes gave an extract that was fermented by microorganisms accumulated on the surfaces of fermenting vessels.

The basic techniques of brewing came to Europe from the Middle East. The Roman Historians Pliny (in the first century B.C.) and Tacitus (in the First Century A.D.) reported that Saxons, Celts, Nordic and Germanic tribes drank ale. In fact, many of the English terms used in brewing (malt, mash, wort, ale) are Anglo-Saxon in origin.

A Medieval Tavern
During the Middle Ages, the monastic orders preserved brewing as a craft. Hops were in use in Germany in the 11th Century, and in the 15th Century they were introduced into Britain from Holland. In 1420 beer was made in Germany by a bottom fermentation process (prior to this, top fermenting yeasts were the norm). Brewing was a winter occupation, and ice was used to keep beer cool during  summer months. Such beer came to be called lager (from the German word  "lagern" (to store). The term lager is still used to denote beer produced from bottom-fermenting yeast, and the term ale is used for top-fermented British types of Beer.

There have been beer lovers who get hangovers from too much beer drinking since ancient times. For 20th Century and 21st Century beer lovers the 19th Century Industrial Revolution perfected beer making as we have it today. It was also 19th century scientists such as Pasteur who helped in perfecting the process of preserving beer. The improvement of refrigeration processes in the late 19th and early 20th Century made the wide distribution of beer products available to the growing beer drinking public.

As we sit at the bar drinking a beer let us salute our ancient ancestors for inventing the nectar of the gods.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cheap Beer No. 2: Lost Lake Pilsner

Here’s another brew of dubious wonder from the bleak heart of La Crosse that’s readily available just about everywhere in Oshkosh. Before launching into the bad news about the beer, I have to say this is the ugliest beer can I’ve ever seen. If ever there was a beer that deserved to be drank from a bag, this is it. It looks like someone with better things to do spent about three minutes fumbling through a pack of cheap clip art and free fonts and then said, “aw, hell with it.” Slap that crap on a background of prison stripes and there you go. Hey, at least they’re not trying to fool anybody. If there’s anything less imaginative than the design of the can, it’s the frothy mess inside.

Crack it open and pour it out. Looks kind of pretty, at first. But that loose, soapy head will sink as quickly as your spirits after you’ve sniffed what’s in the cup. Dump a bottle of Sprite® into a bowl of Fritos® and I think you’d be close to the aroma of this. If you had any sense you’d stop there. Then again, if you had any sense you wouldn’t have bought this stuff in the first place. Ever suck on a nickel? I must have at some point because I know just what nickels taste like and the dominant flavor of this “Pilsner” is close to what you’d get licking Thomas Jefferson’s face. There’s a note of creamed-corn lurking in there, too, but that's quickly beat down by all that nickel. The beer finishes like a dull, arthritic ache and lingers on the palate long after you’ve lost the will to pour anymore of it into your mouth. Pair this with cadmium to produce a stool that can power a flashlight.

Final verdict: Would I buy this again? I don’t even want to look at it again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Here Come the Thirsty Months

As Theodore Mack would say, “The thirsty months are here!” And with them come beer. A steady flow of new beer is streaming on tap in Oshkosh, so let’s take a look at some of the more recent and notable arrivals.

For the Lager Heads 
Coney Island Human Blockhead at O’Marro’s. A boozy, amber devil with a Bock-ish bent. Strong, malty, rich and at 10% it’ll get your evening off to a quick start.

Sprecher’s Black Bavarian at Oblio’s. There’s no better American Schwarzbeir. The lager so good that when Oblio’s co-owner Todd Cummings put it on tap one of his customers reached over the bar and hugged him.

This Will Leave a Bitter Taste in Your Mouth
Glacial Trail IPA at Barley & Hops. An old-school American IPA. The sort of IPA where they make a stab at balancing the bitterness with a hearty malt backbone. This one attempts to compliment the hops with a good dose of biscuit malt and the results are damned nice.

Alpha King Pale Ale at Oblio’s. A classic, American hop bomb that may already be gone (it was still there Tuesday night). But don’t worry, when Alpha King runs dry the beer taking its place will be Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA. Either way, you’re craving for palate smashing hops will be slaked.

Magic Hat #9 at Peabody’s. A refreshing pale ale with an undercurrent of Apricots. One of those beers that grows on you. Have three of them and you’ll see what I mean.

Shine On Red Ale at Barley & Hops
. Here’s a light-bodied beer with just enough going on to keep you raising that cup to your lips. A little malty, a bit estery and good all the way around.

Bell’s Oberon at Oblios, O’Marro’s and Peabody’s. For my money this is the best American-style Wheat Beer out there. You can drink a river of this and never tire of it. I speak from experience.

Last Call
Ommegang Abbey Ale at Oblio’s. An absolutely great Dubbel. All I can say is Drink This! You don’t often see this on tap and at $4 a pint you can’t beat the price.

Trolley Car Stout at Fratellos in Oshkosh. A nice, full-bodied, roasty stout that’s very drinkable. A growler of this on the patio would be a good way to end the evening.

Belhaven Scottish Stout at O’Marro’s. A desert beer for sure and a malt lovers dream. Rich, creamy and delicious. I haven’t had this one on tap, yet, but I’ll remedy that soon.

It’s a good time to be a beer drinker in Oshkosh

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Oshkosh Big Three During Prohibition: Near Beer & Nowhere Near Beer

Last week, we posted THIS about Homebrewing in Oshkosh during the years of Prohibition (1920 to 1933). Today we thought we’d take a look at what the professional brewers of Oshkosh were up to. The advertisements below span the core years of Prohibition. If you’re a beer lover, these aren’t pretty pictures.

From June 27, 1930
From May 28, 1921
From August 3, 1927

The text for the Oshkosh Brewing ad is on the small side, so I’ve included the full copy below. Is this a case of raging deceit or an example of a proud group of people trying to make the best of a very bad situation?

Every real joy... every real help ... remains. Something new and different. A Brew with the old-time flavor ... the old-time healthful ingredients . . . . and the old-time pleasure of drinking Oshkosh Brew.

Everything is there except the "forbidden fruit." There is an old-time malt-and-hop brew, even better than the old. You'll say so, too, after you try this Chief Oshkosh Brew. To drink this new brew is to feel just like old times. It's great! You can drink it cold .. and what refreshing powers it has. At mealtimes... all the kick of the old-time taste and flavor. Here you have all the qualities of the oldtime brews.

Chief Oshkosh Brew is a thoroughly fermented beer with the alcohol taken off after fermentation has taken place. That's why you get that rich, wholesome flavor and taste. It is not a near-beer nor a substitute, but a special brew made by master brewers. Taste it yourself and be convinced. You can get it at your grocer's or phone 11.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Joe Walts on the Advantages of Dry Yeast

Joe Walts is back! Joe is an Assistant Brewer for Fox River Brewing here in Oshkosh and Appleton and today he’s taking a look at dry yeast and why you might want to consider using it for your next batch of homebrew.

Dry yeast has a bad rap, and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it was once produced by baking yeast manufacturers without much regard to strain purity or microbial contamination. Maybe it's because brewers used it to ferment their first batches of beer, which weren't nearly as good as the beer they're now able to make with liquid yeasts (despite likely differences in cleaning, sanitation, oxygenation, pitch rate, temperature control, water treatment, ingredient freshness, wort cooling, oxidation prevention, recipe formulation skills...). After six years of pitching nothing but liquid yeast into my homebrew - at least for primary fermentations - I'm beginning to use dry yeast again. My experience is limited to one batch of hoppy amber ale, but the beer was wonderful. Here's what dry yeast has going for it:

1. With brands such as Danstar and Fermentis, quality is no longer an issue. 
2. When yeast cells are dehydrated, they don't metabolize glycogen (stored food) to stay alive. As a result, dry yeast cells have healthy glycogen reserves and therefore don't require yeast starters. In fact, starters are detrimental to dry yeast. That's because glycogen gets used up pretty quickly after pitching, and homemade starters are less effective than laboratory propagations at building it back up. 
3. It's easy to achieve a target pitch rate*. Simply weigh the yeast and go. With liquid yeast, your pitch rate is a guesstimate based on the starting cell count, the size of your starter and your method of propagation (e.g. shaking vs. a stir plate). 
4. Pitching dry yeast and then aerating your wort, or vice versa, doesn't result in the oxidation of alcohol from a yeast starter. 
5. With a small amount of hydration water instead of a yeast starter, changes to your wort's gravity and bitterness are minimal. 
6. Dry yeast is much more shelf-stable than liquid yeast. 
7. Dry yeast is becoming more expensive, but it's still cheaper than liquid yeast.

Commercial craft brewers typically pitch yeast slurries from previous batches of beer. With a microscope and scale, it's easy to estimate the number of cells per pound and pitch the proper amount of yeast. Pitching dry yeast is a pretty similar process, except the slurry contains water instead of beer and you already know the number of cells.

Until contemporary evidence validates the superiority of liquid yeast, its only advantage seems to be the large number of available strains. Whenever the ideal strain for a given batch of beer exists dry form, I plan on using it.

*According to the Siebel Institute, a good pitch rate is 1 million yeast cells per milliliter of wort per degree Plato of gravity. I like to pitch 0.75 mcells/mL/P for ales and 1.5 mcells/mL/P for lagers, which was initially suggested by George Fix and is now assumed in Jamil Zainasheff's Pitching Rate Calculator. For a quick conversion from specific gravity, use P = 1000*(SG - 1)/4. For a more accurate conversion, use P = 116.716*SG^3 - 569.851*SG^2 + 1048.046*SG - 594.914. The cell counts given by dry yeast manufacturers are guaranteed minimums. Based on cell counts conducted by Jamil Zainasheff and Danstar, it should be safe to assume that dry yeast contains 20 billion cells per gram.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh

Rahr's Brewery 1898
On this day in 1956 the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh made it known that they were quitting the beer business. Located at the foot of Rahr Avenue near the shore of Lake Winnebago, Rahr was never the biggest brewery in town, but it was certainly the most iconoclastic and one of the first breweries in America to be partly owned and operated by women.

The company was founded as The City Brewery in 1865 by brothers Charles and August Rahr. Charles, born in Prussia in 1836, had learned to brew beer in Germany. He bought-out his brother’s share of the business in 1884, but by 1894 the breweries of Milwaukee were closing in on the Oshkosh market. In that year the other three breweries in town, operated by August Horn & Lenhardt Schwalm, Lorenz Kuenzl, and John Glatz, decided it was time to close ranks and merged their operations under the banner of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. They tried to persuade Charles Rahr to go in with them, but Rahr wanted his family’s business to remain independent. Instead of joining up with the others, he turned the brewery operations over to his son Charles Rahr, Jr. who made improvements to the brew house and pushed capacity up to 5,000 barrels per year. Still a small brewery, but it was holding its own. Charles Rahr, Jr. bought out his father’s interest in 1908 and renamed the operation the Rahr Brewing Company.

A few years later, Rahr Brewing was being courted to sell-out once again. In 1912 a group from the South Side of town calling itself The Cooperative Brewing Company was looking to get into the beer business. They set their sights on the Rahr brewery. Reports from that time hint that Rahr set an outrageous price for his company - a quarter of a million dollars. The deal fell through. The Cooperative Brewing Company would go on to build their own brewery and name it the Peoples Brewery. Meanwhile, the Rahr brewery kept chugging along.
Lucille Rahr

Blanche Rahr
in 1917 Charles Rahr, Jr. decided it was time to retire. He sold the business to his children, Carl, who had recently returned from World War I, Blanche and Lucille. The kids got a better deal than the offer made to the Cooperative group. The business sold for just $59,380. Carl Rahr became the President of the company, Lucille Rahr was named Vice-President and Blanche Rahr was appointed Treasurer and Secretary.

Rahr Brewing survived the Prohibition years making soda and Near Beer and when Prohibition ended they continued doing things their own way. In the 1940s and 50s when other breweries were diversifying their packaging and attempting to expand their markets, Rahr continued selling their beer in just bottles and kegs while confining the bulk of their sales to Oshkosh with a handful of outlying accounts in Winneconne and Omro. In the end, this iconoclasm would prove to be the company’s undoing. As the big breweries pushed in with a sea of cheaply produced and delivered canned beer, Rahr Brewing found itself unable to compete. Lacking the capital needed to modernize their operation, they were being squeezed out. Between 1954 and 1955 sales fell by 35% and when they pulled the plug in 1956 they were on course to produce less than 3,000 barrels for the year. Considering that Oshkosh Brewing was producing about 60,000 barrels a year at this time and still struggling with the Milwaukee competition, illustrates the predicament faced by the Rahr family. By early July of 1956 all brewing operations had ceased. The last Oshkosh brewery to be owned by a single family was no more.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eric’s Ale at Dublin’s: Sour Beer Goes on Tap in Oshkosh

Eric's Ale at Dublin's
If you’re a fan of sour beer this summer is looking promising. At this time last year, you couldn’t find a sour beer in Oshkosh unless you’d brewed it yourself. Now, however, there are a number of sour beers to be had around town and for the first time we’ve got one on tap. Dublin’s in Oshkosh recently brought on Eric’s Ale from New Belgium. It’s a near perfect sour beer for the summer months and a fine one to start with if you’re sour curious. Eric’s Ale is a bright, golden beer with a florid aroma that hints at all the flavors to come. Take a little while to breathe this beer in. You’ll notice a candy sweetness and the tart/sour aroma of green apples along with a hint of oak. Swimming under all that are notes of wild-yeast funk.  The sourness isn’t the first thing to hit when you start to drink it. Initially, the beer comes across with more of a sweet, lemon-like quality, but that gives way quickly to a refreshing, piquant sourness that dries out near the end and invites the next drink. Man, this is a fun beer and it’s incredibly drinkable. On a hot day I could see chasing down a few of these. But at 7% you might want to pace yourself on this one. If you haven’t tried a sour beer before, you ought to give it a shot. Especially if you’re the sort that loves intense, American IPAs, I think you’d find Eric’s Ale abundantly agreeable.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Homebrewing in Oshkosh During the Prohibition Years

The popularity of homebrewing in Oshkosh is nothing new. In fact, the peak years for Oshkosh homebrewing probably took place during the prohibition years of the 1920s. When Prohibition went into full effect on January 16, 1920 the people of Oshkosh saw no need to go without their beloved brew. As Oshkosh author and historian Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth points out, “Many of the people who came to Oshkosh were from Europe. They came from a drinking culture. Beer was deeply engrained in the European culture.” And that meant they didn’t need to rely on the corner saloon to keep them in beer. They knew how to brew their own.
A  1919 Ad for Homebrewing Recipes
from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern

With the onset of Prohibition, the homebrewing scene in Oshkosh quickly became established. Four months after the dry law had been enacted the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern ran a story about the rise of homebrewing, pointing out that “effort is being made to brew beer, but it is mostly for home consumption and therefore the violation is not likely to get to the attention of the authorities, unless somebody ‘tips off’ the game.” An indication of how popular homebrewing rapidly became in Oshkosh was shown in 1921. In June of that year, when Wisconsin Governor John J. Blaine proposed a change to the enforcement of Prohibition law that would exclude the production of home made beer, the Northwestern ran a banner headline celebrating the proposal. Homebrewing had become big news in Oshkosh.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern June 7, 1921

There’s little, however, in the public record that addresses the actual beer of that time or how it was brewed. And there are few who recall those early days of homebrewing. Here in Oshkosh, though, we’re lucky to have someone who remembers it all quite well. And that brings us back to Clarence “Inky” Jungwirth. Inky was born in Oshkosh in 1919 and the first beer he tasted was homebrew. Inky, remembers that “My uncles got me drunk at the age of 12. Not falling down drunk, but I was feeling gay as hell.” The homebrew Inky remembers was a pale, German style brew. Most likely, this beer was fermented with lager yeast at cellar temperatures. He says “My Grandpa had a basement and he’d ferment his beer in big crock jars. My Grandpa had crocks upon crocks of beer at his house. They even had their own bottling process.”

During this period, the Oshkosh Brewing Company produced several malt extracts that were suited for making beer. Inky, though, recalls that most of the beer brewed in Oshkosh at the time was made from hops and grain supplied by area farmers. He says, “Hop production in this area took off like a jet stream. Selling grain to people living in the 6th ward was a booming business for those farmers.” In addition to the local hops and malt, Inky says the water used for homebrewing here was also of high quality. “Most of the people who were making beer were drawing their water from wells that were 40-50 feet deep. It was good water.” These brewers weren’t making the “rotgut” so often associated with Prohibition era liquors. Inky says, “It was good beer and some of it had a high kick. The 6th ward had a big German population and those people demanded the best beer.” The beer was certainly good enough to win Inky over. Though he no longer drinks, Inky says those early brews gave him an appreciation for beer. He says, “I was a beer drinker. I just loved beer.” Inky’s Grandpa must have thought the beer was something special, too. Inky says, “He always had that pail of beer by his chair. My grandpa died at the age of 65. I never once saw him take a drink of water.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Barley & Hops’ Central Waters Tasting is Tonight

This one is going to be good: Tonight starting at 7 p.m. Barley & Hops in Oshkosh will be throwing a three-hour Central Waters tasting party. Just $10 gets you in the door and the opportunity to indulge in all that great Central Waters beer in one spot at one time. Plus, some of the crew from Central Waters will be driving down from Amherst to talk about their beer, their Green Powered Brewery and answering any questions you may have. These single brewery samplings that Barley & Hops has been hosting are a great chance to discover what makes a particular brewery distinctive. And Central Waters is an ideal brewery to spotlight in this way. One final note, Nate at Barley & Hops wants to let everybody know that at tonight’s event he’s also going to have a wine tasting table. So if you don’t like beer... why would you be reading this blog?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Down Fond du Lac Way

A couple things going on down in Fond du Lac this week that you might want to check into. First, the Fond du Lac Beer and Wine Making Club will gather for their inaugural meeting on Wednesday night, June 2nd, at Slim & Chubby's, 109 South Main Street in Fond Du Lac. The meeting will start at 6:15. This is a rare opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a brewing club and help pick the club’s name and set its direction. The crew in Fond du Lac wants to get the word out that this isn’t just a beer brewing club. They'd like to encourage area winemakers to come out and take an active roll in the club, as well.

Also this week in Fond du Lac, Dave Koepke is having a sale to celebrate the first anniversary of his homebrew shop, The Cellar. For beer brewers, he’s marked down Wyeast Belgian yeast strains to $5.99 and all his American grown hops are going for just $.99 an ounce. Couple that with a case of 1 liter flip top bottles for $31.00 and you’re well on your way to making one of those Belgian IPAs that seem to be coming into vogue. For the winemakers, Dave’s offering $10 off Winexpert white wine kits.  The sale ends June 5th so get to it while you can.