Friday, July 30, 2010

Bourbon County Stout. Big Beer. Big Price.

Goose Island’s fabled Bourbon County Stout went on sale at Festival Foods in Oshkosh on Wednesday in four-packs behind a little, red tag that reads $19.99. It’s a big price, but if filling your mouth with the curious byproducts of fermentation is something more than an idle pursuit, then this beer will probably find its way into your cart. It’s one of those rare brews you’ve just got to try.

This 13% sipper is aged in bourbon barrels and pours like ink into mirror black under a sliver of head. Swirl it in your glass for a moment and notice the amber film that traces behind the beer like molasses. Then take a good long whiff of it. Holy shit! Smells like bourbon mulled with raisins and oak chips. The deeper you breath this in the more the alcohol comes to the fore and after a while it’s like huffing amyl-nitrite. At some point, though, you’ve got to start drinking it and that first sip set me back a step. The beer is crowded with such furiously strong flavors that it’s hard to get a fix on exactly what’s going on. Bourbon spiked with beer immediately comes to mind, but there’s vanilla and smoke and charcoal and coffee threading through it as well. No doubt, it’s an incredibly complex and interesting beer, but I wouldn’t call it pleasurable. For one thing, the bourbon aspect seems too sharp and not particularly well integrated with the other flavors. And the beer sits so relentlessly heavy on the palate that towards the end it grows tiring. But pleasure and fun are not always synonymous and this beer is a hell of a lot of fun to drink. Not just because of all its alcohol, either. The raw experience of having all those wicked flavors jabbing away at you may not be comforting, but it’s enjoyable all the same. I can’t imagine drinking this beer very often, but every once in a while I know I’ll be craving it again.

For more info and an interesting little video about Bourbon County Stout go HERE.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Couple of Arrogant Bastards

It’s surprising how different a draft beer can sometimes be from from its bottled counterpart. If you haven’t come across this before, stop in at O'Marro's Public House and check out a pint of Arrogant Bastard Ale from Stone Brewing. Then go try the bottled version of the beer. They’re two different animals.

Actually, I’ve never much cared for Arrogant Bastard. When I’ve had the beer in the past, I’ve found its bitterness to be so leaden and flat that it overwhelmed the beer’s other flavors – including the flavor of all those hops jammed in to create that bitterness in the first place. But the beer pouring out of the tap at O’Marro’s is nothing like that. This Arrogant Bastard has a much brighter profile. The bitterness is still there, but it’s not so dull and overbearing. Here it allows the hops to come through with a sweet, citrus character that’s entirely missing in the bottled version. The body of the beer is more pleasant, as well. The beer has a thick, malt base and on tap that malt character is full and rich in comparison to the syrupy, oily mouthfeel that I get from the bottled beer. Speaking of which, the only spot in Oshkosh where I’ve been able to locate Arrogant Bastard in bottles is at the Blue Moose Beer Cave on Murdock. They’re selling bombers of it for $4.49.

In either case, it’s a big, aggressive brew but the draft version at O’Marro’s is a better beer in every respect. When you’re at O'Marro's, though, don’t start with the Arrogant Bastard. Make your first beer something lighter, maybe a Guinness, and notice how clean the tap lines have recently become at Shawn’s bar. He’s switched over to the Micro Matic Clean Flo system and the beer is coming through beautifully.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Beer Run: The National Brewery Museum

In 2004 Potosi, a small village near the Mississippi River in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, was selected over Milwaukee and St. Louis to become the site of the National Brewery Museum. Six years and $7 million later the restored ruins of the defunct Potosi Brewing Company now stand like a shrine to American brewing during the post-war years. The true strength of the museum is its collection of artifacts from the regional breweries that flourished in America following Prohibition and the Oshkosh breweries of that era are all particularly well represented. In fact, you can hardly turn around in the renovated three-story brewery that houses the museum without spotting some beer related item that originated in Oshkosh.

The museum’s displays are made-up from the collections of members of the American Breweriana Association and are swapped out for new items a couple times each year. The current collection has a noticeable Wisconsin bent, but that’s not too surprising when you consider the sheer number of breweries that made Wisconsin home prior to the 1960s and 70s. It’s also fitting that you find all this in what was once a prototypical Wisconsin Brewery. The history of the Potosi Brewing Company played out along the same lines as that of the Oshkosh Brewing Company and numerous other regional Wisconsin Breweries. Potosi Brewing began in 1852. The company limped along during Prohibition selling soda to re-emerge from that awful period as a thriving regional brewery. But by the early 1970s Potosi Brewing could no longer compete with the likes of Pabst, Miller and Budweiser and in 1972 the beer stopped flowing.

The story doesn’t end there, though. Another great part of the National Brewery Museum is that with it has come a new brewery to Potosi. Things have changed some, the new brewery makes ales while the older concern was strictly a lager house, but most importantly they’re making excellent beer. Potosi’s new brewmaster, Steve Buszka, formerly the head brewer at Bell’s Brewery in Michigan (when it was called Kalamazoo Brewing), brews on a 15-barrel system on the third floor of the Museum. The beer is served at a beautiful, hand-made bar on the ground floor and it’s just what you’re craving after a couple hours of prowling through rooms filled with fascinating beer advertisements designed to make you as thirsty as possible.

Potosi is about a three hour drive from Oshkosh. The road leading in is rustic and rural and would make for a great bike trip. Admission to the museum is $7 and includes a beer at the end of your tour. For more information visit the website of the National Brewing Museum and the website of the Potosi Brewery.

Here is a short video tour of the museum by Milwaukee’s WTMJ. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean about Oshkosh being well represented.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oshkosh Best Ale at Fratellos

We don’t see many English Ales around Oshkosh. Bass and Newcastle are all over the place, but both of those beers have grown into mass-market brands and in the process have shed much of the character and subtlety that make the best English Ales so enjoyable. For the time being, at least, we’ve got a better option. Fratellos in Oshkosh is currently pouring a beer they’ve named Oshkosh Best and it’s an excellent example of a classic style of English Ale, the Premium Bitter.

There’s a tendency among American brewers who dabble with English-style Bitters to get hung up on the bitter aspect of the beer. They often wind up blowing away the malt component of the brew with an overdose of hops. The brewers at Fox River Brewing haven’t fallen into that trap. They’ve made a wonderfully drinkable ale that deftly balances its tasty maltiness with a pleasing bitterness. The beer pours to a deep gold under a creamy, white head. Stand it next to a pint of Fuller’s London Pride and you’ll see that their hues are identical. The aroma is of fresh, grassy hops mingled with a mellow, milk-like sweetness. That’s exactly what the beer delivers, too. The smooth malt character hints at toffee before giving way to a well-placed bitterness that doesn’t overwhelm the flavors which proceed it. The beer finishes with earthy, fresh-hop notes that linger on the palate.

The Brew Board at Fratellos
If you love hops, but aren’t looking to be bitten by bitterness this is a beer you shouldn’t miss. I’ve been drinking a lot of big IPAs this summer and the first growler I had of Oshkosh Best reminded me of what brought me to beer in the first place. This brew is proof that a great beer needn’t clobber you with out-sized flavors that overwhelm the palate to be exceptional.

If you’d like to take a look under the hood of Oshkosh Best, go here to check out Brewmaster Kevin Bowen’s notes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When They Tore Down the Peoples Brewery

July 17, 1974
During this week of July in 1974, demolition crews began hammering down the building of the failed Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh. Demolitionists started at the back of the building, tearing apart the power station and gradually smashed their way towards South Main Street. Six months later they were still at it and on January 7, 1975 The Oshkosh Northwestern published a dramatic series of photos that showed the toppling of the iconic Peoples Beer sign that had crowned the four-story brewhouse. The blunt symbolism of the image is unavoidable.

A month earlier, an auction had been held at the property by then current owner, Klein Industrial of Milwaukee. About 200 people were on hand, many of them Oshkosh residents seeking souvenirs. But the serious buyers were from the Pabst and Leinenkugel breweries who carted away over 12,000 cases of beer bottles and the Brewers & Bottlers Equipment Corp., which bought more than $40,000 worth of equipment, including 869 stainless steel beer kegs. Within weeks, the building was stripped of its remaining valuables and demolition began.

The Bottling Department Today
It took them nearly as long to rip the place down as it did to put it up. Construction of Peoples Brewery began in April of 1912 by the Ben B. Ganther Company of Oshkosh. A carpenters strike delayed construction for a time, but by the spring of 1913 beer was flowing out of the modern brewhouse and into gas-cooled lagering tanks. The brewery on South Main would eventually occupy the entire block between 15th and 16th Ave.

The stately brewhouse is now long gone, but parts of the original plant remain. The old bottling department and offices have been incorporated into the Blended Waxes building at 1512 South Main and if you go east along 15th you can still see the garage where they loaded the trucks and stored kegs. It’s not much, but it’s all that’s left of Oshkosh’s last big brewery.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brews n’ Blues 2010 - A Beery Good Time

Here’s a quick, little movie of Saturday afternoon fun at the Leach. The weather was hot, the beer was cold and it all went by much too fast. If you were there and found yourself on Sunday morning struggling to remember what happened, this may help.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dragon’s Milk Trickles Into Oshkosh

A small portion of the 2010 batch of Dragon's Milk Ale by New Holland Brewing of Michigan recently hit the shelves at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. If you’re in the mood for a beer that could warm your winter in the middle of summer, you won’t find a beer better than this. Dragon's Milk is a strong Ale that belies easy categorization. The beer is aged for at least three months in bourbon barrels and pours jet black under an aroma that’s spiked with woody, vanilla notes. On the palate it’s chewy and slightly over sweet. Licorice, raisins and chocolate are all strongly present and so is the warm 10% ABV the beer brings with it. But it’s a pleasant warmth that has a rich Kahlua-like mellowness about it. You couldn’t drink this beer all night - at least I couldn’t - but it’s a great treat when you’re in need of one.

There were just a couple 4-packs of Dragon's Milk remaining at Festival when I was there Wednesday afternoon, but they’re expecting another batch in today (Friday). At $13.99 the beer comes at no small price, but then this isn’t small beer, either. I’m glad I ponied up for it. I made it home late Wednesday night to find the storm had ripped down my hop trellis and after mucking around in the rain to prop the hop vines up out of the lake that had formed in our back-yard, this is how I rewarded myself. It’ll be a long time before I forget drinking that beer. It made the dreary night a whole lot better. Now, If I can only train my hops to grow horizontally.
The New Look

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Brews of Brews n’ Blues

Brews n’ Blues 2010 is coming up Saturday, so if you haven’t picked up your tickets yet you might want to fit that into your schedule today. Advanced tickets are $30 (it’s $40 at the door) and they’re available in Oshkosh at Barley & Hops, Festival Foods and O’Marro’s Public House.

It’s going to be a great afternoon with loads of good beer and live music from Greg Waters and The Broad Street Boogie and Donnie Pick and The Unit. The Society Of Oshkosh Brewers will be there hosting a “Brew School” with SOBs brewing beer and happily answering questions about how to brew your own. I’ll be one of the brewers, so if you get a chance stop by and say hello.

Below is a list of the breweries that will be pouring Saturday. If I had to make a recommendation I’d say head over to the Old Bavarian stand and try their Munich Helles. I had a big mug of it a couple weeks ago. It’s an excellent beer and maybe the best American brewed Helles I’ve had. It’s a subtle beer, though, so get to it early before all those big beers have wrought havoc upon your palate.
Here's the list of participating breweries.
Abita Capital Central Waters Corsendonk Flying Dog Founders
Grand Teton Hook & Ladder Lagunitas Leinenkugels Lost Coast
Magic Hat Moylans Old Bavarian Oskar Blue Oso Pangaea Potosi
Pyramid Reaper Ales Sam Adams Sand Creek Shiner Sonoran
Southern Tier Stevens Point Strangford Tyranena Upland
The 15th Annual Brews n’ Blues Charity Microbrew and Music Festival is Saturday, July 17, 2010 from 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM at the Leach Amphitheater in downtown Oshkosh. For more information check out the Oshkosh Jaycees website.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Around Town One Beer at a Time

One good thing about being away from Oshkosh for a while is that you get to come back and discover there’s a bunch of great, new beers on tap. The other thing about being away is that you quickly gain a greater appreciation for what we have beer-wise in this city. Spend a few days traveling around the state outside the orbit of Milwaukee and Madison and you soon realize we’ve got it good here. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the local highlights currently pouring around Oshkosh.

Nut Hugger Brown Ale at Oblio's

In the land of Imperial-Double-Baltic-Quadruples, nobody gets excited about a lowly Brown Ale anymore. That’s a damned shame. Well here’s one that sets itself apart. Nut Hugger, by Upland Brewing of Bloomington, Indiana, is a rich, malty brew and a great change of pace for anybody getting burned out on the hoppy beers that seem to dominate the summer session. Weighing in with an ABV of 6.2 and and an IBU count of 41.4, Nut Hugger is a little bigger than a traditional brown. The thing to take notice of with this beer, though, is its mouth feel. The beer is incredibly silky and creamy, yet the body remains relatively light. I had this recommended to me by Andy and Sandy McClain and if they hadn’t suggested it, I probably would have taken a pass and missed a great beer. Thanks!

Hennepin Farmhouse Saison at Becket’s

We don’t often get Saisons in Oshkosh so when one shows up you’ve got to take advantage of it. And this one is begging to be taken advantage of. Hennepin is a bright, lively beer that’s perfect for summer. The aroma has a slight kick of that earthy, farmhouse funk that some find off-putting, but I think it’s a good introduction to this beer with its swarm of flavors that bounce from herbal to sour to peppery. Highly carbonated and dry, the beer continually invites you to take the next drink. At Becket’s their serving the beer in a goblet that compliments the brew nicely. It definitely adds to the experience.

Raspberry Tart at Dublin’s

Raspberry Tart, a fruit beer from New Glarus, is consistently rated as one of the top 100 beers in the world and until recently it’s only been sold in 750 mL bottles. It’s now available in kegs, as well, but Dublin’s is the only place I’ve seen it on tap. This beer is terrific. The name tells you just about everything. The tart raspberry flavor comes through fresh and sweet with just the slightest twinge of sourness. If you’re looking to convert a wine drinker to the pleasures of beer, this would be the beer to start with. I think we’ve begun to take this beer somewhat for granted in Wisconsin. Do a quick Google search on New Glarus Raspberry Tart and you’ll see how envious others our of what we’ve got pouring at Dublin’s.

Belhaven Scottish Stout at O’Marro’s

This came to O’Marro’s about a month ago and we mentioned it then, but we’re not the only ones taking notice. A couple weeks ago former Oshkosh resident Todd Haefer wrote about this beer in his nationally syndicated Beer Man column and in the process paid homage to our very own O’Marro’s Public House. It’s a good article, but somewhat disorienting when you come across it in the Daily Comet from Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. Check that out HERE. Just think, they’re reading about our little beer scene way down South!

Monday, July 12, 2010

PEP and the Prohibition Solution in Oshkosh

On this day in 1919 the Oshkosh Brewing Company announced that it had solved the problem of Prohibition. Their solution was something called PEP, a non-alcoholic, beer-like brew that was aimed to sate the appetites of Oshkosh beer drinkers. On July 12, 1919 – twelve days after the onset of the Wartime Prohibition Act made beer illegal – Oshkosh Brewing took a half-page in the Daily Northwestern to introduce their new product with the promise that it had “Real Merit” and “SOME Pep to it.” They weren’t fooling anybody. By most accounts PEP was an awful brew and aside from vague references inferring that the beverage may have been something more than another dull near beer, the best Oshkosh Brewing could say about their new drink was that it was sanitary. Not exactly the sort of appeal that would win over the saloon crowd.

PEP was abandoned just as soon as beer returned in 1933, but more than 60 years later one Oshkosh man could still remember the impression the brew made on him. In November of 1980 Myles Strasser of the Northwestern wrote an article about Oshkosh’s prohibition era bootleggers. A man identified only as “Dick” was quoted in the article saying that PEP “was a kind of near beer with a lousy taste, but nobody drank that stuff. Everybody wanted something with a wallop.”

PEP solved nothing. But it wasn’t as though the people of Oshkosh were relying on the local breweries to come up with a solution to the problem of Prohibition. In Decade Of Despair, a terrific book by Werner Braatz and Thomas Rowland about Winnebago County during the Great Depression, Oshkosh is portrayed as a city that roundly thumbed its nose at the new liquor law. Braatz and Rowland write, “Beer flats abounded. These were single family homes in which a room was set aside for the purposes of selling beer, moonshine and playing cards. So much booze was produced that city sewers were often clogged because home-brewers dumped their mash down the drain. Indeed, in Oshkosh’s Sixth Ward fermenting hops could be smelled on any street. Police did very little to stop it because they often drank themselves.” Seems the people of Oshkosh had come up with their own solution to the problem.
From July 12, 1919

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Break in the Action

We’re off to the woods to go camping, hiking and get rained on. I’ll be away from the internet and Oshkosh for a few days so the blog will take a short recess. Thanks for checking in, see you next week!

Peoples Brewing Ad From 1915

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The New Old Oshkosh Saloon

Let’s try this again... A few weeks ago, we posted this about the impending transformation of Paul Esslinger’s tavern, Screwballs. In addition to a wholsale makeover of the Main Street bar, Esslinger intended to re-name the tavern the Chief Oshkosh Saloon. Seems there’s been a change of plans. In deference to the concerns of the Menominee Indian Tribe, Esslinger said he's decided to drop the Chief Oshkosh moniker and go with the Old Oshkosh Saloon instead. According to Esslinger, The scheduled makover of the saloon will proceed as planned, only the name and the logo have changed.

Chief Oshkosh won’t be entirely deleted from the scene. Esslinger said he intends to go ahead with his Founder’s Table Mug Club, a promotion that will award dedicated patrons with a t-shirt showing their picture along with a gathering of Oshkosh historical figures, Chief Oshkosh among them. “I did speak with an official from the Tribe and he said he loved the idea about having a ‘Founder’s Table’ which included Chief Oshkosh,” Esslinger said.

As planned, Screwballs will close for the remodel July 5th and re-open a week later under the new name. To celebrate the re-opening the Old Oshkosh Saloon will have a July 14th Waterfest special that includes a ticket to Waterfest, a pint of beer and a brat for $10. The special will carry over for all Waterfest events so if Alice Cooper's Theatre of Death isn’t your thing, you’ll have plenty of other opportunities get in on the deal.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cheap Beer No. 3: Mountain Creek Classic Lager

“Craft Brewed In Small Batches.” At least that’s what it says on the can. If that ain’t sucker bait I don’t know what is. Only the most dangerously naive would buy a case of lager for $9.49 under the assumption that they’ll soon be soaking up a premium beer. No, if you put your money down for this you know just what you’re going to get: Flat-out macro swill. It’s light and grainy, with a hint of malt and a whisper of hops and nothing so troublesome as too much flavor to get in your way. And that’s what puts Mountain Creek a cut above its cheap-beer cohorts. Flavor-wise, there’s nothing singularly offensive about it. You can actually drink this one without cringing. You’re not going to love this beer (unless you’re a die-hard miser), but you’re not going to reflexively scowl as you pour it into your face, either. It’s a camping beer. The sort of brew you guzzle while staring vacantly at a campfire, occupying your mind with anything other than what’s draining into your mouth.

Knowing the backstory of this beer isn’t going to make you like it any better, but here goes anyway. The beer originated in 2003 in Canada as Mountain Crest (it’s now sold as Minhas Creek in Canada). The brother and sister team of Ravinder and Manjit Minhas set out to make an ultra-cheap brew for sale to Canucks tired of being gouged by the Canadian beer duopoly of Labatt and Molson. They contract brewed their beer at the Huber Brewery in Monroe and the City Brewery in Lacrosse then trucked the suds back to Canada in cans draped with maple leafs to obscure the fact that what they were selling was actually an American-made brew. That raised a small shit-storm up North. The resultant media flap brought them to the attention of Canadian lagerites concerned more about prices than patriotism and soon the Minhas family was selling a lot of beer. In 2006 they bought Huber Brewing, changed the name to the Minhas Craft Brewery and began selling this stuff in the States. It’s been pouring into Oshkosh ever since. The story has an oily feel about it and the “Craft Brewed In Small Batches” note that they stamp on their cans only helps to reinforce the vague duplicity that seems to be the company’s earmark. They’re no worse than Budweiser, of course, and at about half the price I know which beer I’d buy, but there’s no getting around the fact that this beer is all about money. Hey, nobody said you have to feel good about buying this crap. Like many things related to industrial beer, it helps if you don’t think about it too much. Pair this with a summer day and an empty head and you’ll be on your way to a cheap, good time. Though you might not respect yourself in the morning.

Final verdict: Would I buy this again? Probably not. I’m tired of handing cash over to people who operate this way.
Archie Says No!