Thursday, April 25, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 020: Rampant Imperial IPA, The Beer Snob’s Malt Liquor

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What: Rampant Imperial IPA; 8.5% ABV; 85 IBUs.

Where: Gardina’s and Festival Food are selling Rampant in 22 oz. bombers.

Why: Because, apparently, this is what the kids want. New Belgium was a brewery that once prided itself on brewing beers that were inspired by the traditional ales of Belgium. So much for that. Rampant is a big, dumb hop bomb that has about as much to do with Belgian-style beer as a 40 of Colt 45 Malt Liquor does. Not that it’s a bad beer (Rampant, that is). In fact, it’s very good. The hop flavor – and that’s essentially all the beer consists of – is terrific with a tropical fruit aspect that’s very appealing. I recently had a homebrew made with Mosaic hops that had a very similar quality. That succulent fruitiness is rounded out with sharp, citrus notes that finally give way to a hammer blow of bitterness that sticks with you for a good long while. And it conveys all this hop flavor without becoming syrupy, something that tends to mar a lot of IPAs. Bottom line, if you love big, hoppy beers, you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit. You’ll like the price, too. Right now we’re only getting bombers of this in Oshkosh, but I’ve seen them going for just $4.99. Six-packs will follow soon and will, most likely, be priced like any other New Belgium sixer. For a beer this big, that’s incredible. If these prices hold, Rampant is destined to become craft beer’s version of Olde English 800. They ought to skip the six packs and go straight to selling it in Forties.  

About The Picture: This whole thing may have just been a long-winded excuse for me to post a shot of my hop shoots. Look closely at that shot (click it to enlarge it) and you’ll see a bunch of reddish tendrils creeping up out of the earth. A few months from now, those babies will be 18 feet high and dripping with juicy hop cones big as your thumb. This year, I’m growing Hallertau, Tettnang, Fuggles, Cascade, Nugget and Goldings. I have a feeling we’re going to have a nice crop.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 019: Central Waters La Petite Mort

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What: Central Waters La Petite Mort, a Weissenbock (sorta) aged in bourbon barrels.

Where: In the packaged beer section at Gardina’s in Oshkosh where they’re selling it in 22 oz. bombers for $11.99

Why: Because a beer this ugly has to taste good. And it does. Actually, this is way beyond good. First, let’s tackle the ugly: upon pouring, the beer collects into a brown pool that’s so murky you could hide a finger in it. As a Weissenbock (sorta) you expect a bit of yeasty cloudiness, but this goes straight to opaque with a limpid, little head that quickly sneaks away. Sniff it and you’ll forgive it’s putrid appearance. Central Waters describes the base beer as a “Belgian inspired Weissenbock.” Judging by the aroma, that sounds about right. There’s breeze of Belgian yeast character (think bananas and black pepper) that mixes with a wave of toasty wood and bourbon. The flavor is defined by that signature Central Waters bourbon-barrel gig, with threads of dark fruit, vanilla and bourbon swirling though the mix. It’s quite rich with a silky mouthfeel that conceals the alcohol. The ABV isn’t listed on the bottle, but I’m guessing it’s around 9%. This is a great beer, however, there’s a catch. It's a limited release and little of it has been allotted to the Fox Valley. If you want to indulge in this one, move quick. At last check, Gardina’s still had a few bottles left.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 10: The Rahr’s Old-Fashioned Beer

Click it & it'll get bigger.
Here’s a rambling ad for the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh. It popped up in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern almost 100 years ago on August 7, 1913. Talk about wordy, this thing is practically a short story. And it’s larded with all sorts of info, most of it true, about the Rahrs and their passion for brewing beer (an easy-to-read version of the full text of the ad can be found below).

Let’s dig in. It starts with a bit about the Rahr family and their long history as brewers. That’s no bullshit. The Rahrs of Prussia had been brewing beer and making vinegar in their homeland long before they began moving to the United States. Once they got here, they kept right on brewing. Charles and August Rahr, the brothers who founded the Oshkosh Rahr Brewery, came to America in the mid-1850s. They went to Manitowoc and took work at the brewery of their uncle William Rahr who had left Prussia in 1849. In 1865, after Charles had returned home from the Civil War, Charles and August launched their own brewery in Oshkosh. By the way, their brother Henry Rahr also had a brewery up and running at this point in Green Bay. These Rahr boys were all about the beer.

Back to the ad. Twined among the history, mention is made of the Rahrs brewing their beer the “old fashioned way.” That’s true, too, but it’s complicated. As German brewers the Rahrs would have been steadfast in their commitment to brewing an all-malt beer. They almost certainly maintained that standard during their early years in America. But by the 1870s, the use of corn in American beer was growing ever more widespread and the Rahrs eventually took up the practice. By 1913, the grain bill at Rahr Brewing consisted of about 20% corn and 80% malted barley. Nothing wrong with that. The barley they were brewing with in America contained a significantly higher protein content than the European variety, making for a thicker, less stable beer. The addition of corn kept that in check and produced a finer beer. But aside from the new ingredients, the Rahrs were absolutely dedicated to their old-world brewing methods. Charles Rahr III, the last brewmaster at Rahr Brewing, insists that right up until 1956, when the brewery closed, the Oshkosh Rahrs brewed their beer in the same exacting manner as they had prior to Prohibition. I believe him.

Then there’s this line in the ad: “the principal difference between brewers is not in the color of the bottles used.” This is a slap at Schlitz. All through 1913, Schlitz was running ads in the papers of Oshkosh and beyond boasting that they used nothing but brown bottles for their beer. The Schlitz ads were aimed at brewers using clear bottles, claiming that exposure to light ruined any beer bottled in such glass. The Rahrs were using brown bottles, but they weren’t making a fuss about it. The backstory is more interesting, anyway. Rahr Brewing had always contracted out most of the bottling of its beer. In 1913, their bottling was being handled by the Neumueller brothers, Fred and Ludwig. They were old, neighborhood friends who operated a bottling plant across the street from the Rahr Brewery near the east end of Rahr Ave. But Charles Rahr Jr., who was now running the brewery, didn’t like the antiquated arrangement. In 1914, he began building his own bottle shop and in 1915 the Rahrs took their bottling in-house.

The year 1913 also brought on a more symbolic change. In the fall of that year, the two founders of the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh passed away. August Rahr was 74 years old when he died in October, 1913. His brother Charles passed a month later at the age of 77. The founders were gone, but the tradition carried on... at least for a few more years. In 1919, Prohibition came sneaking in and temporarily put an end to the Rahrs brewing beer. Or did it? I’ve been doing some digging on this. It appears things may not have been that simple. I’m not exactly sure when, but there’ll be more to come about what the Rahrs might have been up to during Prohibition.

Here's the full text of the ad:

Rahr’s Beer is one of the very few beers that is brewed in the old fashioned way. The Rahrs who for several generations have been brewers, have never been able to discover anything that makes better or as good beer as the same barley, hops, etc. that were used years ago. Of course, a brew master must understand his business, otherwise he will spoil the best of material; but the point is, all the skill in the world, and every brewing facility imaginable will not take the place of perfect materials, and the principal difference between brewers is not in the color of the. bottles used, or in the size of the plant, or in how many feet is drilled into rock to get water; but in the selection and purchase of materials.
Almost everything we use is cheapened and imitated now-a-days. You can buy imitation wool clothes, imitation leather, and near butter and perhaps they are alright, but after all wool is wool and leather is leather and you can't beat them. And it's the same with beer; there are lots of things that can be substituted in the making of beer, but if you get away from the old fashioned way, the best brewers in the world don't get the best results. There is no difference in the materials used in the Rahr Brewery today and forty years ago, and there won't be any until something is discovered that will make better beer, not cheaper beer. Try a case and you get the same good old brew that for half a century has stood for all that is pure and wholesome in beer.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 018: The Maibock is Back

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What: Maibock Lager

Where: Fratellos in Oshkosh

Why: Well for one reason, if you stop in this afternoon (Thursday, April 18) from 5-7 p.m., they’ll give you a free mug of the stuff. More importantly, it’s a damned fine beer. I haven’t tasted this year’s brew, yet, but I’ve had plenty of this beer in the past and it’s always been a beauty. It’s an absolutely traditional Maibock, a strong spring lager that leads with toasty, Munich malt and finishes with a firm and spicy hop bitterness. It weighs in at about 6.5% ABV, lending the beer a comfortable warming quality. This is one of my favorite Fox River Brewing Company beers and it couldn’t come a moment too soon. Lately, I’ve been bitching to anyone who will listen about the dearth of quality Bocks available in Oshkosh. Now, I can damper my grumbling. One last thing: In addition to the free beer, Fratellos is also going to be giving brewery tours and will have The Mad Pole Cats playing. A good way to get the weekend started.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 017: Double-Double IPAs

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one two beers at a time.

What: Central Waters Illumination & New Glarus IIPA. A duel dose of Double IPAs from Wisconsin.

Where: Central Waters Illumination and New Glarus IIPA are available at Gardina's in the packaged beer section. New Glarus IIPA is also available in a number of other Oshkosh locations including Festival Foods and the north side Pick 'n Save store.

Why: Because a good way to get a handle on beers such as these is to drink them side-by-side. These are massive beers in every way. Both are north of 9% ABV. Flavor-wise they’re even bigger. Pairing them creates a contrast and presents flavors that otherwise get lost amid their pummeling rush of hops, malt and alcohol. Let’s cut right to the chase, which beer is better? I’d give the slight edge to IIPA. I prefer the juicy, sweet-pineapple aroma and flavor of its hopping to the piney, resinous hop profile of Illumination. The New Glarus beer has a bit lighter body, though, which leads to a raking hop bitterness in the finish. Illumination is maltier, chewier. Its hop flavors are more integrated with its malt base, making for a much smoother beer overall. Not that these are supposed to be smooth, easy, drinking beers to begin with. These are aggressive, outré ales made for people who desire loud, gnarly explosions of flavor. Go to it, freaks! Just one word of advice: I tend to store my beer on the warm side – about 48ºf – and neither of these benefit from being served that warm. Once you’ve poured the beer, the hop aroma quickly degenerates at these temps developing into a musky, sweaty reek. My next round with these will start a bit colder.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Brew Beer with the SOBs

Curious about what all this homebrew stuff is all about? Here’s your chance to find out. On Saturday, May 4, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers will celebrate National Homebrew Day by hosting a group brew in the parking lot of O’Marro’s Public House in Oshkosh. The brew kettles will start firing up around 9 a.m. and they’ll be brewing until 4 p.m. This is an annual event for the SOBs and it’s always a great time. Best of all, it’s free and open to the public. Here’s a video by Mike Engel from an SOB Big Brew Day a couple years ago. Mike did a great job capturing the spirit of the event. Visit the SOB's Big Brew Day Event page of Facebook.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 016: Two Women Lager on Tap at The Distillery Pub

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What: Two Women Lager by New Glarus Brewing. The brewery describes it as a “Classic Country Lager,” which isn’t much help.  Think of it as a hybrid beer, something like a Vienna Lager that has aspirations of being a Dunkel.

Where: The Distillery Pub where it’s on draught and where you can get a cold mug of it for just $1.

Why: Because, at the moment, this may be the best draught beer being served in Oshkosh. This past summer I had Two Women on draught at the brewery and was stunned by how fresh and bright it tasted. What they’re now serving at the Distillery is every bit its equal. This is a phenomenal beer anybody could love. The flavors are mild and balanced with a grainy, cracker-like malt flavor being the dominant note. But what I really love about this beer are the hops. They’re grassy and earthy and on draught their flavor comes across much more distinctly than in the bottled version. Make no mistake, this isn’t another over-inflated craft beer that wants to pummel your senses. This beer is simple and delicious in a way that’s ultimately more satisfying than the boisterous beers that get so much attention these days. I had a few of these at the Distillery on Saturday and I would have been more than happy to sit there and drink it all night. It’s that kind of beer and for $1 a mug at the D-Pub it’s hard to stop. Every once in awhile you get a beer that hits you just right. This one hit me where I live.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 015: Doppelbock at Fratellos

A slanted and endless survey of what’s pouring in Oshkosh, tallied one beer at a time.

What & Where: Doppelbock in bottles at Fratellos in Oshkosh

Why: Because if you live in Oshkosh you really ought to be sinking a few Doppelbocks this time of year. But even if you’re not into rockin’ the Doppelbock (what?) you ought to drop in at Fratellos and check out their recently expanded selection of bottled beer. A few weeks ago, they pulled a facelift at the brewpub and added a new cooler for bottled beer. One of the servers told me they can pack 1,000 bottles into it. They’re using it to good effect. The thing is loaded and a good chunk of it is stuff brewed at the Appleton wing of Fox River Brewing; beers we often don’t see here in Oshkosh. Now, about this damned Doppelbock. It’s a beauty. The heady aroma of freshly milled malt is followed by flavors of dark fruit and light caramel. It’s rich and chewy and I don’t know the strength of it, but this is no shrinking violet. There’s a definite warming effect from the alcohol. It’s an ideal beer for transitioning from winter to spring. Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at Fratellos/Fox River Brewing, has turned out a spate of exceptional lagers recently and this is another winner. By the way, we’ve been drinking Doppelbock in Oshkosh since at least 1858 when Christian Kaehler and Tobias Fischer released their “Salvator” beer. In May that year, they invited everybody to come out to their Busch Brewery near the corner of Algoma and Vine and enjoy a “Pleasure like never before.” I love the idea that 155 years later and just a few blocks away from where the Busch Brewery stood we can still head over to the brewery and indulge in the same full-throated pleasure of those early Oshkoshers.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Oshkosh: The Beer Soaked City

Sorting though some old brewery numbers the other day, I hit upon a little nugget that jumped out at me. In 1913, Oshkosh’s three breweries produced just over 50,000 barrels of beer. Nearly all of that beer was consumed locally. At the time, Oshkosh’s population was hovering around 33,000 people. Break down the numbers and you find that beer consumption here had hit the astronomical rate of more than 46 gallons of beer a year for every man, woman and child living in Oshkosh. Compare that to the national rate of beer consumption at the time, which was about 20 gallons of beer per year, and you’ll get a good idea of just how beer soaked Oshkosh was 100 years ago. Actually, the Oshkosh consumption level of 46 gallons a year may be on the conservative side. This doesn’t include any of the beer that was flowing in from Milwaukee and beyond. There was plenty of that beer being swallowed in Oshkosh, as well.

How do we compare to our well-watered predecessors? We don’t quite stack up. Accurately gaging current per-capita beer consumption in Oshkosh is tricky, but it’s a safe bet to say we’re in the 38-40 gallon range. Yearly beer consumption in Wisconsin is now at just over 36 gallons per person. Considering that the number of liquor licenses held in Oshkosh is at the high end of the scale, consumption in Oshkosh is almost certainly a couple clicks above the state level. Yet another reason why we ought to be fertile ground for another brewery of some sort.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wanna See Some Cool Beer Stuff?

Here’s you’re chance to get up close and personal with some real, live Oshkosh breweriana. This Saturday (April 6), The Oshkosh Memorabilia Club is holding their annual Antique Appraisal Show. Among the incredible collections on display, a few of the club’s members will be showing off their artifacts from Oshkosh’s breweries and taverns. Some of the items and pictures these folks have collected are amazing. And it’s the one time each year that they go public with their finds. They’ll also be appraising antiques and collectibles that have an Oshkosh connection. The club invites you to bring down your Oshkosh relics and find out what they’re worth. Ron Akin and I will be there with our book, The Breweries Of Oshkosh, so if you go, stop by and say hello. The event is free and runs from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Oshkosh Seniors Center Annex, 234 N. Campbell Rd. If you’d like to learn more about The Oshkosh Memorabilia Club, you’ll find it HERE.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 9: That’s Not Supposed to be Hitler, Is It?

Here’s a beer ad that’s brimming with bad taste. And that miserable pun at the heart of it (“Wurtzer Beer cops da prize”), is just the beginning. 

As I mentioned in last Tuesday’s post about Peoples Beer, the people at Peoples Brewing in Oshkosh were looking to distance themselves from the implied associations that came with naming their flagship brand, Wurtzer Brew, after a German city. At the time, Adolf Hitler and his Nazis were making all sorts of ugly noise in Europe. Stateside, having a Teutonic moniker was now the sort of thing that earned dirty looks from beer drinkers with a jingoistic streak. At Peoples they began downplaying the whole Wurtzer thing starting in 1935, but in this ad from 1938 it looks like they’re backpedaling from their backpedaling. 

Tell me, who does that traffic cop remind you of? And that pose? You’d have to be nearly blind to miss the similarity, especially in 1938. Was this just an unfortunate coincidence, or was it possibly a sinister joke? I’d love to know.

Monday, April 1, 2013

This Week’s Beer Breaks

A couple of good looking, small-scale tastings taking place this week that you might want to check out.

First, on Wednesday night (April 3), Barley & Hops concludes another season of its Barley’s Beer Sampling series. This time the feature brewery is Stone Arch Brew House of Appleton (F/K/A Stone Cellar). Also featured will be New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Series along with homebrew provided by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. There’s also going to be a healthy flight of other beers, wines and liquors to sample. Tickets are $15 in advance (pick them up at Barley’s), or $20 at the door. The tasting runs from 7-10 p.m and they’re always a blast. For more info, see the event’s Facebook Page.

Then on Thursday night (April 4) Fratellos will be hosting a Wine vs. Beer “Cage Match.” They’ll be serving a five-course meal and each course will be paired with both a wine and a beer. Each guest will then judge which beverage pairs best with the dish. Tickets are $35 per person with the proceedings beginning at 6:30 p.m. More info on the food, the wines and the beers can be found HERE.