Tuesday, April 23, 2013

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

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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.

1 comment:

  1. When did the Rahr brewing company in Green Bay close.What year and r the 30 ouces bottles worth anything to date?