Thursday, May 30, 2013

Irish Fest Beer Sampling

A quick note about a beer sampling I’ll be hosting this weekend at Irish Fest in Oshkosh. I’ll be in the Pub Tent at Irish Fest pouring a quintet of Irish beers, offering tasting notes and talking about the history of beer and brewing in Ireland. The tastings will be ongoing, running from 2:30-8:30 p.m. on Saturday. I may be there doing the same thing on Sunday; I’ll post it on my Facebook page, if that happens. Stop by and let’s share a few beers together.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 11: The Acee Deucee Ghost Sign

At first glance, this ad appears to be relatively simple. What we have here is a painted sign advertising Chief Oshkosh Beer. Better yet, it still remains, in all its faded glory, on the north exterior wall of Herbie's Acee Deucee Lounge at 1329 Oregon Street. But when was it put there? That’s where things start getting complicated. My best guess is that the ad went up sometime between 1961 and 1965. Here’s why I think that: Although it’s getting difficult to see, the color scheme of the ad and the lettering are consistent with the 1961 redesign of the Chief Oshkosh Beer label. A few years later, in the mid-1960s, the Oshkosh Brewing Company substantially cut its advertising budget. New signs of this type would have been rare after 1965. And then there’s that line at the bottom: “Quality Since 1864.” Here’s where the water gets deep.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company always had a difficult time figuring out exactly how old it was. The company liked to pin its start date on the formation of Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery; the oldest of the three Oshkosh breweries that merged to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) in 1894. The problem with that was that the Horn & Schwalm Brewery often vacillated on the date it affixed to its launch. Leonhardt Schwalm purchased the land for and began preparing his new brewery in 1865. The following year, he partnered with his brother-in-law August Horn, making 1866 the legitimate start date of their brewery. But 20 years later, they appeared to have forgotten that. An arbitrary start date of 1864 begins popping up in their advertising around 1886, a mistake that would continue rearing its head well into the next century.

After OBC’s formation in 1894, they had managed to figure out that the 1864 date was incorrect. An early letter head for OBC contained the lines, “Established 1866. Incorporated 1894.” But it wasn’t long before they lost the thread, again. By 1898, OBC had reverted to using the 1864 date in its advertising. Odd, considering that during that same year the company was involved with a published history of the brewery that correctly identified 1866 as the start date of the Horn & Schwalm Brewery. Confused yet? It gets worse.

In 1914, 48 years after the launch of the Horn & Schwalm Brewery, OBC celebrated it’s 50th anniversary (two years early) and issued a commemorative label for its bottled beer. The mistake took hold and would become the party line until the early 1950s. The error may have been discovered during the research for Oshkosh: One Hundred Years a City, a book published in 1953 for the city’s Centennial. There, for the first time in a while, the 1866 date again appears. From that point, and for the next ten years, OBC identified its start as 1866. In 1956, OBC even threw a large party inviting the entire city out to the brewery to celebrate its 90th anniversary. You would think that would have clarified the matter permanently. It didn’t.

After David Uihlein bought the brewery in 1961, he must have come across some of the old ephemera that listed 1864 as the start date. Uihlein re-adopted the incorrect date. And in 1964, just eight years after OBC had celebrated its 90th anniversary, OBC celebrated its 100th anniversary. What I like is that nobody seemed to notice that the brewery was jumping the gun by a couple of years. And that’s how you end up with the 1864 date appearing on the Acee Deucee sign. Does this make your head hurt? I need a beer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 025: Fox River Brewing Co.’s Grand Cru

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

What: 3 blind mice, Fox River Brewing Co.’s Grand Cru; in this case a legitimate Oud Bruin

Where: On tap in the Fieldhouse at Fratellos in Oshkosh

Why: Because you ought to squeeze something special into your Memorial Day weekend rotation and this is about as special as it gets. I haven’t tried this beer, yet (that’ll be corrected shortly) so Kevin Bowen, the guy who brewed it, is going to do the honors. Take it Kevin:
“Our GRAND CRU, (special strong Belgian ale), is a Belgian sour brown ale.  Originally brewed in 2009 and aged to acquire a balanced sour profile that is refreshing and fruity.  Originally fermented with our abbey yeast strain then aged on raisins for a pronounced fruity complexity.  Fruit jumps from the nose; raisin, dates, cherry, and apple are the dominant notes.  The flavor is equally complex with a slight tart sourness and a clean dry finish making this a truly special beer. Running is optional.”

  • Malt: 2row, carapils, flaked barley, Honey malt, caramel 60, Munich
  • ADJUNCTS: Raisins
  • HOPS: Sterling, Glacier
  • 18.2° P Original Gravity
  • 2.7° P Terminal Gravity
  • 16° Lovibond
  • 7.4% ABV
  • 21 IBUs

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 023 & 24: New Glarus Berliner Weiss & Schell’s Goosetown

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

What: New Glarus Berliner Weiss, a mildly sour wheat beer that’s about 3% ABV; and  Schell’s
Goosetown, a German-style Gose beer brewed with – among other things – salt and coriander, with an ABV of 5.20%.

Where: Berliner Weiss is being sold at Gardina’s in 4-packs for $11.99. Six-packs of Goosetown can be found in the back cooler at Festival for $6.79

Why: Because if you have a thing for archaic beer styles that have been lurking in the basements of history, then both of these beers are a must. Me, I live for this shit.

Berliner Weiss is a German breed of wheat ale that developed into a distinct style in the 1600s.
Typically light bodied and sour, the New Glarus brew is true to style (aside from the Riesling grape extract they’ve dosed it with). It pours bright and effervescent with a mild, lactic tang pushed up by its snapping carbonation. The beer dances around the mouth like Champagne with a gentle, acidic tartness that’s extremely refreshing. Berliner Weiss finishes clean and crisp with a lingering trace of fruit (I get pears). If I could afford to, I’d drink this by the gallon. A great beer.

Goosetown is no slouch, either. This is a Gose, another of those 16th century German-style wheat ales that’s gleefully weird. Goosetown tows the style line by being upfront with its use of salt and coriander. The saltiness first appears in the aroma where you find a hint of seawater brine. The coriander steps forward as you start drinking and seems enhanced by the salt. There’s a soft and smooth mouthfeel coming from the wheat that brings the flavors into balance. It ends with a hit of lemon zest; then goes dry as the salt finishes things off. I was never much of a Schell’s fan, but this is the third excellent beer I’ve had from them in the last month (Maifest and Chimney Sweep being the others). This is another that’s definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Passing of Harold Kriz, the Last President of the Oshkosh Brewing Company

Harold Francis Kriz died on May 16, 2013, at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh. He was 79 years old. Kriz was the last president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, serving in that role from 1969 until 1971 when the brewery closed. But Kriz’s history with OBC went back much further.
Harold Kriz

Kriz was born in Oshkosh on January 19, 1934. A son of the south side, he went to work at the
brewery on June 9, 1952; just a few months after his 18th birthday. Kriz served as the brewery’s chief accountant for most of his time there and was on hand to see the brewery at its peak in the middle and late 1950s. And he was there when the brewery suffered through its steady decline in the 1960s. In 1965, Kriz was made general manager of OBC, an appointment made by David Uihlein, who had purchased the brewery in 1961. Uihlein, a member of the Milwaukee family that owned Schlitz Brewing, had little time for OBC. Instead, he was devoting most of his efforts to business interests outside of Oshkosh. It fell to Kriz to navigate what had become a sinking ship. At the time, Kriz was 31 years old and the father of six young children. Presiding over the downfall of an iconic local business couldn’t have been easy for the life-long Oshkosh resident.

In June 1969, Kriz led a group of brewery employees in purchasing OBC from its absentee owner. At the time, OBC was on track to produce approximately 33,000 barrels for the year; about half of what the brewery’s output had been prior to the takeover by Uihlein. But Kriz, who became president of OBC, was resolute. He told the Milwaukee Sentinel, “There’s still a place for the small brewer.” Not for this one. The brewery’s slide into insolvency went unabated. The Oshkosh Brewing Company stopped making beer in September 1971. Two months later, Kriz announced that the brewery’s brands had been sold to their rival across the street, the Peoples Brewing Company. After 106 years, the Oshkosh Brewing Company was no more.

Harold Kriz’s obituary appeared in the Oshkosh Northwestern last Friday, on May 17, 2013. The obituary makes no mention of Kriz’s association with the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It sums up his working life in a single line: “He was an accountant for many years in Oshkosh.” It’s an unfortunate diminution of his career. I don’t think Kriz has ever been given his proper due where OBC is concerned. The risk he undertook trying to resurrect a brewery that had been decimated by the misguided practices of its previous owner was substantial. That he failed to revive the brewery seems to have continued to sting him. Others and myself made numerous attempts to speak with Kriz about his years at OBC. He didn’t want to talk about it. That’s too bad. Now that he’s gone, he takes with him a story that will remain untold – his own. I wonder if that’s how he really wanted it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mike Engel's Very Big Brew Day

You never know what a keg full of good homebrew might lead to. Just ask Mike Engel. This past April, Engel was serving up a batch of his Pumpernickel Rye Ale during a beer festival at Barley & Hops. One of those who sampled his beer was Steve Lonsway, brewmaster at Stone Arch Brew House in Appleton. Lonsway thought so highly of the beer that he offered Engel the opportunity to brew a commercial sized batch of it on Stone Arch's 7-barrel system. As a home brewer, that's about the nicest compliment you could ever receive. Engel took Lonsway up on the offer and brewed his Pumpernickel Rye Ale at Stone Arch on Saturday. Here's a quick interview I did with Engel while the brew day was underway.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Few Beers to Start the Week

Monday need not suck so hard if you keep thoughts of good beer puddled in your brain pan. Here are a few puddles to help you through.

Peabody’s is back on tap. Look over there on the left (sorry phone surfers there’s no left for you) and you’ll notice that Peabody’s Ale House has just been added to the Oshkosh Beer Lists. Peabody’s will be listing their full line-up here with their tap list at the bottom of the linked page. They’ve also included brief tasting notes and the ABV for each beer, which is always nice. I’m glad to have Peabody’s back on board.

Did you know American Craft Beer Week is this week? They’ll be celebrating the occasion at Fratellos. They’re doing a keg swap with Milwaukee’s Sprecher Brewing, which has sent up a barrel of its Belgian Tripel for pouring. Then on Thursday, May 16, Fratellos will be handing out a free pint of BLU Berry Ale to anyone walking in from 5-7 p.m. Brewery tours and live music by Sam Luna also begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Speaking of tap lists, there’s a beer currently on the Gardina’s list that’ll be of interest to anyone who gets gooey (as I do) over historic beer styles that have fallen into obscurity. Local Option's Dampf Loc is a German Dampfbier or Steam Beer that’s brewed with barley, but fermented with wheat yeast. HERE’s a good rundown on the beer. I had a pint of this on Saturday and thought it was great. Get it while you can, you’re not likely to see a beer of this sort again anytime soon.

Last week, Alabama became the 50th state to legalize homebrewing. Nice to see those knuckle draggers have finally made their way to the 20th century. Here in Oshkosh, of course, we’ve been homebrewing for decades and the homebrew scene here continues to thrive. If you’re looking for a taste of what it’s all about, drop by O’Marro’s Public House on Wednesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. and sit in on a meeting of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. They’re a friendly group that isn’t the least bit shy about having guests view them in their native element. For more info on the club go HERE.

Lagunitas Redux. If all that isn’t enough, Thursday, May 16, Oblio’s is having a sampling featuring the beers of Lagunitas Brewing.  Pints will be just $3 and you'll get to keep the glass they serve it to you in. The fun runs from 9-11 p.m. If that sounds familiar, it’s because I accidentally posted this same info last week. My inner idiot is alive and well. Harrumph!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Oshkosh Beer (Well, Not Really) Sampler 022: Zombie Killer Cherry Cyser

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

What: Zombie Killer Cherry Cyser by B. Nektar Meadery of Ferndale, Michigan. Cyser is an offshoot of the Mead family produced by fermenting honey and apple juice. In this case they’ve also blended in
tart Michigan cherry juice.

Where: At Gardina’s where they’re selling 500 ml (16.9 oz) bottles for $9.99

Why: Because there’s more to life than beer (or so I’m told). Here’s the proof. Zombie Killer has a fairly high degree of flavor complexity, but it’s so inviting and drinkable that it pulls you straight in. Aside from those opposed to honey, apples, cherries and alcohol, I can’t imagine someone not enjoying this. It pours clear with a pinkish hue and settles with a slight rim of bubbles. Everything it’s made with comes up in the aroma: cherry, honey, apples. The cherries carry the dominant note and the light carbonation makes its balance of sweet and tart just a little more lively. After a couple tastes I had the urge to upend the entire glass into my mouth. So I did. At 6% ABV you don’t have to worry much about giving in to such urges. This one is undemanding and excellent and if you haven’t tried a Cyser yet, this would be the place to start.

One More Thing: That packaged beer rack that went in at Gardina’s a few months back continues to be a constant source of pleasure for me. Within a small space, and a short amount of time, Adam Carlson at Gardina’s has managed to put together the most consistently interesting collection of beer of any retailer in the city. I’ve yet to walk in and not find at least a couple of things I haven’t tried before. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary to take home, there’s no better place in Oshkosh to get it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mid-Week Beer Notes

• Let’s start with some news for brewers. NDC in Oshkosh is running a sale that’s a boon to homebrewers. For the entire month of May they’re offering a 15% discount on brewing supplies. The only exclusion is 50 lb. bags of malt, which they already sell cheaper than anybody else. Time to stock up for the outdoor brewing season.

• Speaking of brewing outdoors, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers had a great time with their Big Brew Day last Saturday. HERE’s a slideshow/video of their brewday. As you can see, it takes beer to make beer.

• Thursday night (May 16), Oblio’s is having a sampling featuring the beers of Lagunitas Brewing.  Pints will be just $3 and you'll get to keep the glass. The fun runs from 9-11 p.m. 

• My new Oshkosh Beer Garden column for the SCENE is online HERE. This one suggests a beer to drink for every day in May. Seeing as we’re now eight day into the month, you’ll have some catching up to do.

• And finally, Founders Old Curmudgeon, one of the greats, is now pouring at Dublin’s. Here’s Jon Cameron of Dublin’s to tell you all about it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Certified Beer Servers at O’Marro’s Public House

Here's a short video of beer drinking and talk with Shawn O’Marro of O’Marro’s Public House in Oshkosh. We drink some Wexford Irish Cream Ale and talk about Shawn taking part in the Cicerone Certification Program to become a Certified Beer Server. This was shot on May 4, 2013 while taking a break during Big Brew Day.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Schiffmann’s Oshkosh White Beer

A few weeks ago, at the Oshkosh Memorabilia Club’s Antique Appraisal Show, a gentleman introduced himself and then showed me the bottle you see here. I would have been less surprised to see a unicorn walk into the room. This is among the rarest of Oshkosh beer bottles. According to its owner, the bottle was found in 1962 near the corner of Ceape and Main during a construction dig. It’s in remarkable shape, especially when you consider its age and the odd journey it must have taken en route to its burial next to Main St. Although fixing an exact date on this bottle is probably impossible, it’s safe to say it hails from the latter half of the 1870s, a time when stoneware bottles such as this were somewhat common. In Oshkosh, though, few brewers used them. One of those who did was Leonard Schiffmann, whose misspelled name is stamped at the shoulder of the bottle.

Schiffmann’s known history is somewhat fuzzy, but what’s there is interesting. Born in Prussia about 1819, Schiffmann rode one of the early waves of emigration out of Germany. By 1865, he was settled in Oshkosh and running a saloon downtown. His stand was in the area of what is now 416-418 N. Main St. (approximately where the old Exclusive Co. was). Things seemed to go well enough for him until the early 1870s. In 1872, Schiffmann’s son Leonard Jr. died after falling into a vat of boiling wort at the Horn & Schwalm Brewery on Doty St. Two years later, the Fourth Great Oshkosh Fire consumed Schiffmann’s saloon, his home and just about everything else on the east side of Main St.

Schiffmann and family headed south. They took up residence on Doty St. just south of 18th. There Schiffmann established a brewery with his eldest son, Andrew, who like his younger brother had also been employed at Horn & Schwalm’s Brewery. But the Schiffmann’s operation wasn’t your typical Oshkosh brewery of the period. Instead of brewing the now wildly popular lager beer, Schiffmann made ale in the form of Weissbier, or as it was called in Oshkosh at the time, White Beer.

Assuming that Schiffmann’s product was consistent with other American Weissbiers of that era gives us a general idea of what his beer was like. It would have been brewed with a mixture of wheat, malted barley and, very possibly, corn grits. The beer would have been cloudy and pale in appearance. Its light body and tart flavor would have been accentuated by an intense, champagne-like effervescence, which accounts for the stoneware bottle. White Beer typically underwent a secondary fermentation in the bottle resulting in a carbonic build-up that required a strong vessel to contain it. Schiffmann’s beer would have been quite low in alcohol. In fact, Weissbier wasn’t even taxed as an alcoholic beverage until 1875, due to its being considered non-intoxicating. At less than 3% ABV, Schiffmann’s beer would have been thought of as a soft drink in hard drinking Oshkosh.

Unfortunately, Shiffmann’s White Beer brewery wasn’t long for Doty St. By 1883, it had ceased operating. The days of stoneware bottles were gone, too. But at least three bottles from the Schiffmann’s brewery survive. In addition to the bottle seen here, there is a bottle with Schiffmann’s name spelled correctly and another stamped A. Schiffmann, after his son Andrew. Who knows, there may be dozens more of these buried around Oshkosh waiting to be exhumed.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Oshkosh's Outdoor Brewery Returns

A quick reminder that if you’re a homebrewer or interested in becoming one, Saturday, May 4 is the day to get out and meet up with a pack of friendly folks who know how it feels. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers will celebrate National Homebrew Day by hosting their annual Big Brew Day in the parking lot of O’Marro’s Public House at 2211 Oregon St. The beer making begins at 9 a.m. and will run until 4 p.m. The event is absolutely free and open to the public. If you want to see what the hobby is all about or would just like to get a better idea of how good beer is made, this is a great chance to get up close and dirty with the nuts and bolts of beer making.

The Facebook event page is HERE.
The SOBs webpage about the event is HERE.

See you, THERE!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Beer Dinner at Dublin's

Next Wednesday (May 8) is going to be a great night for beer and food at Dublin’s. They’re hosting a gastro session where six different brews from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery will be paired with a five course meal.

The 6 p.m. feast also includes a souvenir glass and a meet and greet with the always effervescent Big Jim Klisch, co-founder of Lakefront and all-around good egg. Tickets are $35 and you can pick them up at the pub. As of yesterday there were only 20 seats left, so don’t sleep on it, friend.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 21: Schell's Maifest

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

What: Schell's Maifest, a traditional Maibock, or Heller Bock. This is a strong, golden German-style lager brewed by the August Schell Brewing Company of New Ulm, MN.; established 1860.

Where: The only place I’ve seen this in Oshkosh is at the north side Pick n’ Save where they’ll deal you a sixer of it for $6.99.

Why: Because it’s probably the best Maibock available in Oshkosh and at this price you definitely can’t beat it. Besides, today is May Day and you ought to go with a beer that celebrates the occasion. As the German’s say, “Tanz in den Mai!" ("Dance into May!"). And this is a beer that will get you dancing. It’s pours to a lovely, deep gold with a puffy white head that hangs in there until the end. The aroma is bready and grainy and of clean malt. The flavor is just the same with a hearty burst of bitterness that comes charging in at the end. Sporting 6.7% ABV, it’ll add a good kick to your polka around the Maypole. Seriously, this is a wonderfully satisfying beer from a brewery that deserves a lot more respect than it gets.

Speaking of Getting No Respect: The Brewers Association, a group the advocates on behalf of America’s Craft Brewers, decided a few years back that Schell’s Brewery is too déclassé to be included among their ranks. Their reasoning is that Schell’s uses “non-traditional” ingredients, i.e. corn, in some of their beers. I’ve never heard anything so dumb. Being the Brewers Association, you’d think they’d know a thing or two about traditional brewing practices; the legitimate use of adjuncts; and the role these ingredients have played in developing a distinctly American style of beer. Apparently not. American brewers have been using corn and rice in their beers since at least the 1860s and they were regularly winning international competitions with such brews right up to Prohibition. The fact that mega brewers later co-opted and abused the practice does not magically render the original intent “non-traditional.” Meanwhile, the Brewers Association seems to be just fine with a brewer pouring table sugar into their beer, so long as the label is adorned by something vaguely Belgianesque. It’s a shame the BA chooses to remain so willfully ignorant of the history of the craft they purport to represent? August Schell’s most recent response to the BAs snub is classic. You can read that HERE. And if you want to go deep and long on the history of adjuncts in American beer, HERE’s an enlightening piece by Maureen Ogle.