Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Trio of New Beers to Drink This Weekend in Oshkosh

Labor Day weekend is just about here. Meaning it’s time to get away from the grind and drink some beer. Here’s a trio of biggish brews new to Oshkosh that you might want to consider adding to your line-up.

Shakedown IPA. Here’s a terrific hop-centric ale that went on tap at Fratellos in Oshkosh earlier this week. It’s a single hop beer showcasing Simcoe, a highly aromatic hop that sometimes comes off smelling musky or catty (as in that odor drifting from the litter box). Not here. This beer presents all the hops' best attributes with an aroma full of oranges, mango and pine. Unfiltered, the beer has a nice golden haze and a slight, English maltiness that allows the hops to grab all the attention. The beer is not aggressively bitter, but bitter enough to please most hopheads. At 7.1% ABV, it will make an impression on you. Definitely a beer to check out, if hops are your thing. They’re also selling it in bottles in the big cooler by the main bar.

Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy Über-Oktoberfest. I can give you a couple good reasons not to drink this beer: first, Leinenkugel’s parent company, Miller Brewing, is despicable. Second, August is no time to be drinking any form of Oktoberfest beer. Oh, to hell with morals and decorum, this is a great lager. A big (8.5% ABV), toasty remake of the standard Oktoberfest, it has all the malty/toffee notes you’d expect from an Über take on the style. But what really gets me about this beer is the hop flavor. They’ve dry hopped this with what I’m guessing is Hallertau, giving it a spiciness that melds perfectly with the malt. This would go great with some spicy brats off the grill. Get it in 4-packs at Festival Foods in Oshkosh.

Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, by Stevens Point Brewery. Here we go again: this isn’t the time of year to be drinking any damned pumpkin beer. What you gonna do? Smell this thing and you won’t care that they’ve jumped the gun. It stinks just like a big, fat, delicious pumpkin pie. A dollop of whipped cream on top wouldn’t be inappropriate. Loads of cinnamon and nutmeg accentuate the malty sweetness of the beer making it an ideal dessert drink. My only quibble is that all that spiciness conspires with the hops to make the finish more brash than I would have liked. But that’s just me. A good beer to cap off an outdoor feast. At 7.5% ABV it’ll settle your stomach. Get it in 4-packs at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. And have a great Labor Day Weekend! Prost!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 033: AleSmith Speedway Stout

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

What: An Imperial Stout brewed by the AleSmith Brewing Company of San Diego, CA.

Where: It went on tap at Dublin’s on Friday. The only place you’ll be able to grab it in (25 oz) bottles is at Gardina’s. At the moment, they’re the sole retailer for AleSmith in Oshkosh.

Why: Because in the near term, at least, it’ll make you feel better. At 12% ABV you’ll have a tough time remaining grounded as you make your way through a snifter or two of this. It’s a beer that’s not the least bit bashful about its bulk. Even the aroma is writ large. A thick plume of oily coffee, burnt crust and chocolate comes up off the pour. It goes into the glass utterly black and settles under a cap of dense brown foam. An intense swirl of dark roasted coffee, bruised prunes and dark chocolate coat the mouth. It’s chewiness is enhanced by the assertive alcohol. This is the epitome of a sipper. A good beer to wind down with. One that ensures you won’t be doing anything productive for a couple hours. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Winchester Ghost Sign

Last week, local historian Dan Radig added the picture below to the You know you're from Oshkosh when... Facebook page. It was taken in 1973 just north of Oshkosh in Winchester. As always, click the pictures to enlarge them.

Judging from the make-up of the sign and a few telling details, this was probably painted in the mid-1960s. It was during this time that David Uihlein, President of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, had reclaimed 1864 as the brewery's inception date. That date wasn’t correct, but it was the one used all through the 1960s by the brewery (if you’d like to dive into the tangle of when the Oshkosh Brewing Company actually began, you can do that HERE.)

This morning, I talked with John Allen who is now 89 and lived most of his life in that neck of the woods. Allen says the building was first used as a farm machinery dealership and only later became a restaurant. And the old Chief Oshkosh sign is still hanging in there. Here’s a picture I took of it on Friday.

If you’d like to run up to Winchester and check it out, take Hwy 45 north out of town. When you reach County Road II, exit to the east. Drive in about mile on II and you’ll see it. Or you could take the Wiouwash Trail out of Oshkosh and bike up there. The restaurant behind the sign is now Patty’s Place and I’ve been told they serve a good breakfast. Now if they only had some “Chief” on tap.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

River Biking for Beer in Oshkosh

What I’m about to map-out here is ill advised, potentially illegal and a lot of fun. All I can say is use your best judgement. Personally, biking and beering are a couple of my favorite pastimes and I find that putting the two together makes me enjoy each of them a little more. And now that the Riverwalk is complete, we’ve got a great way to combine them. Let’s hit the road.

Just before the bridge on the west side of North Main St. you’ll notice a ramp that snakes along the side of the new Waterfront Hotel. This will lead you onto the Riverwalk and take you to the first of four stops.

Beer Stop #1: The Ground Round at River's Edge / 1 North Main St.

I wouldn’t exactly call this a destination point for good beer, but they do have a swank patio on the river and they have been keeping a couple decent beers on tap. When I was there last week, they had Ale Asylum’s Hopalicious and Hinterland’s Luna Coffee Stout pouring along with trusty back-ups Spotted Cow and Sam Adams Boston Lager. Sink a pint, take in the river view and get back on your bike.

Bike: A couple dozen pedal strokes west along the Riverwalk will take you to one of the finest beer spots in Oshkosh.

Beer Stop #2: Becket’s / 2 Jackson St.

For the past five years, Becket’s has been serving some of the best, with 15 beers on draught. And their new patio on the river is an ideal place to enjoy a couple pints of craft beer. Check out their tap list HERE.

Bike: Saddle back up and continue peddling north. Follow the Riverwalk as it leads you under the Wisconsin St. Bridge and onto a paved path that continues along the river at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh Campus. This path ends at Rockwell Ave., but leads directly into the start of the Wiouwash Trail. Follow it to where it merges with Summit Ave. When you reach Summit, look dead ahead and you’ll see the sign for the Fox River Brewing Company at Fratellos.

Beer Stop #3: Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant / 1501 Arboretum Dr

When you hit Fratellos, plant yourself on the patio with a beer and soak it all in. You’ll have plenty of good suds to choose from. HERE’s the current beer list.

Bike: After you leave Fratellos you’ll have two options. You could either peddle back in exactly the same direction you came; or you could take the Congress Ave. bridge over the river and peddle the back streets that lead towards the Oshkosh Seniors Center at 200 N Campbell Rd. There you can hook back up with the paved trail that is snug to the river (Check out the map below for more precise directions).  Whichever way you go, you’ll want to end up passing through the south tunnel under the Wisconsin St. Bridge to hook up with the southern side of the Riverwalk. This section of the Riverwalk dead ends at Michigan St. Take Michigan to 6th Ave. and hang a right (east). Follow 6th for about four blocks and keep an eye towards the river, where you’ll see...

Beer Stop #4: Dockside Tavern / 425 Nebraska St.

Another nice patio with a great view. And some good beer to go along with it. They usually have a couple of Fox River Brewing Co. beers on tap along with a couple of other crafts on draught and a decent selection of bottled beer. Not an enormous selection, but you’ll find something that’ll work for you. As you enjoy your beer, think about whether or not you have a second lap in you. Of course you do!

Bike: Get back on 6th Ave. and head towards S. Main St. (east). Take the S. Main St. Bridge back over the river and enter the infinite loop. Don’t forget to keep that helmet strapped on. You’re gonna need it.

A word about this map: this is a Google Walking Map, so it doesn't exactly jibe with the biking routes described above. Unless otherwise noted, use the directions given above.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Capturing the Pabst Flag in Oshkosh

Frederick Pabst
Pabst Square; 136 Jackson St
Captain Pabst always liked Oshkosh. As early as 1876, when his company
was still named Phillip Best Brewing and just three years after Frederick Pabst had been named the brewery’s director, Pabst had an agent living in Oshkosh trying to place his beer in the city’s saloons, hotels and grocery stores. In the 1890s, the Pabst push into Oshkosh intensified. In 1896, the brewery built a bottling and distribution center in Oshkosh. Now called Pabst Square, it remains standing in fine condition at 136 Jackson St.

Pabst followed up in 1897 with the Pabst Exchange, a large saloon at the
southeast corner of 6th and Ohio that housed a dancehall and bowling alley. On May 24, 1897 the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern announced that construction of the saloon was set to begin and that, “The structure will be of brick and its design will be that of an old German castle.” That building also still stands and if you look up at the gables above the building’s corner entrance you can still see the scars that were left when Pabst was driven into retreat in Oshkosh.

Pabst Exchange; 6th & Ohio
By 1914, the Oshkosh Brewing Company, along with the recently established Peoples Brewing Company, had regained control of the Oshkosh beer market. Pabst Brewing decided to reconsider its position here. In January 1914, the Pabst Exchange was sold to the Oshkosh Brewing Company. The circular Pabst signs that had been embedded at the buildings peaks were removed and the holes they left were bricked in. The Pabst flags had been captured by an Oshkosh brewery. And the Oshkosh Brewing Company was in no hurry to give them back.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company would hold onto the Pabst signs for almost 40 years. In 1953, the brewery finally got around to returning them to their owner. The signs were turned over to Harry Lee, the owner of Lee Beverage and the distributor for Pabst in Oshkosh. Earl S. Horn, vice president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company then wrote a letter to Pabst vice president Rudolph Zimmerman saying the signs were on their way. “Please be on the lookout for these signs,” Horn wrote, “as they may be of some value to your company.” In fact, the signs were probably of little worth to one of the worlds largest breweries. And they were certainly nowhere near the prize they had been for the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1914 when they were a symbol of victory over one of its most powerful Milwaukee rivals.

HERE is a shot of what the building looked like shortly after its construction with the Pabst emblems intact at the top of the building.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 032: Dortwunder Lager

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

What: Dortwunder Lager by Berghoff Brewing, now being brewed at Stevens Point Brewery.

Where: Festival Foods in Oshkosh; among other places here in town.

Why: Because when you have a world-class beer being brewed this close to home, you ought to drink it every now and then. Believe me, I never thought I’d attach “world class” to the Berghoff name, but there you have it. And if you’ve had this beer within the past year or so you probably think I’ve lost it. But wait, things have changed. Earlier this summer Berghoff revamped their line-up. They changed breweries, moving production from the Minhas Brewery in Monroe, Wis. to the Stevens Point Brewery, just to our north. And they nabbed homebrew guru Randy Mosher to reformulate their recipes, bringing them more in line with the styles they're brewing. They hit the nail on the head with this one. The new Dortwunder is a classic Dortmunder lager. It gives a clean aroma of bready malt and lightly spicy hops with a dab of sulfur waving in the the background. This is a beautifully balanced beer with its forward maltiness (not sweet, but malty) nicely balanced by an earthy bitterness that’s mild, yet lingering. It’s a refreshing and satisfying Lagerbier. But if you go out to purchase this one, check the label to be sure you’re getting the version brewed in Point. Berghoff has been selling the Point-brewed model since late June, but in Oshkosh the old, Monroe beers have been hanging around on the shelves. Festival in Oshkosh now has the Point version, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some of the old stuff shuffled into the mix as the distributor attempts to unload it. Don’t be fooled, friends.

What Else: I haven’t tried all of the reformulated Berghoff beers, but the two others that I have tasted are worth seeking out. Sir Dunkle is a German-style Dunkel that’s light on the hops and heavy on the malt. Where the old Sir Dunkle was wretchedly sweet, this one is rich without being cloying. A great beer for cooler weather drinking. I haven’t found Berghoff’s Germaniac Pale Ale around Oshkosh, yet, but if you see it in your travels grab it. This is a hoppy, German-style of pale ale known as Kotbusser that’s brewed with molasses and honey. Fruity and complex with a firm bitterness, it’s nothing like the sort of beer we’re accustomed to seeing from Berghoff.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 15: Introducing the Chief Oshkosh 8-Pack

Here’s an ad for Chief Oshkosh Beer that’s got a lot more going on than a quick glance would lead you to believe. This appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on March 10, 1961. Before we get into the background noise that makes this interesting, let’s discuss that ugly cartoon in the middle panel (click on the image to enlarge). That’s a fairly representative image of just how stupid beer advertising had grown in the post-war period. When the Oshkosh Brewing Company first began using Native American Imagery in the 1890s, their advertising was filled with some truly beautiful paintings and drawings of Chief Oshkosh. That had gone fairly well to hell by the 1940s, but even then, the stuff at least looked pretty good. By the 1960s you had this: a crummy sketch of a subnormal with a beer belly wearing a feather and loincloth as he trots around an 8-pack of Chief Oshkosh. Did people find this shit amusing? Probably. After all, this is the same era that brought you the Hamm's Beer bear, an idiotic figure that annoyed me even as a child. Sadly, things haven’t improved much. OK, let’s move along before I lose it completely and start bitching about people walking on my lawn.

One of the more interesting things about this ad is that it may mark a historical first in the brewing industry. This was the first ad for the Chief Oshkosh 8-pack of returnable bottles, which may be important because OBC was claiming that this was the first time an American brewery had sold its beer in an 8-bottle package. Big deal, right? Some thought so. Here’s what the Northwestern had to say about it in another section of the paper that day:
The Oshkosh Brewing Company made brewing history today with the introduction of what is believed to be the nation's first eight-bottle carton, a major forward step in the beer retailing field.
What’s left out is that it was an innovation born of desperation. At this time, OBC was being hammered by stagnant pricing in the beer market. The new package was an attempt to charge just a bit more for a product whose price had seen little increase in the past 10 years. In 1961, you could still pick up a six-pack of Chief Oshkosh for less than 90 cents. And there were plenty of smaller Wisconsin breweries selling their beer in Oshkosh at prices well below that. It was turning into a tough time to be a regional brewer.

Which may help explain the backstory to this ad. When this appeared, Arthur Schawlm, president of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, and Earl Horn, the brewery’s vice-president, were in negotiations to sell the Oshkosh Brewing Company to David Uihlein, a member of the family that held controlling interest in Schlitz Brewing. Uihlein, it would later be reported, had a plan of his own. He wanted to turn around and sell the Oshkosh Brewing Company to Schlitz. It was messy plot that would fall flat. In August 1961, Uihlein did manage to purchase the Oshkosh Brewing Company, but it turned out that Schlitz wanted nothing to do with Chief Oshkosh. So Uihlein came to Oshkosh and attempted to run the brewery himself. And thus would begin the Oshkosh Brewing Company’s ten-year slide into oblivion. The 8-pack, however, is still with us. I can think of worse legacies.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Firkin Tapping at Gardina’s "Beer Bar"

Adam Carlson at Gardina’s continues to up the ante on beer at the popular downtown bar and cafe. Within the past nine months he’s added six tap lines, bringing their total to 12; started selling packaged beer in the retail store behind the cafe; and next up he’ll host the first installment of "Gardina's Beer Bar" series with a firkin tapping on Tuesday, August 20.

Before we get into the the guts of this, let’s talk about firkins. Essentially, a firkin is a keg (often a 1/4 barrel) of cask-conditioned beer or, as the Brits like to call it, real ale. The emphasis is on real, meaning the beer hasn’t been filtered, pasteurized or tampered with in such a way as to be stripped of the fulness of its flavor. These beers typically feature low carbonation and are at their best just after the tap is hammered into the keg. It is beer as it was intended to be.

The firkin tapped at Gardina’s will be Hopdinger with 4 Peels, a one-off ale from O’so Brewing of Plover. The base beer is O’so’s Hopdinger Pale Ale infused with lemon, grapefruit, sweet orange, and tangerine peels to enhance the citrus notes of the base beer. At 5.4% ABV, you’ll be able to have multiples and still function the following morning. And you’re probably going to want to have a few of them. There’s a good chance the keg will be emptied by night’s end and when it’s gone none of us are going to get it again.

The tapping, which in itself is something to see, will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 20. Along with the beer, they’ll be selling "Gardina's Beer Bar" t-shirts for $12. Those will get you a $1 off any tap beer you purchase that night or anytime you wear it to future “Beer-Bar" events. You could turn that t-shirt into a freebie. At Gardina’s they’re planning on making these rare beer events into a monthly happening. Make it to this one and you can say you were there when it all started.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Oshkosh Beer Sampler 031: New Glarus Wild Sour Ale

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

What: New Glarus Wild Sour Ale. Spontaneously fermented with wild yeast, this brown ale was aged for over a year in oak barrels prior to its release.

Where: In bottles, this is being sold in 4-packs that you can pick up at either Festival Foods or Gardina’s. At Gardina’s they’re also selling it on draught. If you can get it on draught, do it. I had it on draught last week at Dublin’s (it’s no longer showing on their list) and found that the creaminess of the draught version really adds to the beer.

Why: We’ll if you’re into sours, you don’t need me to tell you why. New Glarus has done such a great job with their sporadically released sours that each of them is a must try. And this is easily one of their best. It pours to a clean amber with a tall brittle head that dissipates in a blink. Lots of acidic fruit (green grapes) mingling with oak and some leathery funk in the aroma. Tart cherry and unripened plum hold sway in the mouth; underlined by a mild, oaky astringency. It closes with a clean, dry pucker that leads you to the next pull. A fine beer and despite its sharp edges one that goes down very easily. If you like sours, do not pass on this.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Last Gasp of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager

The August issue of the Oshkosh SCENE is out and in it you’ll find my Oshkosh Beer Garden column (it’s also available online). This time it’s about Jeff Fulbright whose Mid-Coast Brewing Company produced Chief Oshkosh Red Lager from 1991-1994.

There is, though, one final piece of the Chief Oshkosh Red Lager story that didn’t fit into the SCENE article and hasn’t been told before. It goes like this...

By the latter half of 1994, Mid-Coast Brewing was in its death throes. A year earlier, the Miller Brewing Company had introduced Leinenkugel’s Red Lager, a beer that Fulbright describes as a “doppelgänger” to his brew. Things had gone downhill ever since. But the problem wasn’t just that the beers tasted similar. Fulbright operated Mid-Coast Brewing as a one-man show on a shoestring budget and he was being trounced by Miller’s massive marketing and distribution chain. “Almost all of my distributors were Miller based and when Leinenkugel’s introduced their Red Lager I was pushed out,” Fulbright says. As Chief Oshkosh Red Lager lost shelf space to its big-brewery double, Fulbright found himself scrambling to keep his brand alive. “I knew that unless I came up with something quick, it was going to be all over with.” he says.

What he came up with was a plan that involved another big Milwaukee brewery. Fulbright decided that he’d try to resurrect the fortunes of his brand by teaming up with a formidable brewery that needed a shot in the arm. “Pabst seemed perfect,” Fulbright says. “They had a great name, but they were old school and they were struggling. I thought I might be able to convince them to update their image with the production of a microbrew.”

It was a solid idea to be sure. By the mid-1990s, Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller had all begun to
tap the microbrew market. They had done so by either buying existing brands that had microbrew cachet or by creating special divisions within their companies, such as Blue Moon at Coors, that would be promoted as microbrew. “I went to them (Pabst) and said you're losing share and I’m losing my company,” Fulbright says. “I suggested we start a special division dedicated to microbrews with Chief Oshkosh Red Lager as the flagship beer. They already had some well-known and respected brands like Ballentine that could have worked well with this.”

Pabst was more than interested. “They loved the idea,” Fulbright says. “It was the right thing for them at the right time. They needed something or they were going to keep fading. They were excited about it and I tried not to show how excited I was. At this point I was down to nickels.”

So what happened? Fulbright says the continuing friction between Pabst ownership and its workers flared up again during his talks with the brewery and the plan was shelved. Fulbright didn’t have the means to wait it out. Mid-Coast Brewing had run out of money. The last batch of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was brewed in December 1994.

But Pabst didn’t forget about the idea of getting in on the microbrew movement. In the summer of 1995, the brewery introduced both a red lager and a red ale. Red Bone Red Lager and Ballentine Twisted Red Ale were near perfect examples of how big beer often failed then - as it often does now - to understand the craft beer segment. Fulbright’s beer would have lent the brewery a measure of credibility in the microbrew market. Instead, Pabst shoved out a couple of mock microbrews. Nobody was fooled. In 1996 the Pabst brewery in Milwaukee closed.