Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 18: Good Old Wurtzer Beer and Mellow Old Derby Ale

Here’s a sharp looking ad for the beers of Peoples Brewing that appeared in the 1938 book History of Oshkosh. The real name of the Good Old Wurtzer Beer mentioned here was actually Würtzer Brew. It was introduced after Prohibition ended in 1933 and was Peoples’ flagship beer (lots more on Würtzer Brew HERE). But the beer taking center stage in this ad is Old Derby Ale. This is a beer with a good backstory.

Old Derby was a pale ale that made its debut after Prohibition. It was first brewed by the Ripon Brewing Company, which was launched in 1933 upon the grounds of the old Haas Brewing Company. The Old Derby Ale that was brewed in Ripon was a beast. It weighed in at 12% ABV and used to sell for a nickel a mug at the Tip Top Tavern on N. Main St. in Oshkosh. That was an interesting little brewery they had there in Ripon. During this same period, they also produced a porter; quite an unusual style of beer for a Wisconsin brewery in the post-Prohibition era.

Peoples Brewing had a hand in distributing the Ripon beers in Oshkosh and after the Ripon brewery went bankrupt in 1937, Peoples took over the Old Derby label. But the Old Derby brewed in Oshkosh was tame in comparison to the Ripon brew. It would have been around just 5% ABV (for more info on that version of the beer, go HERE). Old Derby Ale survived into the early 1950s when Peoples pulled the plug on it for good. And by that time, the Würtzer name had also been dropped in favor of the more streamlined Peoples Beer.

So why would a full-page beer ad appear in a book about Oshkosh history? Well, I’m guessing the ads were what financed the book. Advertisements for Oshkosh businesses of the era appear throughout History of Oshkosh and some are as interesting as the text of the book itself. The self-published work was the product of the father and daughter team of William and Clara Dawes and was released in the summer of 1938. William Dawes was the sort of amateur historian that Oshkosh seems good for turning out. He was born in Oshkosh in 1878 and spent a good part of his life working as a postal clerk here. His daughter Clara was born in 1906 and, aside from being her father’s secretary, worked as a professional singer. In their spare time, the Daweses turned out a fine volume. It’s full of interesting snippets on Oshkosh history and a good place to start if you’re looking to get some background on this strange place. At 130 pages, it’s a breezy read. There’s usually a copy or two of History of Oshkosh hanging around the Oshkosh Public Library waiting to be checked out. If you go nosing through it, keep an eye open for the other beer ads in the book. One day, I’ll have to slap those up here, too.

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