Monday, December 22, 2014

2014: A Year of Beer in Oshkosh

It’s been a good year for beer in Oshkosh. The beer scene here has continued to expand and improve. Things may not be perfect, but they’re heading in the right direction. Let’s take a look at what the 2014 Oshkosh beer atmosphere was all about.

Shopping for Beer in Oshkosh
The news here was the opening of Ski’s Meat Market in October. With its beer coolers given over entirely to craft beer, Ski’s became an immediate destination point for Oshkosh beer aficionados. Meanwhile, Gardina’s continued to grow the retail side of its beer business. With an emphasis on rare and highly sought after beers, the selection at Gardina’s remains the most distinctive in the city. The proximity of these two stores is important. Ski’s and Gardina’s being just a block apart has created an axis that now makes N. Main St. the best location for beer shopping in Oshkosh. That’s a change I would have never anticipated two years ago.

In March, the Oshkosh Festival Foods added eight feet of shelf space dedicated to craft beer. But as the year wore on more of their cooler space was being given over to mass-produced imports and “crafty” beers from Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. The buyers for Festival are located in Green Bay and they seem reluctant to keep stride with the pace of change here. If you live on the west side of town, the convenience of Festival would continue to make it appealing, but for the first time in nearly a decade this is no longer the “go-to” place when shopping for good beer in Oshkosh.

The Pick n’ Save stores are hardly worth mentioning. If you want to see how multi-national brewing corporations are able to influence distribution and diminish selection, take a walk through the south-side Pick n’ Save store. The beer ghetto there is a pathetic site.

Craft Beer in Bars
The big five craft-beer bars remain the same: Becket’s, Dublin’s, Gardina’s, Oblio’s, and O'Marro's. They’re still your best bets if you’re looking for craft beer or unusual imports. Where the change has come is in places like Bar 430, which opened at the end of February. The emphasis at Bar 430 isn’t beer, but they always have a handful of craft beers on tap. Same goes for places like Mahoney’s, The Bar, Dockside or The Varsity Club. As part of The Varsity Club’s renovation this past fall they added 10 new draught lines, boosting their total to 16. Most of those are dedicated to craft beer. We’re seeing this occur across Oshkosh. It’s become a given that you need to have something other than Bud-Miller-Coors product on tap. The places that don’t are also the places that appear to have little, if any, growth in their business.

Beer Events in Oshkosh
Hardly a month went by this year where there wasn’t some sort of beer event taking place in the city. Whether it was special tappings, beer festivals or beer dinners there seemed to always be something on the horizon.

It was a break-out year for beer dinners. Becket’s, Dublin’s, Fratellos, Gardina’s, and O’Marro’s all staged events where beer was paired with food. Dublin’s was the leader on this front with three beer dinners in 2014.

Firkin tappings also came on strong. Dublin’s, Fratellos, Gardina’s and O’Marro’s all tapped into casks this year. Gardina’s outpaced the others with nine firkin tappings over the course of 2014.

And it was another good year for beer festivals. In March, the EAA’s Hops & Props festival sold-out, while the Brews n’ Blues festival in June saw a boost in its attendance. Barley & Hops held three of its “mini” beer fests in 2014 and for the third year in a row, Dublin’s held a well-attended craft-beer festival. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers homebrew festival in November also drew a large crowd and featured the most unique selection of beers poured in Oshkosh this year.

The Fox River Brewing Company and Fratellos
The news here was the brewery’s return to distributing its beer beyond the Fratellos restaurants. The distribution program was announced in June and coincided with the release of the Bago Brew series of beers. The first beer in this series was 2 Dams, an unfiltered blonde ale. 2 Dams was joined in the series by two rebranded beers: Caber Tossing Scottish Ale became Marble Eye; and BLÜ, their blueberry fruit beer, was renamed BLÜ Bobber.

The distribution program hasn’t yet corresponded with a spike in production at Fox River. Through October of this year, Fox River Brewing had produced 1090 barrels of beer (545 in Oshkosh / 545 in Appleton). That’s down just slightly from last year’s total through October of 1105 barrels. It’ll be interesting to see in the coming months if production begins to rise as their distribution grows. Actually, I’m surprised we aren’t seeing that already.

Fox River continued to expand it’s barrel-aging program this year releasing a number of different beers aged in wine, brandy and bourbon barrels. And at Fratellos this past July, they installed a new draught system in the restaurant portion of the complex where they also added four additional taps.

Homebrewing in Oshkosh
Perhaps the best indicator of the vibrancy of the Oshkosh beer scene is the thriving homebrewing community that exists here. Much of its vigor is fueled by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. SOB membership swelled again this year. There are now over 80 members in the club making it one of Wisconsin’s largest homebrewing clubs.

With regular public appearances this year at the Oshkosh Farmer’s Market and at charity events such as the Oshkosh Chili Cook-off, the SOBs brought homebrewing into the Oshkosh mainstream. The club’s Cask & Caskets homebrew tasting drew a crowd of more than 400 people and raised $12,000 for charity. At this year’s Brews n’ Blues festival, beers brewed by SOB members beat out more than 100 commercial beers to take the top two prizes at the event. The club also re-established its link to our local brewery this year when SOB members brewed a beer at the Fox River Brewing Company in October. It was the first time in years that Oshkosh’s homebrewers and pro brewers came together to make beer.

But the new year will find the SOBs facing a daunting challenge. In the wake of Casks & Caskets, state officials gave notice that it will now be considered a violation of Wisconsin liquor laws to serve homebrew at festivals where an admission fee is charged. How this will impact the way the club shares its beer with people in Oshkosh will become clear in 2015.

What We Lack
There are two areas where the beer community in Oshkosh is significantly underserved.

First, a single brewery is not enough. Historically, the city has been able to support multiple breweries at any given time. The time has come for Oshkosh to revive that part of its heritage. Over the past year, I’ve heard from a number of people who appear to have a strong interest in doing just that. I’ll be surprised if within the next two years there hasn’t come the announcement of a new brewery or brewpub planned for Oshkosh.

Second, we need a dedicated outlet for homebrewing supplies . NDC is fine for what it is, but for most homebrewers in Oshkosh the store is inadequate. There are a large number of advanced homebrewers here that would virtually guarantee the success of a decent homebrew shop. If it’s true that capitalism abhors a vacuum, Oshkosh will have a store dedicated to homebrewing before too long.

A Word of Thanks
I want to say thank you to everyone who has found time to visit this blog over the past year. Far and away, the best part of doing this has been the opportunity it’s given me to meet so many interesting beer lovers, publicans and brewers. That alone has made the time I pour into this site worthwhile.

There are going to be some changes here over the coming year. I’ll be writing about beer for a new Oshkosh publication that should come online by February. Some of the content that normally gets posted here will probably migrate to that site. We’ll see.

I’m looking forward to 2015. I believe it’s going to be an exciting year for all of us beer freaks here in Oshkosh. Prost!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Beer Dinner and a Free Growler at Fratellos

Fratellos in Oshkosh will end the year with a beer dinner. On New Years Eve, they’ll offer a five-course dinner, each serving paired with a different Fox River Brewing Company beer.

Tickets for the dinner are $55 and if you get them before Christmas, they’ll throw in a free growler of beer from Fox River’s Bago Brew series.

The dinner begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31. To make a reservation call (920) 232-2337.

And here’s the menu…

Course 1
Honey glazed bacon wrapped dates and cayenne almond
Paired with cask-conditioned Anniversary Red Ale

Course 2
Black and white bean soup served table side
Paired with Imperial Pilsner

Course 3
Scallop on a bed of taro root puree, Parmesan tweal and zucchini, red pepper and onion brunoise
Paired with  Abby Normal (a Belgian-style dubbel)

Course 4
Filet mignon in a pumpernickel rye marinade garnished with a buerre blanc served with napa cabbage potato puree and zucchini and carrot oblique
Paired with Buffalo Mike’s Pumpernickel Rye

Course 5
Three-layer white, dark and milk chocolate mousse
Paired with Zinful Triple (a Belgian-style strong ale aged in a red zinfandel barrel)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Twelve Beers for Christmas

The time is here to start picking beers for your Christmas cavorting. Here’s a few ideas to get you thinking about what to stuff into those beer stockings this holiday season.

The beer for when you’d rather take your dessert in liquid form.
You’ve gorged yourself on the holiday ham to the point where you’re breathing has become labored. Then out comes dessert. Another bite might cause you to reveal the contents of your gut to those assembled. You wouldn’t want that to happen. But you don’t want to miss dessert, either. In moments like this, grab a bottle of  Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout. It’s a gooey, sweet stout with booming notes of milk chocolate. Perfect for dessert. And besides, liquid foods like beer are an aid to digestion. How’d we ever allow such essential knowledge to slip from our minds?
(Available at Festival and Ski's)

The beer for when your palate needs wrecking.
Some people just can’t cook. They do it anyway. Especially during the holidays. Being the polite sort, you end up shoveling heaps of their grub into your inner being. When the deed is done, your mouth is left with a tar-like taste that could be permanent. That’s the time to crack open a bottle of Scream IIPA from New Glarus. It’s fruity hop flavors and blistering bitterness will scour that bad taste from your moth. At 9% ABV, it may even cause you to do something rash. Like going back for seconds.
(Available at Festival, Gardina's, Pick N' Save and Ski's)

The beer to share with that person who thinks your beer fixation is just an elaborate excuse to guzzle more alcohol.
Aunt Tilly isn't fooled by all your high falutin’ beer nonsense. She believes you’re nothing but a common drunk. This Christmas prove her wrong. Sit her down with a bottle of Anchor Brewing’s Saaremaa Island Ale and explain to her the art of beer. As you pour the pretty, golden ale, tell her how the brewer travelled to Estonia to capture the native yeast used to ferment this beer. Point out it’s delicate flavors of spiced apple, ripe pear and clove. Tell her about the beer’s modest strength of 6% ABV. Sink the hook by slipping her a slice of smoked gouda while she imbibes. Lay it on thick enough and you might just gain another drinking partner. A lush like you needs as many of those as possible.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for that Lite beer drinker who refuses to try anything new.
Some people will not budge. They’re the ones who sputter non-sequiturs like, “I don’t like that dark stuff, it’s too bitter!” You’ve tried to relieve them of their ignorance. Now it’s time to have some fun with it. Evil Twin’s Molotov Lite comes in a big blue can with the word “Lite” in prominent bold type. Behind the trademark infringement is a double IPA with loads of tropical-fruit hop flavors. Hand your “Lite” beer fanatic one of these. Tell them you bought it just for them. Encourage them to take a big slug. Then watch their face twist like it’s being reflected in a funhouse mirror as the bitterness darts into their jowls. Laugh uproariously at their misery. You can’t be nice all the time during the holidays. You’ll turn to mush.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for that person who’s ready to go all the way in.
You know the type. They like Spotted Cow. They buy Blue Moon from time to time. They’re ripe for your type of holiday evangelism. Preach the word by pouring them a foaming glass of Dual Artisanship, a dry-hopped saison brewed by Perennial Artisan Ales of St. Louis. The delectable pineapple flavors created by hops mingling with fruity, Brett funk aren’t over imposing, but at the same time, they aren’t exactly mild. A single glass ought to do the trick. Welcome your new initiate to the realm of good beer.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for the guests who prefer wine.
You know next to nothing about wine. But there’s wine drinkers coming over to your house for the holidays. What to get them? Beer, of course. A good lambic ought to do. Boon Kriek is a Belgian lambic fermented on cherries. It’s wine-like notes of cherry, oak and spice will be familiar to the wine-o’s palate. And the corked and caged bottle will make them feel right at home. It certainly beats the shit out of the Miller Genuine Draft they served you the last time you visited their house.
(Available at Festival)

The beer for the Untappd addict.
You’ll probably be doing time with a few of these insufferable people over the holiday. They take one sip from a beer and before it’s done dribbling off their chin, they have the phone out registering their latest taste on Untappd. It’s not the type of behavior that should be encouraged it could be fun to see them soil themselves as they flail to earn their badge after that first sip of Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12, a/k/a Black Oil. This rare beer is an Old Ale made by the Harviestoun Brewery of Scotland. It’s aged in malt whisky casks and comes in numbered bottles. It’ll please you’re anti-social, social network fanatic to no end.
(Available at Gardina's)

The beer for the road.
If you’re traveling this holiday season, you can take a jug of home with you by picking up a growler of Vanilla Vixen, Fox River Brewing’s holiday seasonal beer. This year’s Vixen is excellent and it’s probably something your out-of-town hosts haven't had before.
(Available at Fratellos)

The beer for when the celebrating is going to go on for a while.
I can’t say I’m much of a fan of the so-called “session IPA” but I guess they do have their place. As the celebrations stretch on you can give your liver a reprieve by soaking it with something a bit-less alcoholic than the traditional seasonal brews. Lagunitas Brewing’s Daytime IPA is one of the better of this ilk. It’s a good, hoppy beer with just enough mouthfeel to keep if from being watery. At 4.65% ABV you can drink this in multiples without making a complete fool of yourself. You can save that for later in the day.
(Available at Festival)

The beer for the guest who’s already had too many, yet insists on having another.
It happens, especially this time of year. One of your guests gets a little too happy and wants to be happier still. Here’s the beer for these awkward moments. John Smith's Extra Smooth is an English pale ale brewed by The Caledonian Brewery of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s just a wee thing at just 3.8% ABV, but its creamy texture (courtesy of the nitro-widget can) and light hop and caramel flavors make it seem more substantial than that. And the pint-sized can will keep your burdensome guest busy for a while. Just make sure to shoot some video while they’re in their compromised state. You’ll have fun with that with later.
(Available at Ski's)

The beer for that late-night wave of nostalgia.
When the guests have left and you want just one more as you sit quietly in the afterglow of time spent with family and friends. Anchor Brewing revived the Christmas beer tradition with the first release of their Christmas Ale in 1975. This years version is their 40th and it’s smooth spicing and toffee flavors are the perfect compliment to the season. The years go by so fast. Take some time to reflect on how lucky we are to be beer drinkers in this time and place. Years from now, people will look back on us with envy.
(Available at Ski's)

The beer for the morning after.
The hangover: it happens to the best of us. When the morning after is rougher than you anticipated it being, there’s little you can do other than ease your fall. Delirium Tremens is a Belgian strong ale, named for the extreme version of your predicament. The little pink elephants that dance on its label will make your hallucinations seem innocent. At 8.5% ABV, it’ll halt your jitters and make you feel like your old self. As your significant other mocks your sorry state, croak the words of the immortal Oscar Wilde. “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” Then try to go sleep it off.
(Available at Ski's)

Happy Holidays, beer fiends!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Last Call for The Breweries of Oshkosh

A couple years ago, Oshkosh Breweriana collector Ron Akin and myself gathered our resources and wrote a book about the history of beer and brewing in Oshkosh. The people of Oshkosh were especially kind to us and The Breweries of Oshkosh sold well. Ron kept a couple of boxes of books in reserve to sell at breweriana trade shows and now he’s releasing those remaining books to anyone who would like a copy.

The Breweries of Oshkosh, Their Rise and Fall tells the complete story of beer and brewing in Oshkosh from 1849 to the present. It’s a hardcover book printed on high-quality paper and includes more than 400 illustrations, many of them in color. Beer Cans & Brewery Collectibles Magazine says, “Readers will have no problem sticking around to the end of this entertaining book... highly recommended, and not just for Cheeseheads.” It would make a great gift for that beer and history lover in your life.

The Breweries of Oshkosh is available for $39.95 at the following locations in Oshkosh:

  • Camera Casino
  • Caramel Crisp
  • Jansen’s Restaurant
  • Originals Mall of Antiques
  • Paper Tiger Book Store
  • Star Gallery Art & Antiques
  • Or you can call (920) 233-0865 for free local delivery

This is the last call for this book and there won’t be a reprint.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Firkin Tonight at Gardina’s

It’s that time of the month... Gardina’s Beer Bar Series rolls on tonight (Tuesday, December 16) with their 15th round of rare-beer tappings. At 6 p.m. they’ll crack into a firkin of Buffalo Sweat Oatmeal Cream Stout specially prepared by Tallgrass Brewing of Manhattan, Kansas.

They’ve gone the full-on holiday-ale route with this one, conditioning the beer on blueberries, chocolate, cinnamon sticks and brown sugar. I’m fighting the urge to bore you to tears with the history of these spiced and flavored holiday ales, but I’ll spare you. If you’re feeling masochistic, you can get your fill of that gibberish HERE.

Where was I... In addition to the beer, Gardina’s will also have a special menu selection made to pair with tonight’s beer. Just ask the server. So, if you’re one of those unfortunates with a significant other who doesn’t find your beer habit endearing, you can get him/her through the door under the guise of dinner and then feign surprise at the sight of that lovely cask full of beer setting on the bar. Of course, it’ll work.

And in case you’ve yet to be initiated into the whole cask ale thing, here’s a short and informative clip that’ll show you what it’s all about.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Then and Now: Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery

Click on the image to enlarge it.
The top photograph was taken circa 1893. The photo below it was taken yesterday morning.

Seen in the top photo wearing a hat and with his arms resting on the fence is Lorenz Kuenzl, the owner and brewmaster of the Gambrinus Brewery. Standing beside him is his wife, Barbara. The home behind them also appears in the newer photo. It is located at 1225 Harney Avenue.

The older photo shows the Gambrinus Brewery along with its outbuildings, and the brewery’s stone and brick icehouse. The brewery was built by Gottlieb Ecke in 1868. Lorenz Kuenzl took over the brewery in 1875. The capacity of the brewery was approximately 20,000 barrel annually.

In 1894, Kuenzl merged the Gambrinus Brewery with Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery and John Glatz and Son’s Union Brewery to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Following the merger, brewing operations at the Gambrinus Brewery were gradually discontinued. Thereafter, the location was used primarily for bottling beer.

Most activities at the Gambrinus brewery had ceased by 1907. The brewery was vacated in 1912 after the completion of a new brewery by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. The buildings of the Gambrinus Brewery were demolished in 1914.

For more on the history of the Gambrinus Brewery visit this earlier post.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Couple of Holiday Seasonal Brews

For the December SCENE, I wrote a l-o-n-g column about the history and tradition of Christmas beers. If you’d like, you can read that HERE. Or you can pick up a physical copy at one of these places.

A pack of holiday beers are covered in that article, but as always there were a few beers that lack of space kept me from including. I thought I’d dig into a couple of those today. But first….

I want to mention that the December article will be my last for the SCENE. I’m leaving the SCENE to write for a new Oshkosh publication that will go online early next year. That’s about all I can say about that at the moment, but there’ll be more coming soon. Enough of that, let’s get to the beer…

Winter Welcome by Samuel Smith’s 
I first tried Winter Welcome in the early-1990s and at that time, it seemed like such a big, hearty thing. But in a beer world where 10% ABV ales have become commonplace, this 6% winter seasonal now seems almost quaint. Yet it still holds it’s own. Winter Welcome a true English ale, with all the fruity esters and caramel-malt notes that come to mind when you think of pub ale. It’s a mahogany colored beer with a thin, lingering head and a distinct cherry note in the aroma. The mouthfeel is creamy, the carbonation low. The beer glides over the tongue giving subtle flavors of molasses, plum and toffee. There’s a smooth bittering in the finish that’s almost wine-like in its expression. This isn’t a kick out the jams sort of beer, it’s a well-made ale that doesn’t need to beat you down to make its point. Ski’s Meat Market is selling 4-packs of Winter Welcome for $11.99.

Vixen’s Vanilla Cream Ale by Fox River Brewing
Here’s another beer I’ve been drinking for years, but this year’s version of Fox River’s traditional holiday brew is the best I can recall. I’m not a big fan of vanilla in beer, but this one works for me. Vixen’s Vanilla is a golden, semi-strong ale that comes in at 5.9% ABV. It’s spiced with Madagascar vanilla that immediately presents itself in the aroma. But on the draw that vanilla note merges with the beer’s orange zest spicing to creating a delicious, creamsicle-like flavor. The hops are virtually non-existent, but the beer finishes dry enough to keep its dessert-like sweetness in-check. This is the only time I’ve ever had a beer with vanilla in it, where I’ve craved a second glass. You can grab a glass or growler of Vixen’s Vanilla Cream Ale at Fratellos in Oshkosh.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Catching Up With Fox River Brewing

A smattering of odds and ends to pass along about Oshkosh’s Fox River Brewing Company and their modern-day tied house, Fratellos.

Eat for the Beasts Tonight
That’s an event title I just made up, so don’t hold it against anybody, but me. Anyway, here’s something real: if you drop in for dinner and a couple of beers at Fratellos tonight (Wednesday, December 10), they’ll donate 15% of your total bill to the Oshkosh Area Humane Society. The deal works from 4 p.m. until closing. All you need do is mention the Human Society to your server and that 15% will go to help the animals at OAHS. It’s a good excuse to have a couple/three extra beers with your meal. As if you need an excuse. You can peruse the Fratellos menu HERE and eyeball their current beer list is HERE.

Bago Brew Abounds
Back in June I wrote about Fox River Brewing’s plan to begin distributing their beer locally again. Well, that’s now well underway. Fox River is distributing three of their beers and if you’ve been to Fratellos recently you’ve seen the rebranding that has gone along with that. Caber Tossing Scottish Ale has been renamed Marble Eye. BLÜ, their blueberry fruit beer, is now BLÜ Bobber. Rounding out the trio of distro beers is 2 Dams, an unfiltered blonde ale that was introduced this past summer

If you take a look at where the beers are being distributed, you’ll see that the emphasis is clearly on places outside of town. I suppose that makes sense considering Fratellos remains the hub of their beer sales here. That distro list is interesting, though. It bears a distinct resemblance to the distribution pattern for Chief Oshkosh Beer in the late 1940s, early 1950s. It’s fascinating to see how these things tend to repeat themselves.

The South-Side Billboard

This went up this past fall near the corner of 14th and South Main streets. That’s right on the edge of the old brewing district where Peoples Brewing and the Oshkosh Brewing Company were once pounding out around 100,000 barrels of beer annually. Last year, Fox River Brewing produced 646 barrels of beer in Oshkosh and another 672 in Appleton. Needless to say, there’s plenty of room for growth around here.

Bowen Talks Brewing
Here’s a video interview from the Craft Conscious podcast with Fox River brewmaster Kevin Bowen where he talks about the intersection of beer and coffee. Beer isn’t the only thing Bowen has been brewing.

Anniversary Deal on Pumpernickel Rye
Back in October, I posted about the brew day the Society of Oshkosh Brewers had at Fox River Brewing. The beer is now out and Fratellos in Oshkosh is serving up a good deal on it. If you do that Facebook thing, check THIS out to get the deal. If you don’t do Facebook, just go to the bar, wish them a happy 20th birthday and they’ll hand you a free 10 oz. glass of Buffalo Mike's Pumpernickel Rye. They’ll also sell you a growler of Pumpernickel Rye for $5. Just say the words. The thing is, Fox River Brewing's 20th Anniversary isn't until next December. Hey, this isn't the first time an Oshkosh brewery got its launch date mixed up. These breweries are always in such a hurry to grow old.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Chief Oshkosh Red Lager and the Question of Heritage

By 1993, Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was being challenged on all fronts. Leinenkugel's had recently introduced a beer that co-opted the “Red Lager” brand and was using the muscle of its parent company, Miller Brewing, to squeeze the Oshkosh beer off store shelves.

Then came the flap over the name Chief Oshkosh. A Minnesota group had taken offense to the use of Native American names in association with alcohol products. In November 1993, the Milwaukee television station WITI/TV-6 aired a segment on its evening newscast profiling the dispute. In this video we’ll see Jeff Fulbright, president Mid-Coast Brewing, tell his side of the story.

This wasn’t the first time that Fulbright had heard objections about the name of his beer. This time, though, the opposition was more formidable. They were fighting to have the Chief Oshkosh brand invalidated in Minnesota, one of ten states where the beer was distributed. The effort was part of a larger push that centered around Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, made by Hornell Brewing. Those who opposed brewers using American Indian names got their way. In 1994, the Minnesota legislature enacted a statute banning the “misleading” use of such names in connection with alcohol.

The regulation was immediately challenged. In April 1995, Twin Cities Public Television’s NewsNight Minnesota aired a feature on the court case. This segment from the program shows Jeff Fulbright being interviewed at the Pioneer Inn. The video also shows the emblem of the Oshkosh Brewing Company when it was still affixed to an outer wall at the Convention Center.

The Minnesota statute would eventually be overturned, but by then the Chief Oshkosh name was no longer an issue. The last batch of  Chief Oshkosh Red Lager had been brewed in December 1994. Sales of the beer continued through the first half of 1995, but by year’s end Chief Oshkosh Red Lager gone.

For more on Mid-Coast Brewing and Chief Oshkosh Red Lager, visit this earlier post.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Warming Quartet

The December solstice approaches. Nights are growing colder and longer. You’ll need beer that can take the chill from your bones. Here we have four brews currently available in Oshkosh that’ll thermalize your inner being. We’ll start with the beer brewed closest to home and branch out from there. Let's go...

Brewer's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout by Central Waters Brewing
Yesterday, I ran into two people at different times of the day who told me just about the same thing: this year’s Bourbon Barrel Stout from Central Waters may be the brewery’s best. Black and full bodied, the beer brings together notes of bourbon and vanilla over a base of roast and mocha-like malt flavors. As I sat with the beer it reminded me more and more of a bourbon-dosed dessert cake with a layer of thick icing. The beer is somewhere north of 9% ABV, but its booziness works well with its more lush aspects. Wickedly complex, the beer’s varying elements coalesce into something phenomenal. Get this. Four packs of Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout are available at Gardina’s for $13.99

Big Slick Stout by Ale Asylum
Ale Asylum has been brewing Big Slick for years, but this fall was the first time they’ve bottled it. I’d always heard good things about it, but had never had the chance to try it until it hit the shelves at Festival Foods a couple weeks back. It’s as good as I heard it was. Every bit as black as you’d expect it to be, the beer sends up a gush of coffee and roast-malt aromas. The roast part of it comes off almost as ashy, which may not sound especially pleasant, but it is. The mouth is smooth and creamy with a bitter/sweet suggestion of powdered cocoa and caramel flavors. This one clocks in at 7% ABV. Festival Foods in Oshkosh is selling it in 6-packs for $9.99.

3X Mild Ale by Summit Brewing
Don’t let the name fool you. What has come to be known as “mild ale” is a wispy, dark shadow of the beers that were once part of this category. The 19th century milds – and there were a number of different types of mild – were robust and generously hopped. Summit’s 3X Mild takes its cue from those earlier styles of mild.

The almost exaggerated malt flavor and aroma of 3X immediately won me over. It’s all caramel, molasses and toast. Perfectly lovely. The beer features an experimental American hop currently known as Experimental 06300 that’s supposed to give off a chocolate note, but that was lost on me. This is an unabashedly sweet beer with just a touch of bitterness enveloped by malt. It’s 7.2% ABV, but you’d never guess it. A delicious beer. Gardina’s has it in 6-packs for $9.99. If you don’t see it on the shelf, ask for it. Also, look for Gardina’s to bring this in on draught in the near future.

Alaskan Smoked Porter by Alaskan Brewing Company
This beer is a longtime favorite of mine, so I was happy to spot it the other day at Ski’s. Like the name says, this is a smoked porter and the beer represents the best of both parts of its title. The smoke shows itself at every point; from the aroma through the lingering finish. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s not reserved either. It’s just solidly there with a flavorful, savory meatiness that’s wonderful. But what makes the beer work is that at its base is an excellent porter. It has a creamy mouthfeel that delivers a balance of malt flavors with hints of toffee, raisin and char. I’ve had this beer countless times and it never fails to impress. At 6.5% ABV it’s warming without being overwhelming. Alaskan Smoked Porter is available at Ski’s in Oshkosh in 22oz bombers for $10.99.

Have a great weekend and stay warm. Prost!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tonight’s Beer Sampling at Barley’s Canceled

Just like the title says: the Barley & Hops beer sampling that had been scheduled for tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 3) has been called off. It also appears that the Barley’s sampling scheduled for February 4 will not happen either. However, Nate at Barley’s is saying that the sampling scheduled for April 1 will go ahead as planned. I guess we’ll see when the time comes. At this point, there’s little being said about the the abrupt cancellations.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hinterland Beer Dinner at Dublin's

The eating season is officially underway. And you can scratch that gastro itch on Wednesday evening at Dublin’s Irish Pub with a dinner featuring the beers of Green Bay’s Hinterland Brewery.

Ian and Zach at Dublin’s have worked up another good looking spread. Here’s their set list.

Course 1  
Herb and artichoke spread with French bread and bresaola
Paired with Packerland Pilsner

Course 2  
Coconut-brined swordfish with galangal curry sauce
Paired with Hinterland Saison

Course 3
Sprout salad with pomegranate, ginger and white-out vinaigrette
Paired with White Out Imperial IPA

Course 4
Sirloin tips with apple cider brandy sauce
Paired with Bourbon Barrel Doppelbock

Course 5
Vanilla ice cream with Jägermeister mint sauce.
Paired with Lunatic Imperial Stout

The five-course meal begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 3. Single tickets are $35 or $60 for two. Stop in at the pub to reserve your seat.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Chief Oshkosh Red Lager Billboards

In the summer of 1991, a beer with a familiar name began appearing around Oshkosh. Chief Oshkosh Red Lager shared no direct connection to the Chief Oshkosh Beer that had been produced by the Oshkosh Brewing Company for nearly 40 years until 1971, but the well-known name made the new beer immediately recognizable to almost everyone in the Oshkosh area. For many of them, their first brush with the new Chief Oshkosh came via a series of billboards featuring a booming declaration of an “Indian Uprising.”

Click to enlarge
Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was produced by Mid-Coast Brewing from 1991 to 1994. The company was based in Oshkosh and brewed its beer on contract at the Stevens Point Brewery. Jeff Fulbright was the president and brewmaster of Mid-Coast. His duties didn’t end there. He generally did everything that needed to be done. That included developing the brewery’s advertising campaigns.

“This was the introduction,” says Fulbright. “I was trying to do a full-blown roll out and have all the media happen at once. I couldn’t afford television advertising, so these billboards were the next best option. I had an advertising company I was working with at the time, but I knew what I wanted and they executed the idea I gave them.”

His concept was blunt. Just a couple of words set in bold type alongside imagery loaded with meaning. Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was the first American craft beer sold in cans and Fulbright knew he needed to dispel the stereotype that canned beer was inferior. The centerpiece of the billboard showed a can of Chief Oshkosh rising up phoenix-like from a pile of smashed beer bottles. The broken bottles bear the labels of what were at the time premium brands: Moosehead, Special Export, Michelob, Killian’s Red, Löwenbräu, and Heineken.

“The subliminal thing here is that we have something better than bottles,” says Fulbright. “I was selling a premium beer in a can.  I was trying to convince people that premium beer could be in a can.”

The imagery was impactful, but what caused a stir were the two words, Indian Uprising. Five billboards went up in the Oshkosh area, four of them along Highway 41 and the other near downtown at the corner of N. Main and Irving. Almost immediately, Fulbright began getting complaints. “Those words pissed some people off,” says Fulbright. “These people were all upset. I even got letters from a priest of some sort. But the only people who contacted me were white people. That's the sworn truth. No Native Americans complained about it.”

Fulbright concedes, though, that the words were more provocative than he intended them to be. “My idea was to suggest that this was the return of Chief Oshkosh,” says Fulbright. “It's the wording that made it edgy. Had I thought about it more I might not have gone along with it.”

After the initial response, Fulbright sought to make his intentions clear. “I contacted the representative body for the heirs to the original Chief Oshkosh,” he says. “I was extending an olive branch and a semi-apology just to say there was nothing offensive intended. If I remember correctly, they told me there wasn't an issue and that they didn't really want to go into it.”

The issue died down soon enough, but it wouldn’t be Fulbright’s last scrape with those who took offense to the use of Native American names and imagery associated with alcohol. In 1994, another flair up would occur. If all goes well, I’ll have more on that next Monday along with some interesting video from the period. Until then, there’s much more about Chief Oshkosh Red Lager here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Short Pours

Here’s a few items that’ve been floating around the Oshkosh beer-o-sphere as of late. I need to make this quick, so let’s get right to it.

Casks & Cash
If you were at the Society of Oshkosh Brewers’ Casks & Caskets festival on November 1, then you already know what a great time it was. But that good time was also in support of a good cause. The SOBs announced last week that once the dust settles, the club expects to donate in the neighborhood of $12,000 to the Oshkosh Hunger Task Force. The SOBs were aiming to raise $10,000 for the charity this year. They’ll easily beat their goal. Don’t let anybody tell you that drinking beer doesn’t pay.

Antiques for Beer Freaks
I was loitering around in a couple of local antique shops last week and was surprised by how much Oshkosh-based beer memorabilia these places had on hand. Both Folklore and Originals Mall of Antiques have quite a bit of locally sourced breweriana. Most of it’s from the Oshkosh Brewing Company and Peoples Brewing. If you have a beer lover/history freak on your gift list, these might be the places to start looking. Be forewarned, though, some of these items get expensive. For example, the 6-pack of Chief Oshkosh stubbies pictured here was found at Folklore with an $80 price tag hanging from it. At least the bottles are full! Wouldn’t you love to know what the beer inside those bottles tastes like?

The Re-vamped Varsity Club
The Varsity Club on N. Main went through a fairly thorough renovation this past summer/fall. If you haven’t checked the place out in a while, you might want to now. In addition to the remodel, they’ve  added 10 more tap lines bringing their total to 16. Aside from the couple of light beers they have on tap, the rest of the line-up leans heavily towards the craft side of things. I was there recently and had a Luna Coffee Stout from Hinterland and the IPL from Leinenkugel’s. Both beers tasted fresh and clean. Obviously, they’re caring for their draught lines. The beer was served a little too cold for me, but patience fixes that. It’s great seeing more taverns in Oshkosh getting wise to the fact that good beer brings people through the door.

Clark Pitching the Fifth Ward Brewing Co.
The Fifth Ward Brewery
Fellow SOB and UW Oshkosh student Zach Clark took second place and won $500 in the school’s fourth annual Pitch Contest. His pitch: The Fifth Ward Brewing Company. Sound familiar? It should. Cool seeing a young guy referencing an Oshkosh brewery that went out of business more than 100 years before he was born. But Zach is a sharp guy. I first met him a couple years ago when he and his brewing cohort, Ian Wenger, joined the SOBs. You might also be familiar with them. Clark and Wenger are the guys who plan and prepare the menus for the beer dinners at Dublin’s. Remember those names. I think we’ll be hearing more form them in the future.

The Ongoing Decline of the Festival Foods Beer Aisle
Have you noticed it? The main beer cooler is becoming more and more a showplace for AB/InBev product. About 2/3 of the open cooler that comprises the largest portion of their premium beer space has been swallowed up by imported macro-swill such as Corona, Labatt’s, Stella... all the usual big-beer bummers. Meanwhile, the domestic craft beer gets pinched into a narrow section at the end of the cooler or booted onto warm shelves at the opposite end of the aisle. Quite the vision they’re developing over there. Just another reason to do more of your beer shopping at Gardina’s and Ski’s.

Damn, there was more I wanted to throw in here, but I gotta run. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Case of Peoples Beer for Thanksgiving

Click to enlarge image
I haven’t put up an Oshkosh beer ad in a while. Time to fix that.

This bit of hype appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on Tuesday, November 26, 1935. Thanksgiving was two days away. In a state of high anticipation, comes this well-fed fellow with beer in hand urging Oshkoshers to, “Let the Peoples Brewing Co. play a part in making the Thanksgiving celebration a success.” I like the line below that one encouraging imbibers to “find a new thrill in drinking beer.” What’s wrong, the old thrill wasn’t good enough? Maybe I’m simple, but it still works for me.

What’s slightly odd about this ad is that the name of the beer is never mentioned. In 1935, Peoples flagship beer was named Würtzer Brew. You wouldn’t know that from reading this ad. I wonder if the folks at Peoples were already starting to feel anxious about using such an explicitly German name for their beer. By the fall of 1935, the Nazis had adopted the swastika and introduced the Nuremberg Laws limiting the civil rights of German Jews. Not the kind of thing an American brewery would want to hitch its wagon to. Of course, it would only get worse. And by 1945, Peoples had abandoned the Würtzer name altogether. From that point onward, the brewery simply referred to it as Peoples Beer.

On a friendlier note, we see that Sitter’s Beverage Company is mentioned at the bottom of the ad. Sitter’s Beverage was located on the north side of Harney Ave. near the corner of Harney and Eveline streets. The Sitter family had been involved with the beer business in Oshkosh since the 1880s when John Sitter was the bottler of beer for Lorenz Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery. Later, Sitter bottled beer for the Oshkosh Brewing Company. As the breweries gradually took all of their bottling business in-house, Sitter turned to distributing beer. Some day I’m going to have to dig deeper into the Sitter story. I’ll bet there’s some interesting stuff waiting there.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Couple of Beers From Our Old Friends at Lakefront Brewery

Jim Klisch, the co-founder of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, has been romping around up here in Oshkosh recently. He was in town for the Beckets beer dinner last week and was here again on Tuesday for the firkin at Gardina’s.

It’s kind of like old times. Lakefront was among the first microbreweries to bring their beer regularly to Oshkosh. Soon after the brewery opened in 1987, Lakefront beers were going on tap at Oblio’s. At that time, Lakefront was doing their own distribution. Sometimes one of the Klisch brothers would haul the beer up to Oshkosh; other times Todd Cummings or Mark Schultz from Oblio’s would run down to Milwaukee for the beer. We were lucky to get it. In its first full year of operation Lakefront brewed just 89 barrels of beer.

That, of course, has changed dramatically. Last year, Lakefront produced over 33,000 barrels and now distributes its beer in 35 states as well as Canada and Israel. With all that growth, it’s good to see we’re still getting the personal touch in Oshkosh. Here’s a couple of Lakefront brews that’ll go along nicely with our early winter...

Holiday Spice Lager Beer
First brewed in either 1991 or 1992 (I’ve been given conflicting dates from the brewery) the pet name for this beer at Lakefront used to be Holiday Rocket Fuel. The picture here is of the first label for the beer, which they printed at a local copy shop and then applied by hand to each bottle. The label has since been dressed up considerably (personally, I’d like to see the old one revived), but the beer inside is as potent as ever. At 9.4% ABV this is a winter warmer if ever there was one. Holiday Spice is a ruby colored beer with a rich aroma that reminds me of a Christmas fruitcake made with a shot or two of booze. It smells delicious. The beer is brewed with a substantial amount of honey and spiced with cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg and orange peel. The flavor veers towards that fruitier side, somewhat like a doppelbock with spices. The spices and honey are all prevalent, but mellow enough to merge well with the booziness of the beer that comes up in the finish. The mouthfeel is full and lush. Take a couple of these this weekend as you’re freezing your ass off.

Eastside Dark
This has long been a favorite of mine. It’s a simple, flavorful, dark lager that you can drink several of without getting bored, burned out or bombed. Since 1992, this beer has been raking in awards. In 2011, a beer panel assembled by the New York Times picked it as the second best dark lager among a selection of 20  beers of the style from both Europe and America. And just a couple weeks ago, Eastside Dark won gold in the Bohemian-Style Schwarzbier category at the prestigious European Beer Star competition in Germany.

This is a dark beer a few shades short of black that pours under a tan lid of thick foam. Its malty aroma bounces between biscuits and nuts with a wisp of coffee in there, too. The beer is wonderfully quafable with subdued notes of chocolate, coffee and bread crust, none of which are even close to being overbearing even after several glasses. There’s a slight tang from the hops that finishes the beer and urges you to return the glass to your mouth. This is a tasty, easy drinking beer.

Both of these Lakefront beers are easy to come by in Oshkosh, Ski’s Meat Market, Festival Foods, and the Pick n’ Save stores being solid bets. Holiday Spice is sold in 4-packs, Eastside Dark in sixers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Firkin Tapping Tonight at Gardina’s

Here we go, beer freaks: there’s going to be a cask tapping at 6 p.m. this evening (Tuesday) at Gardina’s in the heart of beautiful Downtown Oshkosh. This time they’ll tap a one-off cask of Lakefront Brewery’s Fuel Cafe Stout that’s been resting on raw coconut and milk sugar to create something wonderful.

On hand for the tapping will be Lakefront Brewery’s co-founder Jim Klisch, who launched the brewery with his brother Russ way the hell back in 1987. Jim is a very personable, approachable fellow, so don’t be shy about saying hello (or congratulating him on the gold medal Lakefront just won for its Eastside Dark at the 2014 European Beer Star competition).

See you tonight at Gardina’s!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Then and Now: The Oshkosh Brewing Company

Click the image for a better view.

The top photo shows the Oshkosh Brewing Company, ca 1915.
The photo beneath it was taken yesterday at the same location: the east side of Doty St. south of 16th Ave.

The tall building in the forefront was the brewery of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Construction of the brewery began in 1911 and was completed in 1912. The Oshkosh Brewing Company closed in 1971. The brewery was demolished in 1986.

The building in the background was built in 1879. A portion of that building remains. It had formerly been Horn and Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery. It became part of the Oshkosh Brewing Company when the business was incorporated in 1894. After completion of the new brewery in 1912, the older building was converted into a bottling plant and offices.

For more on the Oshkosh Brewing Company and the history of beer and brewing in Oshkosh, visit the Oshkosh Beer Timeline.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dogfish Head Tap Takeover Tonight at Dublin's

A quick note about tonight’s Dogfish Head tap takeover at Dublin’s. The takeover runs from 5-7 p.m. They’ll have six different DFH beers pouring, most notably the ever elusive 120 Minute IPA. Here’s the full rundown:
• 120 Minute IPA
• 90 Minute IPA
• Palo Santo Marron
• Sixty-one
• Burton Baton
• India Brown Ale
Dillon Beyer, a regional sales manager for DFH in Wisconsin, will be on hand doing the sort of things regional sales manager do. Get it while you can, beer freaks!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Couple Ways to Have Fun With Your Mouth This Weekend in Oshkosh

I planned on putting something else up here today. Then I ran into a couple of beers that blew that crap out of the water. Get a load of these...

Bière de Seigle by Door County Brewing
Here’s an edgy saison out of sleepy Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin. Actually, while the beer this brewery sells on draught at its tap house is made at its Baileys Harbor brewery, its bottled product is brewed and packaged (using part of the old Peoples bottling line) in Black River Falls at Sand Creek Brewing. Makes sense? Don’t worry about it, this here is an excellent beer. But it took me a few gulps to realize that.

This is not a smooth beer. Its flavors are aggressive and penetrating. It’s a typically cloudy, straw colored, farmhouse ale with a rocky, white head and a yeasty aroma that’s peppery and sharp. And it goes wild in your mouth. The beer presents a wide range of flavors: ginger, honey, grapefruit rind, bubblegum, vinyl, lemon... Does any of that sound good together? You’d be surprised. There’s also an assertive hop bite to it that comes together in a good way with the spicy character of the yeast and the sharpness of the rye malt used here. There’s nothing mellow about this beer, but it’s insistence is wonderful. It took me half a bottle to get the hang of it. By the end, I liked it so much I had to immediately open another. Imagine my delight when I discovered it was 7% ABV.

Door County Brewing’s Bière de Seigle is being sold in 4-packs at Ski's Meat Market in downtown Oshkosh. Price: $7.99.

Twelve-Dog Imperial Stout by Black Husky Brewing
Black Husky Brewing out of rural Pembine, Wisconsin might be my favorite small, Wisconsin brewery. Everything I try from them seems to shine. And thanks to Adam at Gardina’s, Oshkosh is one of the few spots in the state that gets a consistent flow of Black Husky beer. If you’ve yet to get wise to this brewery, this nearly 9% imperial stout would be a great way to get acquainted.

It pours pitch black under a relentless cap of frosting-like foam that’s deep tan. The aroma and flavor are perfectly in tune, the one matching the other note for note. Dark chocolate, sweet caramel, coffee and roast all come swirling together. The mouthfeel is lush, almost slick, and coating. For all of it’s rich flavor, though, the beer is not over imposing. That’s the art of this thing. Too many American craft brewers like to ratchet up this style of beer to a point where it becomes an obnoxious muck in your mouth. None of that here. This stout lacks nothing when it comes to flavor while maintaining a balance that keeps it from being overbearing. It’s a great beer, especially for this time of year.

Black Husky’s Twelve-Dog Imperial Stout is available in 22oz bombers at Gardina’s in Oshkosh. Price: $10.99

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Beer Dinner at Becket's

I should have had this up here earlier, but it’s still not too late to claim a seat at the beer dinner happening at Becket’s tomorrow night (Wednesday, November 12).

The five-course dinner begins at 6:00 p.m. with each course paired with a different beer from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery. Becket’s Chef Mike Buckarma and Lakefront Co-Founder Jim Klisch will be on hand to host the event and give you the ins and outs about what’s on your plate and in your glass.

The menu looks delicious:
• Lamb Chimichurri Salad
• Harvest Squash Soup
• Fresh Skate Wing
• Cornish Game Hen
• Tiramisu with Cinnamon-Almond Ice Cream

Tickets for the dinner are $50. You can pick them up at Becket’s or by clicking HERE.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beer Can Collecting in 1970s Oshkosh

If you were a Wisconsin kid growing up in the 1970s, there’s a good chance you had a beer can collection. And if you did, your bible may have been the slim volume written by an Oshkosh school teacher named James Gropp. Published in 1974, Gropp’s Beer Can Collector's Handbook helped fuel the American beer-can collecting craze of the 1970s.

Gropp was a seventh grade science teacher at Webster Stanley Middle School in Oshkosh. He had been introduced to beer can collecting by his son Jeff and was urged along by Clarence Dallman, a fellow collector and Oshkosh science teacher. By the early 1970s, beer can collecting – especially among young boys – had become immensely popular in Oshkosh. Beer can clubs had formed at Merrill, Perry Tipler and Webster Stanley Middle Schools. The book Gropp began working on would become the ideal primer for the young collectors he encountered every day.

It took Gropp six months to complete the book. He began by compiling a list of extant breweries. He wrote letters to state officials requesting information on breweries and the brands they produced. From the Federal Government he obtained a list of breweries authorized to operate as of July 1, 1974. That list, fleshed out with information he received from individual breweries and other collectors, formed the basis for Gropp’s book.

Beer Can Collector's Handbook wasn’t the first book about beer can collecting, but it was unlike other books on the subject. Its most salient feature was its focus on American breweries that were still in business. Other beer can guides were more concerned with rare cans, the most valuable of which had been issued by breweries that had closed sometimes decades earlier. Gropp’s emphasis on the cans of existing breweries made the hobby accessible to younger people without the resources to take part in what could otherwise be a very expensive pursuit. For Gropp, this was a main point. He said that the nearly 400 cans in the collection he and his son built cost them less than $10. The book’s cover price of $1 was in-tune with that theme.

James Gropp and his son Jeff in 1975
Gropp’s handbook could not have been more unassuming. Sold in small shops, liquor stores and taverns, it was just 32 pages long with a simple, card-stock cover. After a brief introduction, the book amounted to a series of lists of American breweries and their current line-up of 12 oz beer cans. At the time, there were just 117 U.S. breweries in operation. Perhaps to keep the book from being too thin, Gropp gives several breweries multiple entries. For example, Schlitz Brewing, which then had breweries in seven states, is listed seven times with the same three beer cans – Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, and Schlitz Malt Liquor – under each entry.

Looking back on it today, Beer Can Collector's Handbook is a bleak snapshot of the American brewing industry as it was approaching a low point. Big, national breweries were in the process of eviscerating regional brewers. Within a decade of the release of Gropp’s handbook, the deed was done. By 1983 there were just 51 brewing companies operating in the United States with more than 90% of all beer being produced by the six largest.  

But at the time, Gropp’s book appeared to be anything but discouraging. At least it wasn’t for me. It was the first beer book that I ever bought. I was all of ten years old. I poured over it compulsively; to the point where I could rattle off which brewery produced any of the hundreds of cans listed inside. More importantly, Gropp’s book was inspiring. It roused me and my friends to learn the art of dump scouring. I spent hours digging through dumps with that beat up handbook shoved into my back pocket.

Today, a book like Gropp’s would be nearly impossible. With so many small breweries opting to package their beer in cans, such a book would be out of date before the print dried. And it’s doubtful that a teacher today would be comfortable involving kids in a hobby that has anything to do with beer, much less encouraging them to bring their empty beer cans to school. In some ways, it really was a simpler time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Beer From Here & Faraway

We’re flirting with winter, but the beer scene isn’t cooling down any. There are a lot of interesting choices to explore this weekend in Oshkosh. We’ll start with some local brew and head out from there...

Buffalo Mike’s Pumpernickel Rye @ Fratello’s in Oshkosh
Now this is truly an Oshkosh beer. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers teamed-up with Oshkosh’s Fox River Brewing Company to brew this ale. Oshkosh homebrewer Mike Engel supplied the recipe and Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at FRBC, directed the brew day. If you dig rye bread, get in on this one. This beer is always a hit at local beer fests. I’m looking forward to trying it off the big system.

Fox River Brewing Company Barrel-Aged Beers
I had heard that a few barrel-aged beers were on the way from FRBC, but didn’t realize the scope of what they had in the works. This stopped me in my tracks. We have five, new barrel-aged beers to pick from. They’re packed in bombers and you can grab them at either Gardina’s (nice to see a local shop carrying local beer) or at Fratellos. Here’s the list...

Zinful Triple. A 10% ABV golden strong ale aged in a red zinfandel barrel.
Zinful Abbey. FRBC’s Belgian dubbel aged in a red zinfandel barrel.
'Merican Beauty. A Scottish ale aged in a Four Roses Bourbon barrel.
Bohemian Rap. A Scottish ale aged in a Korbel Brandy barrel.
Barrel Brothers. A blend of Fox River’s bourbon and brandy barrel aged Scottish ales.

Where to start? I’ll eventually dip into all of them, but I think my first couple picks are going to be the 'Merican Beauty and the Barrel Brothers. I may not get much done this weekend.

Central Waters Headless Heron
Head to either Gardina’s or Ski’s for bombers of this beer. It’s an 8.5% ABV bourbon-barrel aged beer dosed with pumpkin pie spicing. Consider taking it in with a few gingerbread cookies as a satisfying finish to a weekend feast.

Dos Deschutes Brews
Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon began flowing a limited selection of their beer into Oshkosh last July. Just now we’re starting to see a wider sampling of their wares. Here’s two more Deschutes Brews now available at Gardina’s.

Chasin' Freshies 2014 is a wet-hopped, 7.4% IPA. This year, the hop of choice is mosaic. Here’s the brewery’s hype: “At harvest, we rush the hops from the vine to our kettles to ensure we capture the purest, juiciest essence of the hop flower in every beer.” That either moved your soul or you’re not a hop head.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout. Consistently chosen as one of the world’s best stouts, this beer is legendary. It’s rare you see a beer that’s just 6.4% ABV gain this sort of reputation. Chocolate and roast notes predominate. The creamy mouthfeel leads to an easy, dry finish. At some point in your life, you ought to try this beer.

AleSmith Decadence 2014 Wheat Wine
Ski’s is selling this in foil-wrapped bombers. An incredibly rich, 10% ABV ale that’s meant for sharing. It’s sweet and full bodied with loads of caramel and dark fruit notes. If you’re the patient type, consider picking one of these up and cellaring it for a year.

Germans at Gardina’s
Adam at Gardina’s has recently brought in a number of excellent German imports. A couple of them have blown me away.

Sünner Kölsch. An appellation of the specialty ales brewed in Cologne, Germany, Kölsch beers are pale, light-bodied ales.
Sünner is one of the classic examples of the style. Light gold with a big, pillow-like head, it’s slightly fruity and dry with a beautiful nobel hop aroma. A subtle and great beer.

Julius Echter Hefe-Weissbier Dunkel. A perfect, dark wheat beer. Hazy and deep, deep red, its caramel and banana notes (produced by the yeast) create an absolutely delicious combination of flavors. I could drink this beer every day and never tire of it.

There’s more I’d like to include, but I’m out of time. I just noticed something that I want to point out, though. I didn’t once mention the big-box, corporate stores that, until recently, have dominated the retail beer market here. It just worked out that way. The game has moved beyond those places. The local option has grown significantly in Oshkosh. I’m liking that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Casks & Caskets Recap

Over 400 people, many of them draped in Halloween finery, gathered at the Oshkosh Convention Center last Saturday night to drink homebrewed beer, cider, mead and wine. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers Casks & Caskets Homebrew Event for Charity was a smashing success and a wicked good time. Here's 80 seconds of visual proof...

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Roots of Oblio's – A Photo Tour

The November Oshkosh SCENE will be out this week and available all over town. Inside you’ll find my Oshkosh Beer Garden column. This month, I wrote about Oblio’s Lounge and its incredible lineage (you can also read the article online).

There were a lot of pictures I couldn’t include with article due to space limitations. I thought we’d take a look at them here. As always, click the pictures to enlarge them. We’ll start with the oldest photo of the place that I know of...

Circa 1887
What is now Oblio’s started out as the saloon of Charles Maulick. He launched the Schlitz Beer Hall there in 1885, shortly after construction of the building had been completed. You can see Maulick’s sign at the upper right hand corner of the photo.

Here’s a detail of the Schlitz Beer Hall Sign. Wouldn’t you love to know what became of that?

This is what the main barroom of Oblio’s looked like in the early 1900s when the English Kitchen resided there. The Schlitz Beer Hall occupied the southern half of the space with the English Kitchen taking the north portion. The English Kitchen was an “up-to-date restaurant and lunch room... open day and night... luncheon after the theatre and dancing parties our specialty. Best 25 cent dinner in the city.”

This is a postcard with a view looking south down Main. At the extreme left you’ll see what is now 432-434 N. Main Street, where Oblio’s now lives. But at this point the place was vacant. Though there had been a speakeasy operating at the address after Prohibition began in 1920, things dried up after a raid there. Notice how there are no tavern signs. Just doesn’t seem like Oshkosh.

The 1940s
Prohibition was repealed in 1933 and by 1937 there was once again a bar at 434 N. Main Street. The tavern was named John Brown’s Bar. The first picture here shows its proprietor. John Konstantine Kuchubas. This photo still hangs in Oblio’s. Following that is a color photo from from 1946 and a black and white from 1948. Look closely and you’ll see the Schlitz sign hanging over the door of Kuchubas’ bar.

Here’s a portion of a map of downtown showing businesses and property owners. I’ve highlighted 432-434 N. Main Street in white. Look behind the property and notice that what is now a parking lot was once filled with buildings. When you walked out the back door of the tavern, you found yourself in an alley way. Also notice that Schlitz Brewing Co. is listed as the owner. Schlitz purchased the building in 1886 and would own it until 1972. Over the past 130 years, the building has had just four owners.

The Schlitz sign is still there, but the tavern is now named The Overflow. The southern portion of the building is taken by an auto supply store. You know that garage door that opens onto the patio behind Oblio’s? That wasn’t installed as an urban show piece. It was once the entrance to a functioning garage.

An ad from the Oshkosh Advance Titan for Elfies (I’ve seen other ads where it’s spelled Alfi’s, take your pick). A year later the bar would be sold and renamed Oblio’s Lounge.

I wish this one were more in focus, but you get the point. This shows Mark Schultz (left) and Todd Cummings holding yard glasses of beer. Schultz and Cummings took over the bar in 1979. Notice all the craft and imported beers on tap. This is a rare glimpse at the beginnings of craft beer in Oshkosh.

Rudy’s Shoe Rebuilders was then occupying the south half of the building. When Rudy’s closed in 2005, Cummings and Schultz remolded the space and made it part of Oblio’s.

Schlitz returns to Oblio’s. Todd Cummings is on the left, Mark Schultz wears a baseball cap.

Joe Couillard, an Oblio’s regular, mounts an Oshkosh Landmarks Commission plaque on the face of the building while Todd Cummings takes a photograph.

Last night about 4:30 p.m. The old place looks as inviting as ever...