Thursday, February 27, 2014

Warm Up to a Couple of Hearty Lagers

There’s going to come a warm day in spring when you’ll look back upon this grinding, grueling winter and be amazed at how suddenly it ended. But while you wait for that, there’s comfort in these:

Schell's Bock by August Schell Brewing, New Ulm, MN.
I didn’t see it coming, but I’ve come to love this brewery. Everything I’ve picked up from them over the past year or so has been outstanding. When it comes to traditional styles of German beer, Aug. Schell does exceedingly well and with this one they shine. Schell’s Bock stands firmly in the Traditional Bock camp. It’s a dark lager that piles into the glass with a ruby glow and a thin, tan foam. The aroma and flavor are equivalent. It’s all malt and toasty melanoidans with notes of cherry and plum poking through. The hops bring a balancing bitterness and do nothing else; which is how it ought to be with a beer like this. Full bodied and warming, the beer seems stronger than its 6.1% ABV due to its richness. Just an excellent example of the style. If you lust for the maltier side of life, this beer will reach your itch. You can find Schell’s Bock at Festival Foods and the north side Pick 'n Save in Oshkosh.

2 x 4 Imperial Pilsner by Fox River Brewing Company, Oshkosh, WI.
Kevin Bowen, the brewmaster at Fox River Brewing, describes this golden lager as, “A double/high alcohol version of our Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner,” hence the 2 x 4 in the title. Essentially we’re heading into Maibock territory here... then shooting straight through it to something bigger yet. This lager is large. At 8% ABV and 50 IBUs it gives you plenty to chew on. It pours honey-gold with a lacy, white froth. The initial whiff delivers sweet malt and clover honey. There’s a slight, noble-hop aroma in there, too, but it’s fairly buried in malt. The first thought I had upon taking a long draw was of crackers and honey. It’s a coating, lush beer... in the beginning. Then the bitterness kicks in. It slowly builds and mops up the residual sugars making the beer seem especially crisp. This is what lager beer is all about! As of Wednesday afternoon, 2 x 4 was being sold in 12 oz. bottles at Fratellos in Oshkosh, but it shouldn’t be long before the beer goes on tap here. I’m looking forward to that.

Update: Just received word that Fratellos in Oshkosh now has 2 x 4 on draught. A couple of other new beers also went on. Here’s the full list.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hops and Props 2014

The EAA’s annual Hops and Props beer tasting is coming Saturday, March 8 from 7-10 p.m. If you were planning on attending you’ll want to get moving on that ticket purchase. The VIP dinner is sold out, but tickets for the general tasting still remain.

This isn’t a cheap date. Tickets for the tasting are a hefty $75 if you’re not an EAA member. Compare that to the $50 ticket of something like the Great Taste of the Midwest, probably the premier beer tasting in Wisconsin, and you might wonder if it’s worth it. I guess that depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re strictly about the beer, that $75 price tag might cause you to pause. The beer line-up is above average, but most of what you’ll find there you’ll have seen before. Hops and Props does come with a couple amenities, though, that make it distinct.

The ticket includes music from four different bands, a large buffet of snacks – this year provided by the Machine Shed of Appleton – and it gets you into the AirVenture Museum, which charges a $12.50 admission any other day. It’s that museum atmosphere that sets Hops and Props apart. Drinking good beer among all that incredible machinery is a unique experience.

Here’s a set of links to all the vital info:
• There’s a downloadable PDF that includes the beer list HERE.
• More info on the event, the music and the rest is HERE.
• And tickets can be purchased online HERE.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Back to the 1890s for more saloon-sourced mayhem. Here’s another cute episode from another of William Koch’s rowdy saloons. The action occurred in a short-lived dive that was located near the corner of Pearl and Market streets where the downtown bus depot now resides. It was front page news for the Daily Northwestern of Monday, April 10, 1899.
In a saloon brawl on Pearl street, last night, a young man named Will Bormann received a dash of carbolic acid in the face, thrown by an angry half-breed squaw. It appears that the saloon had been the scene of a fistic encounter between two pugilists a short time before in which the woman was involved in some way. Later she appeared with a hat pin and succeeded in having things her own way for awhile. The affair seemed to be cooling down somewhat when Will Bormann, who keeps a saloon with his father on lower Main street, entered with a friend and bought a glass of beer. They heard the jangling and waited to hear more. The woman suddenly produced a bottle containing carbolic acid and in throwing it about, Bormann received a splash In the face. He hurried to a basin of water and washed the burning fluid off before it damaged his face to any great extent. A reporter visited Mr. Bormann this afternoon. He told substantially the story as above. His face is blistered, but fortunately his eyes were uninjured. He says the affair occurred in the saloon kept by William Koch at 58 Pearl street. It was impossible to learn the name of tho woman who threw the acid.
Violence, casual racism, alcohol fueled chaos... just the sort of drama Monday evening newspaper readers were looking for from good, old Oshkosh.

Bormann's Old Stand
Bormann, who was 30 years old at the time of the incident, was no stranger to rough fun. A number of stories popped up in the Daily Northwestern during this period featuring his exploits. The tales range from assault and battery to selling beer at his saloon after closing time. In 1913, he even managed to get fined $2 for spicing his talk with “abusive and indecent language.” Sounds like an interesting fellow.

By the way, the saloon Bormann operated, first with his father, Henry, and then with his brother Gustave, later came to be known as the Wharf. A few of you might remember that joint. It was located on Main St. where the City Center Hotel now stands. It’s all gone now, but I can’t drive past that corner without thinking of good-time Bormann and his acid-scarred face.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Worlds Collide: A Couple of Hybrid Beers to Drink This Weekend in Oshkosh

Let’s taste a couple of recent arrivals to the Oshkosh scene that merge contrasting beer styles into a single thread.

Relative Madness by 4 Brothers Blended Beer Co.
4 Brothers is a Waukesha-based contract brewery that has its beer made at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls. These guys have a gimmick: each of their beers is a blend of two distinct styles. Their use of the term “blended beer” is somewhat misleading. They’re not taking the typical route of doing a post-fermentation blending of individual beers. Instead, they create a mash-up of two separate recipes and brew up a single beer. Got that? Not sure I do.

Anyway, Relative Madness is their melding of a porter with a blonde ale. And it works. The beer pours to a deep brown with a creamy tan cap. The aroma is mostly roast with some biscuit malt coming up as it warms. The palate leans towards the robust American porter side of things with mild roast and caramel/chocolate flavors holding court. If you try real hard, you can get that blonde ale influence with its light body and wee twinge of bitterness in the finish. It’s a good, easy-drinking beer that goes well with grilled meat (I’m speaking from experience).

Relative Madness is 5.2% ABV and is available at Festival foods in Oshkosh for $8.99 a six-pack. Currently, Festy is carrying all four of the 4 Brothers’ “blended” beers.

Dampf Loc by Local Option Bierwerker, Chicago
Now this one, is right up my alley. This is a Dampfbier, the German version of a steam beer. A Dampfbier is an ale that is fermented with wheat-beer yeast, while having a grain bill composed entirely of barley. This is an old-style of brew (known as a poor-peoples beer) that originated in Bavaria. It had all but died out by the early 1900s. A few American craft brewers have picked up on it recently and Local Option, a Chicago beer bar that does contract brews with Pub Dog Brewing in Maryland, does a fine job with it.

Dampf Loc is a hazy, copper-colored beer with a billowing white head. It’s lightly aromatic, giving off a whiff of fresh bread and a talc-like mineral scent. The taste is mildly fruity and earthy and its light body prompts you to gulp it. This is a very unassuming beer, but there’s something that seems almost exotic about it. The finish is dry and spicy with a gentle, lingering bitterness. I think it’s delicious.

Dampf Loc is 5.3% ABV and is available in the packaged beer section at Gardina’s. They’re selling pint bottles of it for $5.99.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beastly Drunk and Strolling on High

In 1900, there were 300,000 saloons in the United States. Oshkosh was certainly doing her part to contribute to the count. With a population of just over 28,000, the city had 130 saloons and a loudening rumble of discontent rising from a minority of its citizens who wished to see every damned one of those beer halls locked down. And here’s just the sort of story they would point to as reason why the saloons could not be tolerated. This sordid gem appeared on the front page of The Daily Northwestern on Friday, January 12, 1900 under the eye-grabbing headline FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY BEASTLY DRUNK.
Scene of the Crime
If law and justice are satisfied, there will be a saloon keeper in this city who will suffer a revocation of his license or a penalty equally as severe, as a result of his inhuman crime in selling liquor to a fourteen-year-old youth and plying him with the stuff until the boy, a mere lad in fact, staggered out into the street reeling drunk, a sight for hundreds who witnessed the piteous spectacle.  
All this happened in broad daylight at ten o'clock this morning, right in the heart of the business district of Oshkosh. 
A High street saloon keeper is said to be responsible for the condition of the youth — this much at least was obtained from the lad by his brother, who visited him at the police station. 
Assistant Chief of Police Dowling says that he will act and act promptly against the party responsible when the boy has regained his senses sufficiently to tell his story.  
The scene would have disgraced the lowest districts in the large cities, but to have such an affair occur right in broad daylight in the heart of Oshkosh, made the blood of scores of citizens bolt with indignation at the besotted condition of the boy.  
The police took the boy in charge and after he has sobered sufficiently, his story will be learned.  The boy drove a delivery wagon for a merchant. He left the delivery cart on a side street and tried to walk along Waugoo street, across Main and up High street. At the corner of High street he fell down a stairway leading beneath the National Union bank, but was uninjured. Pedestrians assisted him to a side street. He got away, however, and crossed Main street to Washington, ending up in the arms of an officer, who took him to the station, where he has lain in a stupor all day long. For the future welfare of the boy, his name is not given to the public.
The following day, the Northwestern again ran the story on the front page and named the saloon where the deed had gone down. It was the tavern of William Koch, a longtime and well-known Oshkosh resident. Koch had been born in Prussia in 1848 and emigrated to America with his family in 1850. He had run a butcher shop for years near his house at the corner of Bowen and Otter before going into the saloon trade in the latter half of the 1890s. In 1899, he took over the basement saloon under Emma Schmidt’s confectionery at the corner of High and Market (the building and the area way leading down to the former saloon is directly across High Ave. from the Grand Opera House).

Though Koch appears to have been a fairly well-thought of fellow in Oshkosh, his saloons had been a source for mayhem before. But this was just too much. On Saturday morning, after the boy had sobered up enough to tell his story, Koch was arrested and brought to Municipal Court. The Northwestern wrenched all the pathos it could from the drama in the court room.
It was a very touching scene that the few spectators in municipal court witnessed this morning when the mother and sister of the youth, accompanied by the latter, appeared in court. As the poor old mother swore to the complaint that was to bring about the arrest of saloon keeper Koch, she burst into tears. Her sorrow was more than she could bear and she implored the newspaper reporters present to spare further suffering on the part of herself and family by refraining from giving to the public their names.
To a Northwestern reporter the boy charged William Koch with being the person who sold him the liquor. He said that he purchased one drink of whiskey, that Koch treated him to another and that he then went to a table and sat down. He says he ordered more, but how much he does not know, for he remembers nothing more until he recovered last night at the police station, from the drunken sleep in which he had been all day. The boy says that he is not addicted to drink, though he admitted that on previous occasions he has purchased liquor, also at Koch's.
Buried at the end of the piece was the fact the “boy” wasn’t 14. He was 17.

Koch immediately pleaded not guilty, though he admitted that the youth had been in his saloon. "He asked for a beer," said the saloon keeper, "and I refused his request. He was already drunk and I gave him a seltzer and lemon. I have a witness who was in my place at the time who can prove the statement. I always refuse to sell drinks to minors."

Area Way to Koch's Saloon
Nobody bought that line. The city attorney had witnesses lined up and asked the court to hold the trial immediately. Koch said he wasn’t prepared, so the trail was scheduled for the following Wednesday. In the meantime, Koch had a change of heart. On the Monday before the scheduled trial he pleaded guilty to the charge of selling liquor to a minor. Koch probably realized he had little to lose, by admitting guilt. He ponied up the maximum fine of $10 and went back to work. That didn’t please the Northwestern.
He (Koch) decided to plead guilty and pay the fine imposed, in the hopes that that would end the matter and that public criticism would be stilled. Mr. Koch, however, has labored under an incorrect impression if he hoped to escape from further public criticism and possible punishment, for there seems to be a strong sentiment against a saloon keeper who would sell liquor to a youth and permit him to become beastly intoxicated.  
In fact, it worked out just the way Koch hoped it would. He went on running his saloon until his death in 1911. Upon his passing, his sons George and Fred carried on in their father’s footsteps, keeping the underground saloon going at High and Market until 1919, when the tide of Prohibition swept them away.

Looking down that stairway, the other day, to where the old Koch saloon resided I couldn’t help but think of that kid crawling up those stairs and setting out for Main St. on a Friday morning, three sheets to the wind. I wonder if he ever returned to Koch’s dive. Obviously, this kid was no shrinking violet. I wonder if he laughed about it later.

More mayhem at a William Koch joint HERE.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This Week's Beer Dates

A couple of things for your beer calendar this week.

On Tuesday (Feb.18), Gardina’s Beer Bar Series continues with Episodes #6 & #7. Their January beer-bar bash was cancelled due to weather (that was back in the days of -15ยบ), so they’re combining the January and February tappings by cracking open a couple of special kegs. The first is a firkin of Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat Imperial Stout aged on cocoa nibs and raspberries. Along side it will be a keg of Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. This is a colossal beer; Dogfish Head gives its ABV as 15-20%. Watch yourself with that one. The tappings begin at 6pm.

Then on Thursday (Feb.20), Fratellos in Oshkosh is teaming up with Butcher Block Meats & Cheese for a beer and cheese pairing. They’ll pair six cheeses with six beers from Fox River Brewing Company. The pairings begin at 6:30 and they’re asking that people reserve a seat prior to the event. The price is $15. Call (920) 203-2521 or email to RSVP. See the Facebook event page for more info.

       Here’s what the pairings look like:
1. Alpine Washed Rind with The Chief 
We found this to be the lightest cheese offering which was overall rather mild and a natural starting point. Paired with an equally mild beer offering. 

2. Martone with 2X4 Imperial Pilsner 
Interesting cheese presented with a distinctly pungent, moldy exterior. Paired with our 8% ABV Imperial Pilsner; strong enough body and presence without overbearing the soft creamy texture. 2x4's unique profile of floral spicy hops is lifted.

3. Mona with Buzzin' Honey Ale
Found the cheese to be dry and aromatic, but otherwise rather mild flavor. Pairing with the Honey Ale accents many of the sweet malt and honey flavors of the beer.

4. Gouda with Scottish Ale 
Nice cheese and a unique creamy texture to an otherwise rather dry cheese. Would pair well with a warm crusty fresh bread...thus our pairing with the Scottish Ale. With the cheese, the specialty roasted malts are accented.

5. Cocoa Cardona with Chocolate Stout
Not a huge cocoa flavor perceived from the cheese, Muenster-like texture. We are not done making our chocolate stout so we could not actually taste the pairing, but a natural fit; like we did with the Espresso cheese & coffee stout last time.

6. Cheddar Blue with Optic IPA
Wow! Like last time, we had one pairing that really stood out and this is it! Best with an even dose of "blue" to accompany the cheddar. Paired with our big IPA. Hop bouquet goes "pow" with the cheese. Yum!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Chocolate Winds of Spiced Ale... Three Beers to Drink This Weekend in Oshkosh

Another trio of newbies for your weekend quaffing. let’s taste some beer!

Fox River Brewing Company Chocolate Stout. Every year for the past few, Fratellos in Oshkosh has been serving up a Chocolate Stout for Valentine’s Day. This year’s edition is a deep dark stout aged on cocoa nibs. I had a lovely goblet of this beer yesterday. Starts out with a plume of roasted malt that eases into a silky wash of chocolate. As the beer warms, an almond-like note crops up that goes well with the chocolate flavor. Unlike some beers of this stripe that overplay the chocolate card, this isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s a nicely balanced, very drinkable ale. Chocolate Stout is 7% ABV and is available in both bottles and on draft at Fratellos in Oshkosh.

O’so Winds Of Change. You ain’t kidding. O’so is going through some sweeping changes. They’ve just hired Steve Buszka as their new brewmaster and the brewery is branching off in the direction of wild and sour beers.  This sour ale is the liquid embodiment of what’s new up there in lovely Plover, WI. Winds Of Change is one of four sour beers made in collaboration with Madison’s Funk Factory Geuzeria. The beer is a blend of old and young pale ales fermented with brettanomyces and aged in oak barrels. It pours a hazy shade of pale gold and is highly effervescent. There’s a solid hit of acidic funk in the nose that comes across as lemon and hay in the mouth. A citric-hop flavor and compact bitterness runs through all of it. There’s a lot going on here, but none of it distracts from the beer’s overall refreshing character. It’s 5.5% ABV and maybe a little rough around the edges, but I liked that part of it, too. It’s just what a rustic, sour ale ought to be. Winds Of Change is available in 750 ml bottles at the retail store in Gardina’s.

New Glarus Spiced Ale. Here’s the latest from NG’s Thumbprint Series. This is a strong ale generously spiced with cassia cinnamon, ginger and allspice. It pours to a deep, ruby/bronze under a thick white head. Settled in the glass, the beer looks beautiful. You’ll get all of that spice up front, but when you start drinking the first impression is of honey and caramel malt. Then the spices kick in, with the cinnamon leading the way. This is a big beer (no ABV given, but trust me, there’s some heft to it), yet it’s light and lively on the palate. The finish is medium-dry with just a little powderiness. I’m not a huge fan of spiced beers, but I can’t help admiring how well made this is. Definitely one you’ll want to try. Spiced Ale is available  in 12oz 4-packs at Gardina’s and Festival Foods.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Oshkosh Beer Sampler: Piercing Pils

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

What: Piercing Pils, something of a Czech Style Pilsner; brewed with a White Pear Tea and Pear juice by the Dogfish Head Brewery of Milton, Delaware.

Where: Festival Foods in Oshkosh is selling 4-pack of Piercing Pils for $7.99

Why: Because it will remind you of spring. Plus, it’s such a comfortable drinker and, in the end, that’s still what it’s all about. Personally, I prefer my lagers straight up without the fruity-tooty bullshit or “rad” craft-beer malarkey this beer reeks of. The point of a good lager, after all, is to experience the clean, unobstructed flavors of malt and hops commingling into something beautiful. Sorry fella, not today. All the same, I enjoyed this beer.

It drops from the bottle with a golden glow and a tight, white head. The aroma comes up all woody and earthy. The pear thing works surprisingly well. It leans towards a green, just-ripe pear flavor that tucks right into the mellow earthiness of the Saaz hops. It gets around to a clean tartness before arriving at a dry and bitter finish that is especially refreshing. There aren’t many fruit beers I care to drink in quantity, but this is one I’d gladly have multiples of. At 6% ABV, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Beer Ads in Oshkosh No. 22: The Rahr’s New Bottle House

Click to Enlarge
Here’s a bland looking ad that’s short on eye appeal, but loaded with back story. This ad appeared in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on June 29, 1915. It’s for the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh. Under the listless banner “Business Announcement” is some big news for - what was then - a 50 year year old brewery. They’re here to make it known that their first bottle plant is up and running.

In 1915, Charles Rahr Jr. was nearly finished with the renovation of the brewery he had taken over from his father in 1897. Over the course of the preceding decade, he replaced the old wood and stone structures that had gone up in 1865 with new brick buildings. The last vestige of the earlier era, was the bottling operation.

Prior to 1890 and changes to the way beer was taxed, it was simpler for most brewers to have the bottling of their beer performed by others. For the Rahrs, the bottling task largely fell to the Neumueller brothers – Fred and Ludwig, whose bottling plant was located across the street from the brewery on the south side of Rahr Avenue. The Rahrs and Neumuellers were long-time family friends, neighbors and fellow German expats. But those sorts of ties were no longer binding.

After his father died in 1913, Charles Rahr Jr. decided to end the arrangement with the Neumuellers and take the bottling operation in-house. In 1914, Rahr began construction of a brick, bottling plant located near the shore of Lake Winnebago on the north side of Rahr Ave. Construction was completed in 1915 and with it came this ad. It basically amounts to an apology for what Charles Rahr Jr. clearly believed was a lackluster job on the part of the Neumuellers: “We wish to say that we realize that this department of our business has not delivered the service that the public has the right to expect.” But Rahr couldn’t have been all that disappointed with the Neumuellers. Among the first people he hired to work in the new bottle house was Fred Neumueller (Ludwig Neumueller had died of pneumonia prior to the completion of the transition).

Playing out behind all this was an epic battle raging within the Rahr family that had erupted upon the death of Charles Rahr Sr. I’ll save that mess for another day. Check out that lovely bottle house below. This picture is courtesy of Dan Radig whose work to preserve Oshkosh history through images of the city is unparalleled. This shot is from 1964, shortly before the brewery complex was dismantled. Go there today and you’d never guess that such a thing ever existed at the end of Rahr Ave.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Three Beers To Drink This Weekend in Oshkosh

Last week a pack of new brews arrived on the shelves in town. Here are three that stand out from the rest. Let’s taste some beer.

Black Husky Sproose Joose Double IPA
Black Husky Brewing is a terrific nano brewery out of Pembine in northern Wisconsin. Finding their stuff outside of Pembine, Madison or Milwaukee has been next to impossible, but that’s changed thanks to Adam Carlson at Gardina’s. He’s brought in a couple of Black Husky brews to the retail side of Gardina’s including this Double-IPA beast. Sproose Joose has what the wine folks like to call terroir. This is a beer of the land where it’s brewed. They use locally harvested spruce tips, which gives the beer a gushing woodsy, pine aroma. That scent melds beautifully with the outsized odor of American hops liberally applied. A fairly sweet malt profile supports it all and makes for a beer that’s full bodied, bitter, and very drinkable. At 8.6% ABV and 103 IBUs, this is one the hop heads will want to dive into. In addition to selling 22oz bombers, Gardina’s is also serving Sproose Joose on draught.

Bell’s Hopslam
Another one for the hop mongers. Hopslam has became an annual event for those who love the bitter. Right now, Festival Foods and Gardina’s both have it on their shelves. It’s always interesting to see how this beer changes from one year to the next. This year, it seems sweeter to me. They always dose it with honey, but that hasn’t counted for much in the past. This year, I get the honey. In the end, though, it’s still all about that big wallop of American hops (lotsa Simcoe happening here). Dank, resinous, citrus-like... all the stuff you expect in a gigantic IPA. It’s 10% ABV, it’s chewy and it’s filling. That said, I know a guy who liked it so much that he managed to drink five of them in a sitting. I saw him the next day. He appeared to be in pain. By the way, the new RateBeer rankings just came out and they have this as the fourth best double IPA on the planet and the highest ranking DIPA you can purchase in Oshkosh. Personally, I prefer Sproose Joose to Hopslam. What say you?

New Belgium / Cigar City Lips of Faith Collaboration
Here’s a beer for those of us who’d rather not constantly hammer our palate with lupulin. This is more like a massage... from someone with a million fingers. Ostensibly a pepper beer made with Anaheim and Marash chilies, there’s such an inviting swirl of flavors happening here that’s it’s hard to pin this thing down. It’s just damned good beer. It’s spicy (but not hot), minty and fruity with a lot of peach and apricot jumping around. The hopping is fairly abundant, but not to the point of overriding the beer’s more delicate flavors. Towards the end, I was getting a distinct watermelon, hard-candy flavor; like a Jolly Rancher. It’s a big beer at 8.5% and there’s a lot going on here, but it doesn’t wear you out. I could see myself drinking a couple goblets of this one. This is being sold in 22oz bombers and thus far I’ve only seen it at Festival Foods in Oshkosh. Definitely worth a taste.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Early Years of Oshkosh's Lee Beverage

I haven’t seen it yet, but the February edition of the Oshkosh SCENE will be out and all around town shortly (if it isn’t already). This month in the Oshkosh Beer Garden column, I write about Lee Beverage of Wisconsin, the only beer distributor located in Oshkosh. In the article, I touched on the history of the company, but didn’t have the space to go as deeply as I would have liked to. That’s no problem here. Plenty of room. Let’s dig in.

When Prohibition ended in 1933, American’s were eager to prevent the excesses that had attended the liquor trade in the wild days before the onset of the dry law. Most states, including Wisconsin, took an assertive regulatory approach. Among the host of new laws was one that limited a brewer’s ability to sell and distribute its beer directly to the public or to retailers. The law created a gap between brewers and retailers that was filled by beer distributors. The three-tier system was born.

From 1936
In Oshkosh, a half dozen beer distributorships went into business in the six years immediately following the end of Prohibition. Today, one remains. Located on Oakwood Rd. in Oshkosh, Lee Beverage of Wisconsin is now one of the larger beer distributors in the state. The company started out as something quite different, though. And beer had nothing to do with it.

In 1925, William Precour and Harry Lee purchased the store of longtime Oshkosh grocer R.C. Knobla. For 30 years, Knobla had operated his store near the corner of Ceape and State (it no longer stands). But Precour and Lee appeared to have had little interest in running a grocery. They soon liquidated the stock and turned their attention to coffee. The Lee-Precour Co. roasted and packaged coffee that was sold throughout the Fox Valley. When Prohibition came to an end they began eyeing up another sort of brew.

In July 1934, Lee and Precour acquired a wholesale license allowing them to sell and distribute beer. The first brand they carried was Old Style Lager from La Crosse’s Heileman Brewery. Heileman had a limited presence in Oshkosh before Prohibition, but Lee and Precour changed that rather quickly. They advertised Old Style heavily in Oshkosh and soon established it as a prominent brand in the city. Old Style also became one of the first canned beers sold in Oshkosh, with cone-top cans of Old Style Lager becoming available here in late 1935.

That same year, Lee and Precour went their separate ways. Precour stayed on at Knobla’s old stand while Harry Lee headed south. He set up shop in a building that still stands at 111. W. Sixth Ave. It was now known as Lee Beverage and year-by-year Lee grew the business. He expanded the Lee portfolio by bringing in brands such as Rahr’s Elk’s Head Beer of Oshkosh; Berliner, a beer brewed by the Berlin Brewing Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin; and later Kingsbury and Pabst. By the time Lee retired in 1963, the company was Oshkosh’s leading beer distributor. He left it in good hands.

From 1963
In 1963, a salesman for The Dubuque Packing Company named John Kuenzl was looking to get back into the family business. Kuenzl had once been a driver for the Oshkosh Brewing Company, but the familial link to beer ran much deeper than that. His great-grandfather, Lorenz Kuenzl, had launched the Gambrinus Brewery in Oshkosh in 1875. The family had been in the beer business ever since. When the Gambrinus Brewery merged with two other Oshkosh breweries to form the the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) in 1894, the Kuenzl’s became part owners of Oshkosh’s largest brewery. Most recently, John Kuenzl’s father, Lorenz “Shorty” Kuenzl had been treasurer of OBC. That came to an abrupt end after David Uihlein purchased the brewery in 1961.

Shorty Kuenzl had stayed on briefly at OBC after Uihlein came to town, but was said to be unhappy with the way the new boss ran things. With his father helping to bankroll the acquisition of Lee Beverage, 28-year-old John Kuenzl became the owner/manager of the company in 1963. After a brief respite, the Kuenzl’s were back in the beer business in Oshkosh.

Lee Beverage grew precipitously over the next 40 years; moving twice while acquiring numerous other beer distributorships and expanding its reach well beyond Oshkosh. The purchase of Lindemann Distributing of Eau Claire in 1977 led to the formation of a partnership between John Kuenzl and David Lindemann and the creation of Lee Beverage of Wisconsin LLC. Today the company is operated by David Lindemann’s son Jeff Lindemann and it now sells beer in more than 20 Wisconsin counties. For a beer business that can trace its origin to the gloom of Prohibition, the trajectory of its success has been unique.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wednesday Night Sampling at Barley & Hops

We’re coming up on chapter three of the 2013/2014 beer sampling series at Barley & Hops. This coming Wednesday (February 5), Barley’s welcomes 3 Sheeps Brewing of Sheboygan as the host brewery. Launched in late 2011 by homebrewer Grant Pauly, 3 Sheeps experienced a quick rise and won the 2012 RateBeer Award for Best New Brewery in Wisconsin. In Oshkosh, we’ve been seeing a nice selection of their beers from the start, but they’ll be bringing in a number of brews that haven’t landed here before. Most notably, they’re creating a cask-conditioned ale specifically for the Wednesday event. They'll serve that one from a firkin.

In addition to the 3 Sheeps brews, the tasting will also feature Goose Island's Reserve Series; homebrew courtesy of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers; and more than 40 other craft beers to sample. There’s always more than a few boozes and wines being passed around, too.

The tasting begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Barley & Hops for $20 in advance or $25 at the door. See the Facebook event page for more.