Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Bass Man of Oshkosh

By the 1880s, the German brewers who had settled in Oshkosh had made the city into a wellspring for lager beer. But there remained drinkers here who thirsted for something other than the German-styles that flowed from the city’s six breweries. William H. Englebright saw opportunity there. He began importing the ales of his English homeland to Oshkosh.

Englebright was born in 1857 at Norfolk, a county in the East of England. He was schooled in England and was 16 when he arrived in Oshkosh. He found his way into the saloon trade here and at 22 was managing Overton’s Sample Room, a basement saloon and billiard hall beneath the Beckwith House at Main and Algoma (currently the New Moon Cafe).

Following the deadly Beckwith fire of December 3, 1880, Englebright partnered with Frederick B. King. The two acted as co-proprietors of the Tremont Hotel Sample Room at the Northwest corner of State and Waugoo (the building was razed in 1962). In August 1885, Englebright and King dissolved their partnership. They had recently established a second saloon at Main and Algoma (the space occupied by the sun dial in Opera House Square). King remained at the Tremont and Englebright took the stand at Main and Algoma.

Englebright named the saloon the Star and Crescent Sample Room and made it into a place where Oshkosh’s upper crust would feel at home. An 1886 advertisement for the saloon paints it as a genteel retreat.
In catering to the daily needs and luxuries of
the public, no one is able to exercise a greater
influence over our personal comfort than he from
whom is obtained our daily wines and liquors,
and comforting cigars. In this direction Mr. Englebright
"fills the bill" completely, he having an
intimate knowledge of the public's desire and
what is demanded in a first-class trade.
- Bun & Phillips Oshkosh City Directory, 1886-87
In addition to acting as an international travel agent, Englebright traded in “fine whiskies, together with his extensive supply of wines, also porters, gins, tobaccos and smokers' articles.” A far cry from the German beer halls that Oshkosh was coming to be known for.

The Star and Crescent Sample also became the “Headquarters for Bass English Ale” in Oshkosh. Englebright sold the ale on draught and for him it may have represented the most urbane of refinements.

Englebright was raised in rural England at a time when Bass Ale was coming to be known as the beer of choice among the cosmopolitan set. It was not an especially popular beer in England, but it was one that indicated good taste. And how did it taste? Probably very little like the Bass Ale we drink today.

The English pale ales of this period, most famously those from Burton upon Trent, were strong, golden beers that were aggressively hopped. In England, it was referred to simply as “Bitter” and bitter they were. The Bass Ale that Englebright sold in Oshkosh would have featured a level of hop bitterness that would more closely resemble a modern IPA than that of a pale ale.

That Englebright had chosen Bass Ale as his featured brew is not surprising. By the 1880's, Bass had become the largest brewery in the world producing nearly a million barrels of beer annually, with large quantities exported to America. Perhaps more importantly to Englebright, Bass represented the sophisticated image he was so eager to project.

But the worldly atmosphere at the Star and Crescent Sample Room lasted only as long as Englebright’s tenancy there. In 1890, Englebright sold the Star and Crescent to Fred King, his old business partner. It wasn’t long before King had replaced Englebirght’s porters and Bass Ale with Pabst and Budweiser.

Meanwhile, Englebright and his English pug “Bob” had moved down the street. Englebright purchased the Tremont Hotel, which he operated until 1900. By the time of his departure from the Tremont, Englebright, too, had resorted to selling the lagers of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, Pabst and Schlitz. If you can’t beat ‘em...

In the winter of 1900, Englebright left Oshkosh for Ripon, where for 18 years he operated the Hotel Englebright. There the dapper Englishman had an ear ripped off in a freak accident after falling into a set of swinging doors. Englebright went to Sheboygan in 1918. He continued in hotel management there until returning to Oshkosh in 1926.

Englebright died in Oshkosh in 1940 at the age of 82. His death came after falling and fracturing his skull while sweeping snow from the walk at his house at what is now 633 Amherst Ave. His obituary in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern describes a talented man of accomplishment. Unfortunately, the paper neglected to mention that Englebright was also one of the early advocates for bitter beer in our city.

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