Sunday, June 29, 2014

An Army of Pot-Bellied Beer Nymphs

This blog will go quiet for a few (7-9) days while I dive into the deep end of the beer pool for a spot of summer fun. Until we meet again, here’s some high weirdness to chew on.

Down below is a full page ad from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of July 2, 1914. It shows the Oshkosh Brewing Company waving its freak flag high in preparation for the Fourth of July.

They give us an army of bug-eyed, pot-bellied nymphs armed with enormous beer bottles – reminds me of a recent nightmare. The mutants are led by a bespectacled horseman who looks a hell of a lot like Teddy Roosevelt. Guess they didn't know T.R. wasn’t a beer drinker. Best of all is the wonderful idiocy of the accompanying text:

Tramp—Tramp—Tramp—the boys are marching!
Only instead of cannon crackers it's going to be CRACKERS
and CHEESE —with a case of OSHKOSH "the
Beer with the Fine Flavor," on the side!

Eghhhh… what a shitty play on words. There’s plenty more nonsense the equal of that packed in there. Click the image, watch it grow large and see for yourself.

A few weeks after this appeared, WWI was up and raging with cannon crackers in full blast. The nymphs were the first to die. Gotta have your fun while you can, folks.

Have a great holiday. Prost!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Small Breweries with Big Flavors

The term “small brewery” gets tossed around a lot these days. It has come to mean almost nothing. Is New Glarus Brewing, which produces more than 125,000 barrels of beer a year, a small brewery? It is when you compare it to the Miller beer factory in Milwaukee where they produce more than 9 million barrels annually. But if you tour the brewery in New Glarus you’re not going to come away from it saying, “My, what a small brewery.” It’s a big brewery.

Well, here are a couple of breweries you can describe as small without having to qualify a damned thing. Door County Brewing and Black Husky Brewing are two truly small Wisconsin breweries making excellent beer.  Luckily we’re able to get some of that beer here in Oshkosh. Let’s taste some of it...

Polka King Porter from Door County Brewing
Door County Brewing was launched last year by John McMahon and his sons, Ben and Danny. They started without a brewery of their own and have been making beer on contract at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls. Earlier this year, they opened their own facility in Bailey's Harbor. There they’ll produce small-batch and seasonal brews while continuing to make their year-round releases in Black River Falls.

Polka King Porter is available year-round and it’s about as good as a brown porter gets. There’s a whiff of chocolate and carmel malt in the aroma with a healthy note of roast tagging along. The mouthfeel is big and round. Porters are all about darker malt flavors and this beer brings plenty of that. Toffee, chocolate, coffee and roast... just what you’re looking for in a dark, hearty ale. The beer finishes with a clean bitterness that makes everything gel. There’s a reason porters have endured for over 400 years. Polka King is a dead ringer for the style and one of the best American-brewed traditional porters I’ve tasted. Polka King is available at Festival Foods in Oshkosh where a 6-pack of it sells for $8.49.

Howler Imperial Pale Ale from Black Husky Brewing
Black Husky was launched in 2010 by husband and wife Tim and Toni Eichinger. Located in Pembine, WI – pop. 1,739 – their brewery is housed within a 400-square-foot cabin in the woods. They produce less than 200 barrels of beer a year with the bulk of it going to Milwaukee. The brewery self-distributes and we’ve been getting a good taste of their stuff recently thanks to Adam Carlson at Gardina’s whose been bringing in their beer on draught and in bottles.

This beer hit the shelf at Gardina’s just last week in hand-numbered bottles. It’s part of the brewery’s “Howler E Series” brewed with Equinox hops, a new hop breed getting a lot of love for it’s juicy, fruit flavors and aroma. You can’t miss that in the aroma of this beer. It gives up a plume of citrus fruit tucked into a pie-crust like malt aroma. This beer is big. There’s no ABV listed on the label, but it has to be in the vicinity of 10%. The flavors come at you in a rush. The hops are prominent with an herbal, minty flavor that’s unique to say the least. Their bitterness builds slowly thanks to the beautifully thick malt flavor that kept reminding me of German honey cookies. The flavors linger in the mouth forever with the malt sweetness eventually being undone by the hop bitterness. This is a substantial beer; one you should make an effort to try if bold, hoppy beers are your thing. Gardina’s is selling Howler Imperial Pale Ale in 22 oz. bombers in the packaged beer section for $9.99. It’s worth every penny.

Great beers from actual small breweries. This is what it’s all about, folks. Do yourself a favor and enjoy some small-brewery beer this weekend.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Mid-Week Wheat Beer

When was the last time we had something new from Ale Asylum come into Oshkosh? Seems like a long time ago, but I guess it was just May. That’s when Ünshadowed first hit the shelf at Festival Foods. A couple days later, though, it was gone. Now it’s back. This time it should be here to stay.

Ünshadowed is a Bavarian-style wheat beer that will join the Madison brewery’s year-round line-up. It does everything a good German wheat beer should. This is a hefeweizen; “hefe” being German for yeast. And this is certainly a yeast driven beer. It pours out to a bright straw color with a hefty dusting of yeast still in suspension creating a pretty haze swirling in the glass. As the massive, meringue-like head begins to fall, you get the classic hefeweizen aromas of banana and clove. That, too, is a product of the yeast. The beer has a wonderful mouthfeel. It’s highly effervescent, yet still soft on the tongue with a mild lemon-fruit flavor over a sweet and creamy wheat-malt base. Ünshadowed finishes quickly and slightly dry; just enough so to encourage you to come back to the glass. This is an ideal summer beer. I could drink gallons of it. At 5.50% ABV that might be somewhat of a challenge, but I’m willing to try.

Aside from all of that, why aren’t there more Wisconsin breweries producing hefeweizens? New Glarus Dancing Man Wheat is the only other Wisconsin-brewed, German-style wheat you see around here with any frequency (or am I forgetting something). Considering the German influence in our state, you’d think you’d see more Wisconsin breweries producing this style as a summer seasonal. Perhaps it’s because this beer is ill equipped to carry a massive hop load. And hops seem to be what we’re all about these days. Take a break from the bitter and check this beer out. Ünshadowed is available at Festival in Oshkosh where they sell it in 6-packs for $8.49.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Terrible Death of Barbara Kuenzl

This is not a happy story. It’s about an awful death. It begins with a brewer.

Kuenzl Family, early 1880s
Lorenz Kuenzl was born in 1845 in Bohemia. He had been trained to brew beer there before coming to America in 1871. Kuenzl settled in Stevens Point. There, he married a German-born woman nine years his junior named Barbara Walter. The couple relocated to Oshkosh and in 1875 Kuenzl took a lease on what had been been Gottlieb Ecke’s brewery on Harney Avenue.

Barbara and Lorenz Kuenzl flourished in Oshkosh. The couple took up residence in a home that still stands at 1225 Harney Avenue and began having children. Eventually, they purchased the brewery, which was now named the Gambrinus Brewery. Kuenzl’s “Celebrated Lager Beer” was served in saloons throughout the city. The Kuenzl family grew wealthy.

In 1894, The Gambrinus Brewery merged with two other Oshkosh breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Kuenzl was named brewmaster of the new concern. His brewery on Harney Avenue was converted into a bottling plant.

Gambrinus Brewery and Kuenzl Home on Harney Ave

Three years after the merger, Lorenz Kuenzl died from complications of edema, an excessive accumulation of fluids within the body. Meanwhile, the Oshkosh Brewing Company had grown into one of the region’s most successful breweries. As the administratrix of her late-husband’s estate, Barbara Kuenzl now directed the Kuenzl family’s stake in the thriving brewery.

Barbara Kuenzl remained at the home on Harney Avenue living with the family of her youngest daughter, Anna. It was there in the summer of 1906 that Barbara Kuenzl died following a terrible accident.

On the Friday afternoon of July 6, 1906, a wagon had come to the Kuenzl home to deliver fuel for the Kuenzl’s kitchen stove. Barbara Kuenzl asked the driver to wait for a moment while she emptied the remaining gas from a storage can into the stove. When she did so, the stove ignited and Mrs. Kuenzl’s skirt caught fire. She ran out the rear door of the house and into the yard, the flames spreading up to her waist. Her screams were heard by neighbors and workers in the beer bottling plant next door. A 12-year-old boy named Jacob Hetzel ran to help her.

Better known as John, Jacob Hetzel lived nearby on Harney Ave. with his widowed mother. He had been playing in the street when he heard Mrs. Kuenzl’s screams. Hetzel chased after the burning woman. He caught up to her and attempted to put out the flames with his hands. The fire ignited Hetzel’s clothing burning his face, arms and torso. Workers from the bottling plant arrived to help. Hetzel then ran three blocks to Lake Winnebago, the fire growing upon him. When he reached the lake, he plunged himself in.

By then it was too late for Mrs. Kuenzl. Her clothes were finally extinguished, but she had suffered severe burns to her lower body. She remained conscious throughout the ordeal. She was rushed to St. Mary’s hospital at the corner of Boyd and Merritt streets. Her wounds were dressed and she was given sedatives as her suffering increased. It was evident that she stood no chance of surviving. She had lost the function of her legs and was weakening. She died two days later in the early hours of Sunday, July 8, 1906.

Jacob Hetzel fared better. As he ran to the lake he was followed by neighbors who had witnessed the boy’s attempt to save Mrs. Kuenzl. They helped him from the water. He was taken to Lake Side Sanitarium on Hazel Street. Though his wounds were serious, Doctors Corbett and Blowett expected the boy to survive. He did.

The accident and its aftermath were reported in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on July 7, 1906. In a jumbled story that seems to have been pieced together hastily and almost randomly, Jacob Hetzel stands as the lone bright spot in an otherwise gruesome tale. When I first came upon this, I immediately wanted to know more about the bold 12-year-old who nearly lost his own life trying to save someone else’s.

Jacob John Hetzel was born on April 1, 1894 on a farm in the Town of Aniwa in Shawano County. He was the second of three children, his parents German immigrants. Hetzel was named after his father, who had died at the age of 38 while in a state of “helpless intoxication” in an accident involving a horse-drawn wagon. Jacob Hetzel was three when his father died. He would rarely use the name he shared with his father, preferring to use his middle name, John.

After the death of the father, the Hetzel family stayed on at their 160-acre farm in Aniwa until about 1904 when the widowed Matilda Hetzel moved her family to Oshkosh. Jacob Hetzel attended school in Oshkosh until the 7th grade, then went to work at the Diamond Match Factory and the Banderob-Chase Furniture Company. He grew into manhood standing 5’3” and weighing 145 pounds. He had brown hair and eyes and a dark complexion.

Hetzel eventually found a trade working as an auto mechanic. For much of his life, he bounced from job to job until settling in at U.S. Motors in Oshkosh in 1940. Hetzel appears never to have married, though the 1940 census indicates that a daughter and grandchild were living with him. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that Hetzel gave inaccurate information to the census taker. At the time of his death, his only known heirs were his brother and sister.

Hetzel lived all of his Oshkosh life in the same home at what is now 1013 Harney Avenue. He died alone there on Febraury 18, 1964 after suffering a heart attack. Jacob hetzel was 69 years old. His brief obituary in the Northwestern mentions nothing of his life; only that he had died. By then, that harrowing day in 1906 was all but forgotten.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Toppling Goliath’s PseudoSue at Gardina’s

Two blog posts in one day... this ain’t healthy. But it can’t wait.

Adam Carlson at Gardina’s informs me that they’ve just brought in five cases of Toppling Goliath’s PseudoSue, an incredible American Pale Ale with a cult-like following. And a well earned one, at that.

This is a beautiful beer that features the best expression of Citra hops I’ve tasted. It heaves up a huge aroma of tangerine, mango and pineapple and delivers the same in spades when you taste it. The creamy sweetness of the malt is just enough to support that hop flavor. The bitterness is hearty without being overbearing. This is a phenomenal ale.

Gardina’s is selling PseudoSue in 22oz bombers for $7.99. Of those five cases that came in this afternoon, about half are already gone. Don’t let the geeks beat you to this one.

What to Look for at Brews n’ Blues This Weekend in Oshkosh

If you’re headed to Brews n’ Blues this Saturday, here’s some info to help you navigate Oshkosh’s longest-running beer festival.

First, there’s the commercial side of things. This year, there will be 30 commercial beer, cider, mead and winemakers pouring their fluids. All of them are from Wisconsin. You can see the entire line-up HERE.

There’s probably at least a couple on that list who will be new to you. For example, there’s Badger State Brewing in Green Bay. They launched last December and have been getting good notices, including winning a Silver Medal for their Walloon Witbier at the New York International Beer Competition.

Also be sure to check out the Rushford Meadery & Winery table. This is a new meadery that’s in the works just a few miles to our west in Rushford. They haven’t opened their doors to the public yet, so this will be an exclusive look into what they’re all about. It’s operated by Shane and Laurel Coombs. Shane is an award winning homebrewer and mead maker. I’ve been fortunate enough to dip into a few of his creations and everything I’ve tasted has been stellar. Try a sample of the Ginger Lime Habanero Mead Shane will be pouring on Saturday and you’ll taste what I mean.

What makes Brews n’ Blues unique this year, though, is the amount of homebrew that will be offered. There will be five homebrew clubs pouring their beer, including our Society of Oshkosh Brewers. The SOBs alone will have 24 different beers, ciders and wines pouring. With the other clubs kicking in, you could easily spend the entire fest wandering around Homebrew Alley. Not to take anything away from the commercial brewers, but Homebrew Alley is where the real action is going to be. You can get a first look at the SOB list HERE (check out that Mango Pale Ale!).

Finally, I’ll be there giving a homebrew demonstration during the fest. After Monday’s post about the origins of Brews n’ Blues, I thought it would be fitting to brew Chief Oshkosh Red Lager during the event. After all, this is the beer responsible for this festival happening in the first place. If you’re there, stop by and say hello. Let’s have a beer together!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Firkin IPA Tonight at Gardina's

At 6 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, June 17), the bell rings for round 11 of Gardina's Beer Bar series of tastings.

The main event this time is a firkin of Rush River’s Bubblejack IPA. This is a one-off version of the River Falls Brewery’s popular IPA. The keg resting at the ready at Gardina's has been dry hopped with citra, the tropical-fruit tasting darling of hop heads everywhere. More of a west-coast style IPA, expect this ale to be gloriously hoppy with a subdued malt flavor under bold notes of pine and citrus fruits.

Not sure what a firkin is? This HERE will explain the whole thing. Better yet, stop in at Gardina’s tonight and find out for yourself.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Born in a Bar – the Birth of Brews N’ Blues

The 19th annual Brews n’ Blues is slated for this weekend at the Leach. Let’s take a moment to look back on how Oshkosh’s longest running beer festival came into being.

The idea for Brews n’ Blues was born in the place where all the most brilliant and terrible plans are made... in a bar. In this case, the old Lizard Lounge at 141 High Avenue. It was a Sunday afternoon in late summer, 1994. Jeff Fulbright and Janic Cieszynski had gotten together for a beer at the Lizard, as they often did on Sundays.

As Fulbright worked at his beer, he bounced ideas off Cieszynski. He needed a new angle to promote Mid-Coast Brewing, Fulbright’s struggling beer company and maker of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager. Of the ideas Fulbright tossed around, there was one that resonated with Cieszynski. A beer festival in Riverside Park. The more they talked about it, the better it sounded. They’d throw a party in the park sponsored by Chief Oshkosh Red Lager. They’d rent a tent, hire a couple of blues bands, and serve Fulbright’s beer alongside a few other Wisconsin microbrews.

But it was getting too late in the year to make it happen in 1994. It would take time to get this properly organized. They decided that by the time they’d be ready, it would be too cold to stand outside drinking beer in Riverside Park. They aimed for the summer of 1995.

The following summer would come, but by then Fulbright’s brewery was a thing of the past. The last batch of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was brewed on December 30, 1994. There’d be no beer festival in Oshkosh in 1995.

Cieszynski still liked the idea, though. In 1996 he presented it to the Oshkosh Jaycees. The first Brews n’ Blues took place in Riverside Park on Sunday, July 21, 1996. The successful event went off as planned. The only thing missing was Chief Oshkosh Red Lager.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Brews n’ Blues 2014 Draws Near

Time again for Brews n’ Blues. This year’s edition of Oshkosh’s longest running beer festival takes place next Saturday, June 21 from 4:00-8:00 p.m at the Leach Amphitheater.

Tickets are available now and you’ll want to pick them up before you get to the event. If you buy your tickets in advance they’re $35, but they’ll set you back $45 if you wait to get them at the gate.

You can purchase advance tickets online HERE, or you can get them in the flesh at Oblio’s, O’Marro’s Public House or Festival Foods. And if you want to go whole hog, O’Marro’s will have a VIP tent at the event that includes food and other sundries. That ticket goes for $50.

One thing that’s different about this year’s fest will be the sea of homebrew. The Society of Oshkosh Brewers will be there as usual, but in addition to our SOBs there will be a number of other homebrew clubs from around the state bringing in brew. If you’ve ever been to a beer fest with a healthy selection of homebrew, you know where the real action is going to be.

I’ll be there with a brew of my own and I’ll also be doing a homebrewing demonstration. I’m going to make that Sesquicentennial Ale I was blogging about the other day. If you show, stop by and say hello.

In addition to all that beer, there’s going to be live music throughout the day from Swamp Shag, featuring Chris Aaron & Jim Schwall, and Tin Sandwich.

If I’ve missed anything, you can probably get what you’re looking for HERE. Hope to see you next Saturday!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Few of My Beer Buddies

The June edition of the Oshkosh SCENE is out and available all round town. Inside, my Oshkosh Beer Garden column is about Kirby Nelson, brewmaster of Wisconsin Brewing Company.

When I was interviewing him for the article, Nelson mentioned something that has been bouncing around in my head since the moment he said it. “My philosophy about beer is that I think it should be your companion,” he said. “It's an adjunct to the enjoyment of life. It's about socializing and visiting with your friends and relaxing and enjoying the environment around you. It’s not about just sitting there focusing on the glass.” Damn, if that ain’t the truth.

The achilles heal of most of us who become obsessed with beer (or just about anything else for that matter), is that we tend to concentrate on piddling minutia and lose track of our basic love for the thing at hand. When beer drinking becomes an exercise in sensory analysis instead of an enjoyable, congenial repast, it becomes absurd.

I fell in love with beer at a very young age. If the kid I used to be could hear me going on about, “a persistent pine note that threads through the toasty malt flavor,” he’d laugh at and ridicule me until I punched him (I know that kid too well; believe me when I say he had it coming. And, yes I did write that about a beer on this blog). Shit, there’s nothing wrong with getting into your beer, but you have to remember what captured you in the first place: filling your mouth with those delicious suds and not thinking too hard about anything while you enjoyed it.

Enough with the navel gazing and preciousness. Here’s a pack of beers that don’t need to beg for your attention to prove how good they are. These are companion beers built for “socializing and visiting with your friends and relaxing and enjoying the environment around you.” If that’s not what it’s all about, then what’s the fucking point?

Sprecher Black Bavarian
Sprecher Brewing Company was the first craft brewery in Wisconsin. It was launched in 1985 by a former Pabst employee named Randy Sprecher. I got drunk with him once. I think it was 1987. It happened at the original Sprecher brewery in the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee. I had gone their with my girlfriend, Denise, and my friend Cookie to pick up some beer and get a tour of the place. Randy Sprecher gave the tour. It didn’t amount to much. About 15 of us stood around in the old warehouse and listened to Sprecher as he pointed to pieces of brewing equipment and talked about what they were used for. It didn’t take long. When it was done he started pouring beer. This portion of the tour was much longer. He kept pouring beer after beer. People began drifting away until it was just Sprecher and the three of us left. At some point he admitted that he was hungover. He had been to a beer festival the night before. He kept right on pouring beer for himself and for us. He was in no hurry. By the end of the afternoon, I had quite a buzz going. Before we finally left, we bought a couple cases of beer from Sprecher that he had packaged in big, 16-ounce bottles that he said were cast offs from Pabst. That really appealed to me. Not always, but sometimes when I drink Black Bavarian I think of that afternoon drinking beer with Randy Sprecher. That was a great day.

Ale Asylum Madtown Nutbrown
Every time I drink this beer I get the urge to make some homebrew. It smells exactly like pale malt does when your grinding it up for a batch of beer. I can’t remember why I ever decided to start making beer at home. It’s a pain in the ass. But I love doing it. I had thought about homebrewing for years before I actually dived in. Other people thought I should be doing it, too. They kept telling me that. Everybody knew I loved beer. I think it was 1986, somebody even gave me a copy of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. I read it. I came away with the impression that homebrewing was a big pain in the ass. Eventually, I started homebrewing anyway. We were living in Oshkosh by then. I can vividly recall that first batch. It was a nut-brown ale. Nothing went right. The brew day went on and on. Cooling the wort took forever. I remember thinking to myself that the entire process was one long pain in the ass. The beer ended up tasting mediocre at best. Why do people do this? Of course, it was impossible to stop once I had started. Since then I’ve brewed 164 batches of beer. I don’t think I’ve had a single brew day where at some point it didn’t occur to me what an enormous pain in the ass it is to make beer at home. Still, it’s one of my favorite things.

Sure, I know this is macro-swill. I don’t care. I like it. When I was a kid, my dad had a friend who worked at Schlitz. His name was George. You took one look at him and you knew he was Kraut. I mean that affectionally. Growing up, I knew a few guys like that. They’d always have that old-style haircut with the severe sidewalls. George was a big, barrel of a guy with a booming voice and a raunchy sense of humor. He appeared to give no shits about anything. As a young boy, I looked upon him with awe. He had a large German shepard that terrified me. We’d be standing around in George’s garage with that dog bullying me around. George would bellow at the dog to “Get the FUCK away from him!” Dog wouldn’t listen. Whenever I think of George I think of being with he and my dad and that dog in George’s garage. George kept beer on tap in his garage. Schlitz. He drank beer all day long. He’d walk around with a big pewter mug filled with creamy lager. That mug of beer never left his sight. But he never had a problem with me picking it up and taking a good drink or two off it. I believe he got a charge out of seeing me drink beer. I hope it reminded him of his youth and the old, strange Krauts he knew who had shared their beer with him.

Wisconsin Brewing Co. #001 Amber Lager
This was the first Wisconsin Brewing Co. beer I tried. It’s essentially a Vienna lager, one of my favorite styles of beer. Prior to it coming out, I was really looking forward to trying it. I’m partial to good lager. I thought if anybody can do this beer right it’s going to be Kirby Nelson. Then I drank the beer. I was disappointed. It wasn’t what I was hoping for. There was a buttery aroma in there that annoyed me. A couple months later, I had it again, almost by accident. This time it was on tap. It was around lunch time. I only ordered it because I didn’t have the stomach for any of the other high-alcohol, over-hopped beers the place was serving. I got my beer and was jabbering away not thinking at all about what I was drinking. I was about half-way down the glass when it hit me: something has changed, this tastes great! This is my favorite way to fall for a beer. You’re just sitting there drinking the beer and not paying it too much mind as you shoot the shit, when all of a sudden the flavors begin to glow and it makes you appreciate what a fine time you’re having. I sometimes forget it, but for me, that’s what beer is really all about.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Scream IIPA at Gardina’s

I don’t usually blog about beers I’ve yet to drink, but I thought you hop heads might want to know that Scream IIPA from New Glarus will be hitting the shelf today at Gardina’s in Oshkosh.

New Glarus released the beer last week in Madison and it’s already been getting some adoring notices on BeerAdvocate. Here’s what the brewery says about its latest: “Scream boasts an inspired 85 IBUs that reverberate cleanly though this IIPA. New Glarus Brewery grown estate hops join other Wisconsin grown hops to dominate this brew from Kettle Boil to Dry Hopping.”

If you go to Gardina’s to grab some Scream, you might also want to know that they have Founders Devil Dancer Triple IPA on the shelf. This is a 12% ABV monster that’s dry hopped for nearly a month with 10 hop varieties and delivers 112 measured IBUs. Lick it up, hop heads!

Also, check out the new cooler in the beer section at Gardina’s. It marks another step forward for the best little beer store in Oshkosh.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sesquicentennial Ale Recipe from Fox River Brewing

Click to Enlarge
After yesterday’s post about 1853 – the dark lager currently on tap at Fratello’s in Oshkosh – I remembered another sesquicentennial beer that Fox River Brewing had made. Sesquicentennial Ale came out in 1998 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Wisconsin becoming a state. The beer was a pre-Prohibition style cream ale. That’s the recipe for it there at the right.

The recipe is from a newsletter that Fox River Brewing used to publish named Fox On The Run Brewspaper. The issue containing this recipe was from the fall of 1998. The old Brewspaper reads like an artifact from a long-gone era. And I suppose it is.

There’s a report about the “Summer School” held at the brewery where 32 “pupils” came in to brew Sesquicentennial Ale with brewmaster Steve Lonsway (who had succeeded Fox River’s first brewmaster, Al Bunde). There’s also a piece about the record-setting summer the brewery had for off-premise draught beer sales. Included among a listing of Oshkosh taverns where Fox River beer is sold, there’s this: “Oblios’s Lounge 434 Main, downtown on Main Street is the quintessential tavern. The original bar was established in 1884. Sporting 24 taps, Oblio’s has the largest draft selection in the area. Look for “Buzzin Honey” and “Caber Tossing Scottish Ale” amid the fine selection of imports and micro’s on tap.”

Yes, there was a time when Fox River Brewing was not essentially an island unto itself. Its beers used to be served all around Oshkosh. Maybe we’ll see a return to that with their new Bago Brew series.

Something that struck me while thumbing through the 1998 newsletter was the connection between Fox River Brewing and the local homebrew community. There’s even an invite to homebrewers to bring their corny kegs in and have them filled with beer. And there’s a large ad on the back page for the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. At the time, the SOBs were using Fratellos as their meeting place. That would end not long after. The sense of camaraderie between the local brewery and the local homebrewers hasn’t been the same since. That’s a damned shame.

Anyway, I think I’m going to give this Sesquicentennial Ale recipe a shot. I haven’t brewed a good cream ale in ages. I might be doing a brewing demonstration at this year’s Brews n' Blues; this could be just the beer for that day. A beer born in Oshkosh revived 16 years later at our city’s original beer festival. I like that!

Monday, June 9, 2014

1853: A Glass of Oshkosh Brewing History

Last week, Fratellos in Oshkosh put an American dark lager on draught named 1853. This is a beer that was first brewed by Fox River Brewing Company in 2003 to celebrate Oshkosh’s sesquicentennial. The brewmaster at that time was Brian Allen, who told the Oshkosh Northwestern that among his own brews, 1853 was his favorite beer. Allen went on to describe the beer as being similar to the kind of beer Germans were brewing when Oshkosh was settled.

With 1853 available again, I thought it might be worth a look to see just how closely this lager resembles the beers that Oshkoshers were brewing and drinking when the city was established. Let’s dig in.

In 1853, there were two breweries operating in Oshkosh: the Jacob Konrad Brewery on the east side of Lake Street just south of Ceape Ave.; and George Loescher’s Oshkosh Brewery on Bayshore Drive near Eveline St. Both of these breweries were founded by German immigrants and each was known to produce lager beer. So the assertion that the Oshkosh beers of 1853 were lagers does have merit, but it’s not the whole story. We know that, at times, Loescher also produced ale at his brewery. Konrad may have done so, as well. Lager beer was clearly becoming predominant in Oshkosh in 1853, but it certainly wasn’t the only type of beer people were drinking here and it may not have been the the only type of beer brewers were making here.

The color of Fox River’s 1853 is dark amber with ruby highlights. The Oshkosh lagers of 1853 would have been a similar hue and maybe even another shade darker. Prior to the 1870s, dark Bavarian-style beer was synonymous with lager beer in America. I’ve found no evidence to suggest that the lagers brewed in Oshkosh would have been any different. In fact, these dark lagers would remain quite popular in Oshkosh well into the 1900s. I’ve seen a number of pictures taken prior to Prohibition in Oshkosh saloons where lager beer was served. The beer in the glasses is almost always very dark.

The dominant flavor of 1853 is that of a bready Munich malt. At the same time the beer has a rather light mouthfeel. This is where the Fox River beer parts ways with the Oshkosh beers of 1853. Fox River uses an addition of corn in the production of 1853, which lightens the body of the beer. Corn would come to be a traditional ingredient of American lagers, but in 1853 that day had yet to arrive. In all likelihood, the Oshkosh lagers of 1853 were all-malt beers made with 6-row barley. The use of corn to lighten both the body and color of beer didn’t become widespread in American brewing until after the 1870s. Prior to that, American dark lagers were most often described with terms such as “dextrinous” and having a “full-mouthed taste.”

As for hop flavor, the 1853 at Fratellos is very mildly hopped with just the slightest bitterness in the finish. I’ve yet to find anything that specifically addresses the hopping rates of Oshkosh-made beers from this period, but American brewers from this time were known to be fairly liberal with their use of hops. Furthermore, hop growing in and around Oshkosh was commonplace in the 1850s, so there would have been plenty of good hops at the disposal of brewers here. I’d speculate the the lagers served in Oshkosh in 1853 would have had a bitterness that was quite firm.

All in all, 1853 at Fratellos is probably not too far off from the Oshkosh lagers of 1853, but probably more closely resembles the dark lagers that were brewed here in 1903. Either way, it’s an enjoyable beer and it’s good to see the local brewery reminding us of the rich brewing history we have in Oshkosh.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Couple of Summer Lagers for Farmers Market Weekend

Friends, I’m tight on time, so this one is going to be short and slightly bitter. As you all probably know, the summer edition of the Oshkosh Saturday Farmers Market kicks off this weekend. That means summer has arrived! Or damned close enough, anyway. So, here are a couple of legitimate summer brews that are highly gulp-able, full of flavor and easy to find in Oshkosh.

Sprecher Summer Pils
From our state mates down in Milwaukee comes this beauty. She’s a Czech-style pilsener that hits all the right notes. It’s a golden beer that introduces itself with the floral aroma of Saaz hops. The draw is mildly grainy and a wee bit sweet with those peppery hops taking command before the glass lands back on the table. This is an especially crisp beer that finishes dry giving way to a sneaky bitterness that is pleasing as all hell. Like Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, down a few of these beside your climbing hop plants and some form of (temporary) enlightenment will surely follow.

New Belgium Summer Helles
Have you noticed my theme for today? Lager, Über Alles! Just as the name says, this is a helles, or "light" beer. But they’re only referring to the color, folks, this ain’t no Lite beer. This straw-colored lager has all sorts of good things going for it. The aroma is of honey-like malt with a scent of fresh-cut grass blowing around the edges. In the mouth, there’s a nice biscuit flavor that gets chased down by an earthy, firm bitterness that makes you want to return to the glass maybe a little faster than you should. Oh, what the hell, it’s summer, have another!

OK, I’m out of here. You can find both these beers at the big grocery stores here in town, but don’t linger in those dumps… get outside, sit in the dirt and drink some beer.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fox River Brewing Launches Bago Brew Collection

Last week Fox River Brewing Co. in Oshkosh sent out an email blast announcing a new series of beers named the Bago Brew Collection that will be released over the course of this summer. The first in the series is a beer named 2 Dams Blonde Ale, which is now on tap at Fratellos. It’s a good beer, but more of a cream ale than a blonde. I may be splitting hairs, but to me it has the tangible sweetness and negligible hop character that distinguishes a cream ale from a blonde ale. Thankfully, 2 Dams is unfiltered, so despite it being fairly crisp the beer retains a soft mouthfeel that makes it a bit more interesting than a standard cream ale.

The other piece of the Bago Brew Collection is that Fox River will, once again, be distributing their beers to area taverns. There was a time, especially in the late 1990s, when you used to see Fox River beers on tap at bars across the Fox River Valley. That presence gradually dwindled to nothing. The last time I saw a Fox River beer in an Oshkosh tavern was at Barley & Hops a couple of years ago. It’ll be good to see a handle from the local brewery showing up beside those of other craft brewers again.

But here’s the rub: why would you kick this all off with a blonde ale? I don’t assume to know Fox River’s customer base better than they do, but I do know a good number of their customers and I know that this isn’t the sort of beer that’s going to grab their attention. In the current craft-beer environment you just don’t see people gravitating towards blonde ales. Sure, a beer like Spotted Cow sells like mad, but that beer was first released in 1997 at a time when “micro brew” was looked upon as something of a novelty. Those days are gone. What makes the Cow such a powerhouse these days is its omnipresence coupled with the familiarity people have with the beer. I think it would be safe to say that if Spotted Cow were released today, it would stand little chance of reaching the level of popularity it now holds.

Perhaps I’m just being crotchety. The beer 2 Dams is replacing is Fox Light, a beer with an unfortunate name, but a beer that I always enjoyed. Fox Light was not a “Lite” beer, it was a German-style kolsch and a damned good one. Good enough, in fact to win a World Beer Cup award in 2010. 2 Dams is a suitable replacement, but that’s all it is. It’s not a step up. It’s a middle-of-the-road beer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s time for them to stop playing it so safe. This is a brewery capable of producing a wide-range of complex, interesting beers. I’d like to see them market that for a change.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Disorderly Brewery on Bayshore Drive

An 1885 Insurance Map of the Oshkosh Brewery
Back to 1880 and the little Oshkosh Brewery on Bayshore Dr. (then known as River Street). Our old friend George Loescher is there and he’s about to run into some trouble.

The first edition of Loescher’s Oshkosh Brewery was built in 1853. Its location was approximately 150’ west of Eveline St. on the south side of Bayshore Dr. But at the close of the 1870s, Loescher moved his brewery up the street to the north east corner of Frankfort and Bayshore. By 1880, Loescher had his new brewery up and running. The German-born brewer, however, was no longer a young man. Loescher was 61 years old and eyeing his exit from the brewhouse. In the summer of 1880, he found his out.

On August 7, 1880, Loescher sold his brewery to John Walter and Bernard Ruety. That’s where the trouble begins. Soon after the sale, the Daily Northwestern reported that things were going bad at the Oshkosh Brewery.

Sudden Disappearance
John Walter, of the firm of Ruety & Walter, proprietors of the brewery in the Second Ward, has been missing since last Friday and no trace of him can be found. The only explanation now entertained for his unexpected absence is that he has absconded. Ruety & Walter bought out Loescher's brewery some three months ago, and since running the brewery have quarreled among themselves, each trying to sell out to the other. A few days ago they mortgaged the personal property in the brewery for $300 and Ruety now claims that Walter has run away with the $300 and all the money he could collect from saloon keepers to whom the firm has sold beer.
-- Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; October 26, 1880

Juicy stuff thanks to the mysterious Mr. Walter. We may have encountered this fellow before, a couple blocks away at the Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave.

The Gambrinus Brewery began as a partnership between Lorenz Kuenzl and his brother-in-law named John Walter. But in May 1880, Kuenzl and Walter dissolved their partnership with Kuenzl taking control of the brewery. Three months later, we find a John Walter going into partnership at the Oshkosh Brewery. Is this the same man? I haven’t been able to confirm that it is. The trail of John Walter seems to go cold after 1880. The Northwestern article may explain why this is. If you had absconded with what today would be worth over $7,000, it would  be best to keep a rather low profile. Maybe this is why I can't seem to draw a bead on John Walter’s later years.

I’m not the first person to be frustrated by a slippery John Walter. George Loescher had no better luck tracking him down than I have. Bernard Ruety admitted defeat and deeded his interest in the Oshkosh Brewery back to Loescher in November 1880, but John Walter was nowhere to be found and his name clouded the title to the property for years to come. It would take until 1887 to have the matter fully resolved. By that time, George Loescher had been dead almost three years.

Loescher’s sons kept the Oshkosh Brewery limping along for a few more years, but by 1890 the gig was up. The disorderly little brewery on Bayshore Dr. was closed for good.

The backstory on Loescher’s Oshkosh Brewery can be found HERE and HERE.