Friday, February 27, 2015

Dreams of Green

My new Oshkosh Beer Beat column is up at the Oshkosh Independent. It’s all about hops. If you’re thinking of planting hops this spring, you’ll want to check it out HERE.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bock Beer and Other Earthly Delights

A few odds and ends to clear from the decks. But let’s start with a beer.

The Bock Season
I haven’t squawked about bock much this winter. What’s wrong with me? This season hasn’t been not too bad on the bock front, though it certainly could be better. But until some of these overrated craft brewers acquire the skill to brew a proper lager, I guess we're stuck with trendy beers dribbling from played-out bourbon barrels. Harumph.

Anyway, I’ve had a couple of good traditional bocks this season. It started in January when Point’s Bock went on tap at Dublin’s and Oblio’s. This was a bock harkening back to the sort of bocks small Wisconsin brewers were pounding out like mad until most of them went bust in the 1950s. Schell’s Bock is along the same lines. I’ve sang my praises to this beer before. It’s malty and rich, but still very drinkable. They have 12-packs of it at Festival.

Fox River Brewing Company’s Defibrillator Doppelbock returned earlier this year. I’m quite fond of this one. It’s full-bodied with a lush, caramelized malt character and a gently bitter end. It’s 8.5% ABV and they have it on draft and in bottles for carry out at Fratellos.

Leinenkugel's Big Butt is also a doppelbock. At least that’s what the label says. Swing and a miss. I picked up a 12-pack of this in cans at Pick N’ Save. I tried to like it. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Or maybe Leinenkugel's didn’t.

On the lighter side, there’s New Glarus' Cabin Fever Honey Bock. This is a very approachable, 6% beer that’s crisp and slightly sweet. A good beer for a bright, cold winter afternoon. I’ve seen Cabin Fever at a bunch of places around town including all the big-box grocery stores. Its best, though, on draft where the honey flavor really comes through.

But my favorite bock this season has been Capital Maibock. I have this every year, but this year it really grabbed me. Its fragrant caramel and toasted bread aroma leads to a creamy texture and a malt flavor that made me think of toast and toffee. The hops hang in the background, just as they should, providing little more than balance. There’s a twist of warming alcohol that rises to pinch you in the finish. A nice effect. At just over 6% ABV, it’s not too imposing, just imposing enough. Festival Foods has this in 6-packs.

Oblio’s Slow Ride Sampling
This Friday (February 27) they’ll be sampling New Belgium’s Slow Ride, the brewery’s new session IPA. It’s a one-hour sampling running from 6-7 p.m. You know the drill: show up, drink a free sample or two and have some fun. It’s that easy.

SOB Lake Brew
If you’d like to view something painful and freakish Saturday morning (February 27), you could slide by the Southside Ice Yacht Club in Oshkosh where a bunch of SOBs will take to the frozen lake and attempt to brew beer. That’s right, a pack from the Society of Oshkosh Brewers are going onto the ice with their kettles and burners. Some are even threatening to brew with water taken directly from the lake. Why? Because they can, that’s why. The brew starts around 8 a.m. and will end by noon or as soon as the last case of frost bite occurs, whichever comes first.

Hops & Props 2015
The EAA’s big beer fest is approaching. The event is a little more than a week away on Saturday, March 7. Tickets are once again $75 this year. I’ve heard plenty of grumbling about that. Is it worth it? You decide. You can see the full rundown of the event including the breweries that’ll have beer there by clicking HERE.

World of Beer Opening
This is up in Appleton and I’m thinking they can have it. World of Beer is essentially a tavern chain. Each outlet features a large taplist of craft beer. The Appleton World of Beer, at 149 N. Mall Drive, is slated to open Monday, March 2. They say they’ll have 50 beers on draft and 10 times as many in bottles. I’m curious, but also mildly repelled. To me, a corporate, cookie-cutter, chain bar seems antithetical to what I like to think beer is about. Then again, I’m curious to see what it’s like. We’ll see...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Heidel House Brew Fest & Homebrew How-To

The Heidel House Resort in Green Lake will have their 4th Annual Brew Fest on Saturday, March 27. This year in addition to the Brew Fest, they’ll host a Homebrew How-To on the night before the festival. It’ll be a couple of Society of Oshkosh Brewers kicking things off.

Jody Cleveland and I will give a homebrewing and beer-tasting demo at The Heidel House on Friday, March 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. We’ll go step-by-step through the brewing and tasting process; covering everything from soil to swallow. It’s going to be a hands on sort of event, with brewing equipment and raw ingredients onsite.

We’re also bringing a couple of homebrews to sample. We’ll have homebrewed clones of two beers that were produced by the Ripon Brewing Company, which closed in 1937. Old Derby Ale and Old Derby Porter were brewed in Ripon immediately after Prohibition. These are rare brews that harken back to the American beers of the early 1900s.

The night will conclude with a workshop on beer tasting that will include both commercial and homebrewed samples. It’ll be a good way to prep for the Saturday night Brew Fest.

To take part in this event, you’ll need to reserve your ticket in advance. If you have a Friday and Saturday night room reservation at the Heidel House and have purchased a ticket to Saturday night’s Brew Fest, then admission to the Homebrew How-To is free. Otherwise, tickets are $20.00.

For more information and to make reservations call 800.444.2812 or visit the Brew Fest website. There’s more on the Friday homebrew event here. See you there...

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1900

By 1900, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) had come to dominate the beer market in the City of Oshkosh. Ten years earlier there had been four competing breweries in the city: Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, John Glatz’s Union Brewery, Lorenz Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery, and Charles Rahr’s City Brewery. But after the 1894 merger of the Horn & Schwalm, Glatz, and Kuenzl breweries to form OBC, the beer market in Oshkosh underwent a dramatic shift.

Now there were just two competing breweries in Oshkosh: OBC and the much smaller brewery operated by the Rahr family. It took a couple of years for OBC to find its footing and absorb the changes that came with the merger. Once it did, though, the brewery began flexing its muscle.

OBC seized control of the Oshkosh beer market and exploited its dominance for all it was worth. And the folks at the brewery weren’t hiding the fact that they were happy to be the kings of beer here.

On March 27, 1900, the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern ran an article about OBC that reads as if it were sponsored by the brewery. It probably was. And I imagine most of the saloon men in Oshkosh were spitting mad after reading it. They were the ones shouldering the burden of OBC’s success (more on their discontent next Monday).

The full text of the article is below. It’s a windy one, but it’s loaded with fascinating information. I’ll highlight a couple of key points beneath it and have a note about the image of the brewery shown here.

The Oshkosh Brewing Co's Plant

One of the most successful business institutions of the city is that of the Oshkosh Brewing Company, located on the south side, a cut of which is herewith presented. This corporation conducts one of the finest plants in the northwest for the manufacture of beer. 

Ever since the consolidation in 1894 of the Horn, Glatz and Kuenzl breweries into the Oshkosh Brewing Company, the business of the company has gradually increased in such proportion until now, when it commands fully three-fourths of the beer business of the city of Oshkosh and is gradually reaching out into different parts of the state. 

The product of the Oshkosh Brewing company is distinctively a home article, and the local trade realizing this has not been backward in conferring its patronage upon the home industry, and purchasing an article; which is conceded to be the very best of its kind placed on the market. 

The company prefers home-grown cereals because they are as good as can be obtained elsewhere, besides being a benefit to the neighboring country. Every bushel is bought in Oshkosh in open market at the highest prices. It assures the farmer of better prices for his grain, and thus indirectly rebounds to the benefit of the city at large. Thus nearly all the money expended remains at home. The company is a strong believer in home industry, and carries out its ideas in this respect, which results in assisting the other industries of the city and, enlarging the business importance of Oshkosh. 

The prosperity of the Oshkosh Brewing Company is well merited, for the reason that its beer cannot be excelled in purity of manufacture and excellence of taste. Only the very best and purest products of the farm in the way of cereals are used in its manufacture, and the users and consumers of beer quickly appreciate this fact and have bestowed upon it the large and excellent patronage which it so justly deserves. 

It is no exaggeration, to state that the plant of the company is one of the most thorough and complete of its kind in the country, being equipped with the latest improved machinery for the manufacture of its beer, into which no adulterations of any kind are permitted to enter. 

Within the last year the officials of the company have made somewhat of a departure which resulted in placing upon the market what is known as the celebrated Berliner Weiss beer, being a white-colored beer, which met with an immediate and pronounced demand. The delicate taste and exquisite purity and color of this product appealed to all consumers of beer, and, as a result, it is in almost universal demand wherever it is known. 

For strictly family use, bottled goods, in Select, Gilt Edge and Export, Standard are produced in pints and quarts, which make an excellent drink, without which no table is complete in its cuisine.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company is the largest corporation of its kind in the city, employing in both its manufacturing and bottling departments in the neighborhood of thirty men. Five men and teams are kept constantly employed in delivering the product in the keg, while the demand for the bottled goods is also so great that the same number of men are always at work in supplying the trade with the bottled goods. All orders for the goods are always promptly attended to. 

Several new improvements were made in the plant the past year, which resulted in increasing its capacity. The brew house was enlarged, new washing and other machines added, and the cellars extended in order to make room for the Weiss beer. The capacity of the corporation is now 50,000 barrels of beer annually, and if it has the success in the future which it has enjoyed in the past, more extensions and more improvements will be rendered necessary. 

The indication at present are that the business in the Weiss beer alone next year will be doubled, and as other brands are equally as popular, it is safe to predict that the prosperous year just passed will be followed by another which will be much greater in the volume of business to be transacted by the firm.

The present officers who have the direction of the affairs of the company are: President, August Horn; treasurer, William Glatz; secretary F. S. Schneider.

     - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern March 27, 1900

A few items of note:

The article indicates that OBC was making 75% of the beer consumed in the city of Oshkosh. That jibes with other figures I’ve come across. In 1900, OBC sold 17,675 barrels of beer. That’s almost 2,000 barrels more than it sold in 1899, and nearly 4,000 more than it sold in 1898. This brewery was growing at a rapid clip. It helped that they were serving a city that per-capita was drinking about 31 gallons of beer annually, or nearly twice the national average.

At this same time, Rahr of Oshkosh was producing approximately 2,000 barrels of beer annually. Another 3,900 barrels were being sent in from brewers outside of Oshkosh.

This overwhelming preference for OBC beer meant the brewery was able to set the price on beer sold in Oshkosh. The competition had been effectively neutered. The saloon men were caught in the middle. Their discontent was growing palpable. It would soon erupt into full revolt (come back next Monday for that story).

That business about OBC buying its cereals from local farmers was no small matter, either. Barley was OBC’s biggest expenditure in the production of its beer. This was a period where most brewers were still malting their own barley. Most of OBC’s malting was done at their facility in the 1600 block of Doty St. This was a craft brewery before anyone had dreamed of such a thing.

The mention of the popularity of OBC’s weiss beer is intriguing. I’d love to know more about this. Was this truly a “Berliner” weiss with all the attended sourness of the style? I’d like to think so, but until that time machine comes along we’ll be left to wonder.

Finally, let’s take a closer look at the image that accompanied this article. Click the image to enlarge it.

This is a composite of the three breweries operated by OBC. Each was located in a different part of the city.

The brewery at the lower right with the red “1” on it was the Horn & Schwalm plant. It was located in the 1600 block of Doty St. A large portion of the Horn & Schwalm brewery still stands.

The “2” brewery was the Glatz brewery, located at the end of Doty St. where Glatz Park now resides. Parts of this brewery’s lagering cellar are still visible there.

The “3” brewery at the upper right is the Kuenzl brewery. This was located in what is now the 1200 block of Harney Ave. Not a trace of it remains.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Couple of Bull Falls Beers to Drink Tonight in Oshkosh

Bull Falls Brewery launches its beer in Oshkosh tonight (Feb. 19) with a tap takeover at Oblio’s Lounge beginning at 9 p.m. They’ll have free samples of the Wausau brewery’s beer along with four Bull Falls beers on draught.

Over the past few years, I’ve become a fan of the lagers Bull Falls produces. Oblio’s will have two of those on tap. Let’s take a look…

Midnight Star Lager
This is Bull Falls take on the German Schwarzbier style. It’s a dark lager with a bready aroma and undertones of toffee and light roast. The mouthfeel is medium bodied and creamy. The malt flavor is slightly nutty and rounded with just enough bitterness. The clean, somewhat dry finish conceals that it’s 6.0% ABV. A wonderful beer meant to be taken in long pulls from the glass.

Bull Falls Bock Lager
This is their Spring seasonal and a pitch perfect bock beer. It pours chestnut brown giving off a gust of malt aromatics. The beer is full bodied with a rich, Munich-malt flavor that’s at first toasty and then caramel-like. For a beer that’s 7.2% ABV, it’s incredibly drinkable. Easily one of the best American-made traditional bocks on the market today.

Bull Falls Brewery has an interesting backstory. I spewed everything I know on the subject yesterday over at the Oshkosh Independent. You can find that story HERE. See you tonight!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Dogfish Head Beer Dinner Tonight at Dublin’s Irish Pub

Word is there are still a few seats left for the Dogfish Head Beer Dinner starting tonight (Feb. 18) at 6 p.m. at Dublin’s Irish Pub.

Tickets are $50 and available at Dublin’s. It would be wise, though, to call ahead and confirm that there are seats left. Phone (920) 385-0277.

The menu and beer pairings for this one look fantastic. If you’re going, here’s the full run down. Enjoy!

Course 1
Namaste, a Belgian-style witbier, paired with asparagus goat cheese pinwheel and arugula salad.

Course 2
World Wide Stout, an imperial stout (15-20% ABV), paired with chocolate bourbon bacon baked beans.

Course 3
Piercing Pils, a Czech-style pilsener brewed with a white pear tea and pear juice, paired with crepe with blue cheese and pear rhubarb compote.

Course 4
Sixty-One, an American IPA with an addition of syrah grape must, paired with sherry and lemon brined rack of lamb crusted with rosemary and fennel.

Course 5
Raison D’Extra, a Belgian-style strong dark ale brewed with brown sugar and raisins, paired with cinnamon puff pastry with cream cheese frosting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fox River Brewing & Gardina's Team Up for a Firkin Tonight

The 17th installment of Gardina’s Beer Bar series happens tonight. This one is special. At 6 p.m. Gardina’s will tap into a firkin of Fox River Brewing Company's 20th Anniversary Ale.

This is a hoppy, red ale with brew-kettle additions of wildflower and buckwheat honey. The beer was then dry hopped in the firkin with citra and mosaic hops. There’s more: at this moment, the beer is being conditioned on additions of pineapple and papaya. At 10% ABV, this promises to be a big beer in every way.

I talked with Kevin Bowen, brewmaster at Fox River, last week. He said this may be his most adventurous cask. “It really has some interesting flavors coming through,” Bowen says.

The beer isn’t the only thing special here. This marks the first time Fox River Brewing has tapped a firkin of its beer in a neighboring Oshkosh tavern or restaurant. And Kevin Bowen will be on hand for the event. He’s a personable, approachable guy. Don’t hesitate to step up and get to know your local brewer. See you there…

Monday, February 16, 2015

Then and Now: Fenzl’s Saloon & Jeff’s on Rugby

Here’s a composite of two photos taken at the same location in Oshkosh about 120 years apart. For a better view, click on the image.

The picture on the left was taken sometime between 1891 and 1894. The photo on the right was taken a week ago. Both show the property at 1005 Rugby St. in Oshkosh, which is now home to Jeff's On Rugby.

The earlier photo shows the building when it was Joe’s Sample Room, a saloon owned and operated by Josef Fenzl. He was born in Unterzassau, Bohemia in 1858. Fenzl migrated to America while in his late 20s and in 1890 purchased the lot where he launched his saloon in 1891.

There’s a couple of details in this photo, I want to point out. Notice that a sign for Kuenzl’s Lager Beer has been painted on the front window of the saloon. Kuenzl ran the the Gambinrus Brewery in Oshkosh and, like Fenzl, was a Bohemian expat.

On the corner of the building is a sign for Horn & Schwalm’s Stock Lager. The dark beer many of the men in the photo are hoisting looks as if it could be a stock lager. This was an unpasteurized beer served from wooden kegs that was popular in saloons.

The horses you see here are pulling a beer wagon from Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery. At this point in time, the Brooklyn Brewery was the largest brewery in Oshkosh.

Here’s a closer look at a portion of the photo showing more detail. As always, click the image to enlarge it.

Obviously, Fenzl was serving at least a couple of different beers. That would indicate that his wasn’t a tied house. But that would change. In 1906, Fenzl sold this building, where he and his family also lived, along with all of his saloon fixtures to the Oshkosh Brewing Company. Fenzl then leased the property from OBC. The deed/lease, included a couple of major restrictions.

It is provided as a part consideration of said lease that Joseph Fenzl shall at all times handle exclusively the product of said Brewing Company.
        - From a Warranty Deed dated May 29, 1906

The other major stipulation (I’ll spare you the droning legalese) was that for the next five years Fenzl couldn’t operate or be associated with another saloon within five blocks of this one.

That’s about as tied up as a saloon keeper could get. In exchange for the agreement, Fenzl was paid $1,000 and was obliged to pay OBC $300 a year rent.

That means that for $25 a month Fenzl had both his home and business provided for. That $25 would be worth about $700 today. How many tavern owners doing business now might take that offer were it made to them? More than a few, I’d guess.

The arrangement appears to have suited Fenzl well enough. He stayed put for the next 10 years operating what was now a tied house and selling no other beer than that of the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

OBC held onto the property until 1922 when the brewery sold it to Gustave Jeschke. By then Prohibition had been the law of the land for two years. In need of cash, the struggling brewery was looking to deal off some of its former saloon properties. But even though OBC couldn’t make beer at this point, they couldn’t resist adding a restriction to the transaction. The stipulation bound Jeschke “to use and sell the products manufactured by the Oshkosh Brewing Company when same can be legally sold.” Kind of sad, actually.

One more picture. This one is from 1977 when it was Sonny’s Tavern.

Did you notice the Old Style sign? How’s that for irony? It gets better. The Old Style sign was put up by Lee Beverage. The owners of Lee Beverage had once been part owners of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It goes 'round and 'round...

For more on the tied houses of Oshkosh, check out last Monday’s post.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Beer-Soaked Week Just Ahead

Next week is going to be an exceedingly beery one here in Oshkosh. I have a new article up at the Oshkosh Independent covering what’s going on. Check that out HERE.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tied and Un-Tied Houses in Oshkosh

Nigl's "Chieftin" at 556 West 9th.
Tied to the Oshkosh Brewing Company
Before Prohibitionists got their way in 1920, one of their rallying points in their quest to outlaw alcohol was the debauched institution known as the tied house.

Tied houses were saloons controlled by breweries. Sometimes the brewery might own the saloon outright. Other times the brewery would have some form of controlling interest in the saloon. In all cases, the saloon keeper was obligated to sell no other beer than that of the brewery the saloon was tied to.

The arrangement was problematic. By hampering competition, some breweries were able to use the tied-house system to dominate markets. Beginning in the late 1890s, the Oshkosh Brewing Company used its tied houses to control beer prices in this city for more than a decade.

More obviously troublesome was that tied houses tended to be breeding grounds for vice. The 1913 Teasdale report on “White Slave Traffic and Kindred Subjects" in Wisconsin showed Oshkosh right there in the thick of things.

Saloon at 31 Main Street has 13 booths formed by seats, and has tables at which girls and women prostitutes gather. On the day the investigator was there 16 guests were there at the same time; six girls without male escorts were at the tables and were seen there to pick up men and go off with them.
     - Excerpt from the 1913 Teasdale Report

That saloon at 31 Main was owned by the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

Prohibition was supposed to be the death knell of the tied house. But when Prohibition was repealed in 1933, both the Oshkosh Brewing Company and Rahr Brewing of Oshkosh still owned numerous taverns, which they leased to others to operate, just as they had done before Prohibition.

Blanche & Carl Rahr
New laws made the tavern keepers more independent after repeal, but the influence of the landlord was still in effect. We can see that at work in 1956 when the Rahr Brewing Company went out of business.

When the Rahr brewery closed, Carl and Blanche Rahr struck a deal with the Oshkosh Brewing Company to supply beer to the saloons they owned. The arrangement was almost certainly illegal, but hardly uncommon. At the time, the Rahr family owned at least 9 taverns in Oshkosh. At each of them the situation was the same. When the Rahr’s beer stopped flowing, OBC’s beer began pouring.

In the first six months of the agreement, OBC sold more than 300 barrels of beer in taverns owned by the Rahrs. It’s clear that, just as they had before prohibition, breweries here were still guiding the saloon keepers hand when it came to the beer they would be pouring.

Lorenz Kuenzl
At OBC, they were definitely pleased with the situation. At the end of 1956, OBC secretary Lorenz “Shorty” Kuenzl sent a letter to Carl Rahr thanking him for his consideration.

We want to thank you and Blanche for the partiality shown us here; we appreciate highly the friendship on your part over many years past. On our part, we have always felt most friendly to both of you, as you well know.
     - From a letter to Carl Rahr written by Lorenz Kuenzl dated December 13, 1956.

I wonder how the saloon keepers felt about it? One of them, at least, seemed reluctant to play ball. Ambrose Wirtz, who ran the Rahr-owned Elbow Room Tavern at 1309 Oregon St., initially resisted OBCs wish to put up its signs in his bar. A call from his landlord fixed that. Wirtz fell in line and OBC’s signs went up at the Elbow Room. The old games were still being played.

A few of the locations the Rahr’s owned continue to operate as taverns today. Among them are Ratch & Deb's Pizza at 720 Merritt, Knucklehead's Booze, Blues, & BBQ at 1226 Oshkosh Ave, Old Oshkosh Saloon II at 1309 Oregon, Uncle Don’s at 709 Otter, and Calhoun Beach Club at 695 N. Main. Each of these operated under different names when the properties were owned by the Rahrs. None of them are owned by the Rahr family today.

The ties that breweries had to taverns continued to diminish as the years went on. By 1972, it was a dead issue here. The last tavern in Oshkosh owned by a brewery was Oblio’s at 434 North Main. Schlitz Brewing purchased the property in 1886 and didn’t sell it off until 1972. With that the unraveling of the tied house was complete in Oshkosh.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fresh Beer at the Oshkosh Independent

The Oshkosh Independent is up and running. If you haven’t seen it yet, the OI is a new, locally produced, online magazine that launched on February 1. The site features articles about Oshkosh news, music, art, business, events, and most importantly… beer.

I’ll have a weekly column at the OI covering the Oshkosh beer scene. It's named the Oshkosh Beer Beat and it’s scheduled to pop up on the site each Thursday. You can find the first one HERE.

If you have a beer event, beer news or any other beery topic you’d like to see covered at the OI, just drop me a note. My email address is there in the sidebar under the Oshkosh Beer sign.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fond du Lac Brewfest is this Weekend

Our friends to the south are pitching a beer festival. The 6th annual Fond du Lac Brewfest happens this Saturday February 7, at the Fond du Lac Fairgrounds. The event runs from 5-9 p.m.

I’ve been to this fest a number of times and it’s always been a blast. This year they’ll have 27 different breweries pouring. More important than the brewery count is the kind of breweries they’ll have on hand. The great majority of them are small producers and brewpubs; i.e. you won’t see a bunch of distributors standing around pouring the same stuff you can find at the grocery store.

Here’s a random pick of six, just to give you an idea: MobCraft Beer, Sweet Mullets Brewing, Vintage Brewing, Ahnapee Brewery, Plymouth Brewing, Grumpy Troll... it’s definitely not your everyday selection.

In addition to the pro brew they’ll also have 13 Wisconsin homebrew clubs, the SOBs among them, pouring more than 100 different home-made beers. I know how these things go. By the end of the night, homebrew row is where the real fun will be found.

In addition to all that beer, there will be mead and wine and live music and food and that ought to be more than enough to make Saturday night memorable. If you can remember it.

Tickets for the event are $35 in advance or $45 at door. I’d strongly suggest getting the advance ticket. It looks like they stand a decent chance of selling the fest out this year.

In Oshkosh tickets are available at O'Marro's Public House. You can also get them online HERE. In Fondy, tickets are being sold at the The Green Dragon Brewpub on 156 Western Ave.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A 1957 Snapshot of Oshkosh Beer

Welcome to February, the month that officially kicks off the winter doldrums. Here’s something to give you hope. Click that little picture over there. It’ll grow large and comfort you with its sunny warmth.

The photo is from the summer of 1957. It was passed along to me by my friend Janet Wissink. Janet doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks it was probably shot on a Sunday somewhere on the South Side of Oshkosh. That figures. Peoples did their best business on the South Side.

Before we dive into the beer scene of 1957, Let’s meet the folks smiling at us. On the left is Janet’s mother, Audrey Penzenstadler of Oshkosh. The woman in the middle is Esther Kunz, of Appleton. The happy guy with the bottle of Peoples Beer and the hot dog is Esther’s son, Roderick Kunz. More on him later.

This picture was taken at an interesting point in Oshkosh’s beer history. The Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh had closed a year earlier. For the first time in over 100 years, Oshkosh had just two breweries – Peoples Brewing and the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

Both breweries were at their peak. At OBC they produced more than 57,000 barrels of beer in 1957. Peoples had sales of approximately 34,000 barrels that year. The bulk of OBC’s beer was sold in bottles. Peoples sold the lion’s share of its beer on draught in taverns. Whatever the package, most of the beer brewed in Oshkosh that year was consumed locally.

That’s a lot of beer drinking, especially when you consider that Oshkosh had slightly less than 45,000 residents at this point. But people here were dedicated to their local beer. A survey taken in 1957 showed that 75% of the beer drinkers in Oshkosh drank only beer brewed in Oshkosh. The going price for either beer was around $2.40 for a case of returnable bottles.

Combined, these two breweries employed more than 110 people. Both companies were into a modernization phase and putting money into their breweries. Together they were producing more than 90,000 barrels of beer annually. That number would climb to nearly 100,000 barrels within the next two years. Here’s some perspective: The Fox River Brewing company currently brews 600-700 barrels of beer a year in Oshkosh.

In 1957, there were 32 breweries in Wisconsin. OBC was the 10th largest. Peoples was the 16th. While most of Wisconsin’s regional breweries were seeing their fortunes grow worse each year, the breweries in Oshkosh were growing. Of course, it wouldn’t last. fifteen years later each of them were closed.

Back to our picnickers on their sunny day in 1957. I’m sure they weren’t concerned in the least with any of this stuff about Oshkosh’s booming breweries. Roderick Kunz certainly seems to be enjoying that Oshkosh-brewed beer in his hand. Looks as if he’s well into his second bottle. I hope there were more to come.

Roderick Kunz was 26 years old when this picture was taken. On his left hand you can see his new wedding ring. A couple months earlier, Roderick married Fay Penzenstadler of Oshkosh (the daughter of Audrey Penzenstadler, the woman on the far left with the kind smile). Roderick and Fay had just completed their sophomore years at the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh. Here’s to young Roderick having a good time on his summer break. Wouldn’t you like to be there now?