Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Barley & Hops Beer Sampling Wednesday Night

The Barley & Hops Beer Sampling series gets back on track tomorrow night, Wednesday, April 1.

This time around Barley’s will feature Milwaukee’s Sprecher Brewing. This is going to be a good-sized sampling. In addition to the dozen different brews from Sprecher, there’s going to be a selection of beers from Ommegang and Redhook along with another 40 or so beers from other breweries.

The sampling will also include homebrew from the Society of Oshkosh Brewers, a wine sampling table, a spirits sampling table, and a selection of snacks from Beck’s Meats.

The sampling will run from 7-10 p.m. Advance tickets are available at Barley & Hops for $20. Tickets purchased at the door Wednesday night are $25.

Nate Stiefvater at Barley’s is now into his 6th year of hosting these affordable, mid-week beer fests. Check it out, they’re always a lot of fun. And check out the Facebook Event Page here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Then and Now: Oshkosh’s Southside Breweries

Click the image to enlarge it.

Here's a couple of pictures of Southside Oshkosh taken about 85 years apart.

The top picture is from 1925. It shows the looming presence of Oshkosh’s two largest breweries: Peoples Brewing Company and the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC).

The lower picture is a satellite image from 2011 courtesy of Google Earth. Both breweries were long gone by the time this view was captured.

Construction of the OBC brewery shown here began in 1911 and was completed in 1912. The brewery closed in 1971. Demolition of the six-story OBC brewery began in 1986.

Construction of the Peoples brewery began 1912. It was completed in 1913. Peoples Brewing closed in 1972. Demolition of its four-story brewhouse began in 1974.

In 1925, these breweries dominated the Southside skyline. But that’s about all they dominated. At the time of this picture, Prohibition had been in effect for five years. Each brewery had become a shadow of its former self.

Peoples was limping along producing soda, malt tonics and near beer. At OBC they were selling malt extract, near beer, soda, and using portions of the brewery to pasteurize and process eggs.

Unlike most American breweries, though, these two managed to survive the dry years. When Prohibition ended in 1933, both breweries abandoned their stopgap ventures and went back to doing what they were made to do – they brewed beer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

April Beer

My new Oshkosh Beer Beat column is up at the Oshkosh Independent. This time, it’s about beer events coming to Oshkosh in April. Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Growing Oshkosh... with Homebrew

Homebrewers, Growing Oshkosh wants to compost your spent grain.

Growing Oshkosh is an Oshkosh-based urban farm and garden located on Bay Shore Dr. It’s a nonprofit, grassroots effort with a down-to-earth mission: “to raise awareness and educate citizens about the numerous benefits of fresh, healthy, all-natural and sustainable food and food production.

If you’re an all-grain homebrewer, you can help them out.

Just bring your spent grain to the Growing Oshkosh farm/garden located at 530 Bay Shore Dr. They’ll direct you where to dump it. If nobody is on site, you can leave the grain by the garage door on the parking lot side of the property (which can be approached from the alley behind the 530 Bay Shore Dr. address). By this weekend, they hope to have a bucket or barrel labeled for spent grain out to make the drop off quick and easy.

It’s a shame to throw all that spent grain away when a group like this can put it to good use. The homebrewing season is kicking in. The next time you brew, keep Growing Oshkosh in mind.

Monday, March 23, 2015

If You Drink Beer, Why Not Oshkosh Brewed Beer?

This post is the fifth in a five-part series. If you’d like to read the earlier related posts, here are links to them: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The Truce
When the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) was formed in 1894, the brewery’s goal was to take control of the Oshkosh beer market. Within five years of its launch, OBC had done just that. But the brewery’s fierce domination of the Oshkosh beer market led to a revolt among Oshkosh saloon keepers. In 1913, the saloonists retaliated by launching a cooperative brewery: The Peoples Brewing Company.

In the run up to the opening of Peoples, OBC attacked the upstart brewery with claims that it would produce inferior beer and damage the city’s brewing industry. The stage appeared to be set for a beer war in Oshkosh.

But that war would never be waged. In 1914, Oshkosh’s three breweries – Rahr, OBC and Peoples – came to the agreement that their real enemy wasn’t within.

Beginning in January 1914, Oshkosh’s breweries collaborated on a series of advertisements to persuade the people of Oshkosh to buy no beer but that made in their hometown. In their appeal to Oshkosh drinkers, the breweries here rallied around a common enemy – Milwaukee.

Oshkosh’s breweries had good reason to be nervous. The world’s largest producer of beer was just 90 miles south of the city. Worse yet, Milwaukee had drawn a bead on Oshkosh. In the months after Peoples Brewing opened, Milwaukee breweries launched an aggressive campaign aimed at Oshkosh’s beer drinkers. With the introduction of Peoples, OBC’s near-total domination of the Oshkosh beer market had come to an end. The Milwaukee brewers smelled blood in the water. Miller, Schlitz and Pabst grew tenacious.

Daily Northwestern, July 16, 1913
Each of these three Milwaukee breweries began running large, sometimes full-page, ads in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern. The ads were ornate, polished and dominated the page. The much smaller ads from Oshkosh’s breweries appeared insignificant and antiquated in comparison. Ads for beer from both cities often appeared on the same page. The juxtaposition favored Milwaukee.

The Oshkosh brewers rallied. The first of their responses to the Milwaukee onslaught occurred just six months after the opening of Peoples. With text-laden, half-page ads, the breweries of Oshkosh leveled the same sorts of claims against Milwaukee’s big breweries as OBC had made in its earlier attack on Peoples: the beer was inferior.

“...some of the big outside brewers employ expert chemists to provide substitutes for high priced materials and to find ways of artificially aging beer so that it can be sold as soon as made. This, of course, means a big saving to the brewery that produces hundreds of thousands of barrels of beer yearly, but the beer is never the same.”
     - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, January 17, 1914

The appeal to localism was explicit.

"Why not specify home beer? It's as pure and wholesome as a drink can be made. You get just as much for your money and the same service from the man who handles the home beer as from the agent of the outside brewery. You are helping boost your own town."

Miller, Schlitz and Pabst each had distribution centers and agents located in Oshkosh.

The Oshkosh brewery's collaborative ads ran under a banner that asked, “If you drink beer, why not Oshkosh brewed beer?” And ended with the homey refrain, “Just specify Beer Brewed in Oshkosh. It’s a little thing to ask for, but it’s a big thing after it’s done.”

It worked. Selling beer brewed in Oshkosh to the people of Oshkosh wasn’t a difficult task. For the previous 66 years there had been a marked preference here for beer made in this city. The old loyalties were still vital in 1914. That aspect of our beer culture didn't change substantially until the 1960s. When it did, our breweries went into swift decline.

In 1914, the thought of Oshkosh not having a brewery was unimaginable. In 1972, it was a reality. Rahr, OBC and Peoples were gone. Miller, Pabst and Schlitz were everywhere.

But there was a time when it made sense to ask...

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Oshkosh Homebrewer Goes Pro

This story also appears at the Oshkosh Independent.

Some people seem destined to make beer. Cullen Dunn is one of them. This week, Dunn arrived at the next level of the craft that’s chosen him. He’s joined the staff of brewers at Fox River Brewing Company in Oshkosh and Appleton.

Cullen Dunn
None of this was planned. Dunn shakes his head, amazed by how quickly things have progressed. Did he suspect he’d be a professional brewer six months ago? “Not even remotely,” he says. “It's ridiculous. It's blindsided me.”

Maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. When you look at where Dunn came from, the progression seems entirely natural.

Dunn, 26, grew up in Oshkosh; the son of a homebrewing father. “I remember him having carboys filled with fermenting beer in our basement when I was 10 years old,” he says. But it would be another decade before Dunn would take up the hobby himself.

After graduating from college, he moved to Minneapolis. There he landed a job at Northern Brewer, the nation’s largest supplier of homebrewing equipment and ingredients. Surrounded by a homebrew vortex, Dunn decided to try his hand at beer making. “That's what really got me into it,” he says.

After almost two years at Northern Brewer, Dunn moved back to Wisconsin with his fiancĂ©e. When he returned to his hometown he was surprised by the changes he found. “I'm an Oshkosh guy born and raised,” Dunn says. “But from when I left for Minneapolis to when I got back, it was like night and day here. The beer culture here  has just blown up.”

Brewing a Barleywine
Meanwhile, his homebrewing father had told the owner of the The Cellar homebrew shop in Fond du Lac, that his son was making his way back to Wisconsin. “I was a customer down there at The Cellar,” says Brian Dunn. “I told him what Cullen was doing up in the Cities. When I told him Cullen was moving back down here, he told me to have Cullen contact him right away.”

With little more than a year’s worth of homebrewing experience under his belt, Dunn went to work at The Cellar. He soon became the store manager. Dunn says the daily flow of customer questions about beer and homebrewing required him to develop his knowledge of the craft. “It was such a steep learning curve,” he says. Part of that education has been directed at becoming a better judge of beer flavor.

Dunn is currently enrolled in the Beer Judge Certification Program, an international, standards-based course that certifies and ranks beer judges through examination and monitored tastings. The course is known for its rigor. Dunn says the experience has been eye opening. “It brings you into a whole other realm,” he says “When you start tasting things with people who have been judging beer for a long time you begin to realize how little you've picked up and how much you've been missing. It's kind of a rude awakening”

The skills he’s acquiring should serve him well in this new phase of his career. “I hate leaving the Cellar, but I can't pass this up,” Dunn says. “I'm excited for the opportunity to take the next step forward.” This ought to be a good time for a young brewer to join Fox River Brewing. The brewery is in an expansion mode with a new distribution agreement and a new bottling line that will be installed at the Appleton location.

Though he’s stepping up to the next level, Dunn wants to maintain his homebrewing roots. “I can’t just quit now,” he says with an ironic laugh while brewing a Barleywine on the  three-vessel system he recently built. “I just finished this thing. I’ve got to use it!”

And to keep himself supplied with the beer he likes best, he’ll have to continue making it himself. Dunn enjoys traditional, English styles of beer, especially Ordinary Bitter, a balanced, flavorful ale that’s rarely produced commercially in America.

“It's such an easy drinking beer, but you can't find it around here,” he says. “It's phenomenal fresh, but you can't get it fresh anywhere. That's one recipe that I've been tweaking and getting dialed in.”

There’s yet a more important reason for Cullen Dunn to hang onto his hobby after he goes pro. “It's just something I love to do,” he says.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Unquenchable Thirst For Hops

People are going to look back on this era of beer and say, “Damn, they were hopping the hell out of everything.”

It’s not the first time this has happened. If you dig into the English beers of the early 1800s, you’ll find that, across the board, they were hopped in a manner that makes American craft brewers look conservative.  

Whether you like this trend or not, I think there’s no denying that American brewers are becoming more adept in their promiscuous use of the brewer's spice. For every shit-tasting Belgian IPA I drank five years ago, there are now two great ones available.

Here’s yet another example of a traditional style of beer that gets the American treatment to good effect. This beer is a liquid snapshot of the current scene.

Ale Asylum Hummmane
Back when they called them microbrews, Brown Ales were ubiquitous. Now they’re few and far between. Perhaps this is how the lowly style will be resurrected.

Ale Asylum takes the traditional, English-style Brown Ale and marries it to the American Pale Ale. They’ve managed to do it without destroying what makes a good Brown Ale so appealing.

The beer has the biscuit-like maltiness you expect from a Brown Ale with an aroma full of dark sugar and molasses notes. It’s companioned with a vivid, citrusy hop scent that doesn’t overwhelm the malt’s aromatics. The flavor is much the same. The semi-sweet maltiness is spiced by a hop flavor that’s reminiscent of oranges and grapefruit. As I drank it, I thought again and again of orange-oatmeal cookies. It’s delicious. The bitterness is quite firm, but certainly not overwhelming. It’s a great example of why this current mania for hops is sometimes not such a bad thing.

The only place I’ve seen Hummmane in town is at Festival Foods where they sell it in six packs. Keep you’re eyes open for it. I imagine this’ll start popping up at other locations soon.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Peoples First Draft

I didn’t intend for this to happen, but the last few Monday posts here have shared a common theme. I’ve been pecking away at The Oshkosh Brewing Company’s command of the Oshkosh beer market in the early 1900s and how it led to a backlash that culminated in the formation of Peoples Brewing.

I have a couple more posts that’ll continue to explore that theme. Today I want to take a look at the first beers that Peoples Brewing released when the brewery opened for business in June 1913. Next week, I’ll get into 1914 and how the breweries here reacted to the arrival of Peoples.

If you’d like to catch up with the previous posts in this series, here’s where to find them.

1) The Oshkosh Brewing Company comes to dominate the Oshkosh beer market. HERE.

2) Oshkosh saloon keepers fight back. HERE.

3) The Oshkosh Brewing Company’s angry response to the Peoples revolt. HERE.

Ok, let’s get on with the next part of the story...

Introducing Peoples Beer
In 1912, a year before Peoples Brewing began releasing its beer, the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC) had begun a smear campaign against Oshkosh’s new brewery. “We are informed that the new brewing company, so-called People's Brewing Company, has brought into this city an outside beer which is offered for sale for less money than the actual cost of production of high grade beer,” was among the charges OBC leveled at Peoples prior to the brewery’s launch.

When Peoples finally began selling its beer in June 1913, it was clear that the swipes OBC had taken had not been forgotten by the folks at the new brewery. Though Peoples would never explicitly address the attack, the brewery made a point of countering OBC’s claims. The issue of beer quality was primary in Peoples ads during the first years of its operation. The shadow of OBC’s allegations loomed.

Common Sense will tell you what is good for you and what is not. That beer is good for your health is a fact, but that BETTER BEER is made here in the city you will find out in a fair test. 
Try “Asterweiss” give it a fair test and see if it does not give better satisfaction.
          - From an ad for Peoples beer, January 1915

Asterweiss was Peoples premium bottled beer. This was a pasteurized beer sold in clear bottles, each wrapped in tissue paper to shield the beer from light. The beer was described as being golden in color with “sufficient” body. Asterweiss was brewed with Wisconsin malt and imported Bohemian hops.

At $1.40 for a case of 12oz. bottles it was a somewhat expensive beer, but exactly the same price as OBC’s premium brand, Oshkosh Special Old Lager. In today’s money that would breakdown to just a bit more than $8.50 for a six-pack.

The clear bottle is an interesting feature. This was the era of Upton Sinlcair’s The Jungle. Purity in all things food and beverage was paramount. Peoples advertising would often stress the purity of its beer. The clear bottle would eventually be done away with by Peoples, but early on the use these bottles was meant to be symbolic of the “unadulterated” nature of Peoples' product.

Standard was the second of Peoples two beers. This beer would fuel the success of the brewery. Standard was an unpasteurized draft beer “for those who desire un-steamed beer.” Advertisements for Standard were somewhat vague about what went into the beer, but more than likely it was a standard American adjunct lager. Despite the brewery’s claim that it was “Made from the best materials and thoroughly aged” Standard was the low-cost alternative to Asterweiss.

In Oshkosh saloons, Standard was poured from wooden kegs at a nickel a glass. In stores, it was offered in 16 oz. brown bottles at 50 cents for a 12-pack (or the equivalent of about $4.50 for a six-pack of 12 oz. bottles in today’s money). If ordered directly from the brewery, the beer would be “Delivered free of charge to your home. Always delivered ice cold.”

Within a couple months of its introduction, Standard was on draft in more than 30 Oshkosh saloons. Most of those had previously been pouring the product of OBC.

The popularity of Peoples beer in Oshkosh saloons would grow as the years went on causing OBC to loose its absolute control of the Oshkosh beer market. A new era for beer had arrived in the city

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Gardina’s and the Growing Downtown Beer Scene

My new Oshkosh Beer Beat column is up at the Oshkosh Independent. This time it’s about the upgraded beer section at Gardina’s. Check it out HERE.

Hops Springs Eternal

I was out scouting around for something to pair with this long-lost warmness that’s settled in and found this...

New Glarus Hopster
Can’t go wrong with a beer that has a green rabbit bouncing across its label. Remember Crack'd Wheat from New Glarus? This is that beer rebranded. These days you gotta have something about hops on the label if you want it to sell.

In a nutshell, Hopster is a Bavarian-style Hefeweiss with a hop treatment that’s more like an American Pale Ale. You get the dense aromatics and esters of German Weissbier yeast threading into the pungent bite of American hops. In this case, Amarillo hops. It’s an odd coupling that works better than it probably should.

Hopster pours to a pale gold under a billowing, white head that’s sticky as gum. A burst of clove leads the aroma followed by  spice notes that made me think of pumpkin-pie. Amazing what yeast can do. The hops are definitely in attendance with a lively, lemon-zest citrus scent, but if you’re looking for IPA style aromatics looks somewhere else.

The beer is medium bodied with a creaminess that’s very pleasing. There’s an almost sweet, breadiness to the malt flavor that provides a good cushion for the sharper phenolic flavors of the yeast and the bright, citrusy bitterness of the hops. I love that balance.

The beer ends with a clean bittering that makes for a surprisingly crisp finish when you consider all of the flavor that comes before it. Probably the best marriage of American hops with this kind of yeast profile I’ve tasted. A beer that’s especially fitting for this spring-like weather we’re having.

No mention of ABV on the label, but I’m guessing it’s on the high side of 5%. They’re selling sixers of Hopster at Festival Foods in Oshkosh for  $7.99

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ale Asylum Tap Takeover and No Green Beer at O’Marro’s Public House

Starting tomorrow and running into next week, O’Marro’s Public House will be going full tilt.

Things kick off tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 11) with an Ale Asylum tap takeover at the pub. The ales of Ale Asylum start flowing at 7 p.m. No word on what exactly will be running from the faucets, but you can’t really go wrong with any of the beer from this Madison brewery. The takeover will go until 9 p.m. with live music starting around 8 p.m.

Then on Friday night, March 13, St. Patrick’s day festivities get rolling at O’Marro’s with live music from Copper Box and the Mad Polecats.

That’ll lead into Saturday morning when O’Marro’s will have its 10th Annual St. Patrick’s Celebration. The Pub opens at 11 a.m. and will be serving Irish breakfast all day. There’ll be live Irish music, Irish dancers, a Bag Piper... and, of course, plenty of actual Irish beer. This year, they’ll again have the “2 Gingers Trolley” running between O’Marro’s, Dublin’s, Molly Maguire’s and Mahoney’s, so you can make Oshkosh’s Irish circuit without having to navigate it yourself.

On St. Patrick's Day, Tuesday, March 17, they’ll dust themselves off and start all over again. The pub will open at 11 a.m. for Irish breakfast with Paddy’s day celebrations going on throughout the day. There’s going to be some sore livers in Oshkosh by mid-week next week...

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Oshkosh Brewing Company Faces the Peoples Revolt

At some point I’m going to stop poking around in the early 1900s. But not today.

Last Monday’s post was about the Oshkosh Brewing Company’s (OBC's) brutish behavior during the first decade of the 20th Century and the discontent it fueled among Oshkosh saloon keepers. That discontent eventually triggered a revolt, which culminated in the formation of Peoples Brewing Company.

This week I want to get into OBC’s reaction to the saloon keeper’s mutiny. As you’d probably guess, the folks at the big brewery were none too happy.

The year 1912 was an epic one for the Oshkosh Beer scene. At Rahr Brewing they were busy expanding and renovating their brewery. Meanwhile, down on South Main two large breweries were being built across the street from one another.

On May 8, 1912 OBC placed an article in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern accessing the beer situation in the city. Beneath a drawing of its new brewery, OBC offered a dense, wordy write-up. The piece begins as a celebration of the brewery’s latest accomplishment and then devolves into an angry, bitter summation of the changing beer scene in Oshkosh.

The article was entitled A WORD TO THE PUBLIC. Sounds more like a warning than a celebration. I can’t confirm it, but I suspect the piece was penned by William Glatz, then president of OBC. I’ve read a number of letters and business reports that Glatz wrote and this piece shares the same stressed apprehension that characterizes his writings about the brewery.

The article is exceedingly long. You can read it in its entirety here. If you’re interested in the inner workings of a regional brewery in the early 1900s, it’s worth reading the entire thing. But if that’s more than you’re up for, here’s a few of my favorite clips from the piece (italicized) along with a bit of commentary (standard type).

As I mentioned, the article begins on a note of triumph with a look at OBC’s new brewery.

William Glatz
Our new plant is now in operation, and we’ve spared no money or pains in making this plant second to none in the northwest, and we believe that we can truthfully say there is not a Brewing Plant that is equipped with more modern and up-to-date machinery, sanitary vessels of the most approved make like ours, in this part of the country. 

Our brewhouse equipment consists of a 250 barrel copper steam kettle, iron inclosed mash tub with bronze false bottom, hydraulic raising and lowering machine, steel malt scale hoppers, hot and cold water tanks and rice tank all made of steel, also an all iron non-explosive malt mill with dust collector which collects every bit of dust from every part of the brewhouse.

A 250 barrel copper kettle. That’s huge. And it was probably a mistake to have installed one so large. Planning for this brewery had begun three years earlier, well before Peoples Brewing loomed as a reality.

With a kettle this large the brewery would have easily been able to put out well over 100,000 barrels of beer annually. Once Peoples came on the scene, there was no hope of OBC ever hitting that number. In comparison, Peoples Brewing would have a 135 barrel brew kettle. The Rahr brewery had a 45 barrel kettle.

Our barley is all bought direct from the farmers by our experienced brewmaster. Only the best grades are selected by him and is malted at our own plant. We are taking no chance of a mixture of inferior barley being malted and sold to us. Only "Wisconsin barley" is used, the best in the United States. The past year we were unable to malt enough for our use, but we bought the barley and had it malted at another malthouse under our supervision. 

No doubt about it, they had some hardcore talent at OBC. This was the only brewery in Oshkosh at this point still malting its own barley. Most American breweries of this era were purchased their malt from companies whose sole endeavor was malting.

Some brewers make two brands of keg beer, a brand of quality and a cheaper brand, where-quality is not considered. We make but one brand of keg beer and that is the kind made from the best materials to be had, and brewed by the best method known to the trade — "The Old German Style." Our bottled brands are our standard beers in bottles — "Gilt Edge," a specially brewed, high quality beer, and a new brand "Oshkosh Special Old Lager."

OBC had winnowed its brands down to just two. Both of these were relatively pale lagers. When the brewery had been launched in 1894, it produced six different beers, including a dark Kulmbach-style lager, a Vienna lager and a pilsener.

There’s a persistent misconception that Prohibition was the cause of America’s drift towards lighter beer. In fact, the trend was underway well before the advent of national Prohibition in 1920. It was happening in Oshkosh, too.

We are informed that the new brewing company, so-called People's Brewing Company, has brought into this city an outside beer which is offered for sale for less money than the actual cost of production of high grade beer, so do not be deceived. Your nickel will buy you the best glass of beer. No brewer or anybody else is in business for their health. They are in it for the money, a reasonable profit, and when you buy these cheap beers you are buying an inferior article.

Here’s where the thing begins to go downhill. The mood has shifted. The phrase “so-called People's Brewing Company” drips contempt. I’ve never found any proof of the allegation of Peoples “bringing in an outside beer.” It’s clear that the folks at OBC are pissed.

Our Company is composed of 120 Oshkosh Stockholders, every one of them an Oshkosh citizen, living here and patronizing Oshkosh Merchants.

This is an indirect swipe at Peoples. In the run-up to the launch of Peoples Brewing, the board members of the new company were making a point of letting people know that it would be a cooperative brewery with no single shareholder or aligned group allowed to hold a majority interest. OBC seems to be implying here that it operated on a similar model. Hardly. The majority of OBC stock was in the hands of just three parties – the families who had merged their breweries to form OBC.

We have lived here and have been in this business for forty years, and believe there is not a public or private institution for the betterment of Oshkosh that did not receive our financial, and moral aid. 

You get the sense that they’re feeling a bit betrayed? I do. Perhaps if they had reserved a bit more of their benevolence for the saloon keepers in Oshkosh, OBC wouldn’t have faced the predicament it was in.

The territory which can be profitably supplied from this city is pretty well provided with breweries and all additional competition will eventually have a tendency to lessen the quality of the goods to the disadvantage of the consumer.

More veiled allusions to Peoples. It’s interesting that the writer believes that increased competition will be bad for the consumer. Such is the logic of a monopolist.

The consumption of beer, although on a gradual increase, is already overproduced in this territory. The capacity of our Plant alone would be able to produce all the beer consumed in this city until the inhabitants have increased to 50,000 people.

They’re tripping over themselves here. If OBC truly believed that there was too much capacity and production going on in the territory, why go to the expense of building such a large brewery?

We wish every word of this article will be read by the consuming public, and stop and think it over. A glass of choicest brewed, pure and a best quality beer costs you no more than a glass of inferior brand. We also want you to consider that the profit made by the brewers on beer brewed up to our standard of quality is less to them than on the inferior brands. 

On the one hand OBC tells you it has built this incredible brewery, but then says it’s not as profitable as other breweries. The dissonance here is hard to miss. Then again, I’m sure they never dreamed someone would be picking through this stuff a hundred years later.

In conclusion, we herewith invite the public and trade to inspect our new Plant on Saturday Afternoons for the next four weeks and see how Oshkosh Beer is made. Ladies are especially invited, and a competent guide will be on hand.

Wouldn’t you have loved to tour that new brewery? The special invite OBC was extending to the ladies is telling. At OBC they knew that once Peoples went into full production mode, sales of OBC keg beer to saloons would take a major dip. Many of Oshkosh’s saloon keepers had invested in Peoples Brewing. It would be in their best interest to serve Peoples beer in their saloons.

Women didn’t buy beer in saloons. They purchased it in stores or ordered it over the phone directly from the brewery. Wooing female buyers was part of OBC’s strategy for offsetting the loss of business that was about to incur.

We therefore ask you to read this article, consider well and then decide whether it is not to your advantage to call for "Oshkosh Brewing Company's Beer."

For the past 15 years this brewery had owned the Oshkosh beer market. It had exerted its control with little regard for the people who served its beer to consumers. Now OBC was coming with hat in hand.

In a way, it’s almost poignantly sad. At least it is if an old, lost brewery has the ability to stir such emotions in you. It’s like our own, beery version of a minor Shakespeare play right here in Oshkosh.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Big Beer Weekend

There’s going to be a lot of great beer flowing through old Oshkosh this weekend. Check out what’s up in my new Oshkosh Beer Beat column in the Oshkosh Independent.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wisco Black

Let’s dig into a couple of black beers from badgerland...

Door County Brewing’s Silurian Stout
Nice to see a new stout come out that’s not prefixed by the words Bourbon Barrel or Imperial. This is a basic milk stout, a sub-style of stout brewed with an addition of lactose, an unfermentable milk sugar. Milk stouts first came into being in England in the early 1900s. A century later, Door County Brewing has churned out a great one.

The beer pours black with a tan cap of sticky foam. The aroma reminded me of fresh coffee that’s had a good dollop of cream and spoonful of sugar stirred into it. That coffee note along with threads of roasted barley and baker’s chocolate were the first flavors that hit me. The sharp edges of the roast and coffee flavors get rounded off by the creamy sweetness of lactose making for a beer that’s flavorful and highly quaffable. There’s an earthy bitterness in the finish that completes the beer wonderfully.

I’m into this one. In fact, I’ve yet to have a beer from this brewery that didn’t impress me. Silurian Stout is 5.7% ABV and available in 6-packs at Ski’s in Oshkosh for $9.99.

By the way, Danny McMahon, head brewer at Door County Brewing, will be in Oshkosh on Saturday afternoon at Dublin’s. He’s bringing with him a cask of IPA that they’ll tap into right around 3 p.m. Look for more on that later today at the Oshkosh Independent.

3 Sheeps Nimble Lips Noble Tongue Volume Six
Damn, that’s a mouthful of a name. The subtitle is even worse: Imperial Black Wheat Coffee Ale Infused with Cocoa Nibs, Coffee, Vanilla and Maple Wood Staves. How’s a geek supposed to remember all that? Mercy. Anyway here’s another small Wisconsin brewery that’s bent to impress. This beer here will certainly turn your head.

This is flat out a dessert beer. As required, it’s black with a pillow of brown foam sitting like frosting on top. You know what you’re in for when you smell it. Chocolate, vanilla, caramel. All of that comes walloping through in the taste along with a slight roastiness and a little something herbal (from the hops, I suppose) lingering in the background. This is a big beer – 10% ABV – and you get some warmth from the alcohol in the same way you get it from a rum cake or a boozy brownie. It reminded me of a fortified milk shake (a shake with a shot of brandy or something in it). For all of its sweetness, though, the beer remains drinkable with a medium body that keeps the experience from getting too sticky. This would be a great capper after a plate load of something spicy.

Nimble Lips Noble Tongue Volume Six is available at Gardina’s in the packaged beer section where it’s sold in bombers for $8.99. Speaking of Gardina’s, look for changes there coming to the retail side. This is going to be good news for beer lovers. More on that next week. Salud!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Is Hops & Props Overpriced?

Judging by the people I’ve spoken to over the past couple weeks, the answer would be a resounding yes. Hops & Props is this Saturday, March 7 from 7-10 p.m. at the EAA’s AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh. And though the $75 ticket price is the same as it was last year, I’ve heard much more grumbling about it this year. I’m sure there’s a fair amount of selection bias going on here.

Most of those I speak to about these things are beer geeks. These are people who might attend three or four beer festivals each year. When they compare the ticket price for Hops & Props to similar festivals, you can understand why they experience sticker shock.

For example, the Wisconsin Micro-Brewers Beer Fest in Chilton charged $40 last year. The Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison will have a $60 ticket this year. Hops & Props is an excellent festival, but it’s not in the same league with either of those. Especially if you’re looking at it strictly as a beer event.

But Hops & Props has never really been about the beer. It’s about generating money for the EAA, which says it uses the proceeds to “support museum activities offered by EAA.” If you think that’s an initiative worth supporting, then you can hardly say the festival is overpriced. If that’s not something you care about, then I think it’s hard to argue that Hops & Props isn’t overpriced.

If you’re on the fence, I’d say go for it. Especially, if you haven’t been there before. Drinking beer in the AirVenture Museum while you wander among all those incredible airplanes is a memorable experience.

Tickets are still available. Visit the EAA’s Hops & Props website, to order tickets, see the brewery list, the bands that’ll be playing (Dead Horses!), and all the other little details that’ll make for a fun Saturday night in Oshkosh.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Peoples Revolt

The scene had changed for the saloon keepers of Oshkosh. Prior to the 1894 merger of Oshkosh’s three largest breweries, the saloonist had maintained the upper hand in the beer market by playing the city’s breweries off against each other.

If a saloon owner couldn’t get the price he wanted for beer from Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery, he’d threaten to take Kuenzl’s beer off and put Horn and Schwalm’s beer on in its place. A month later, he might visit the Glatz brewery to see if the south-side brewer would be willing to cut an even better deal. He was likely to find Galtz willing.

The brewers tried to halt the downward spiral by getting into the saloon business themselves. In some cases, a brewery would acquire a saloon and lease it to a saloon keeper. Other times a brewery might take a stake in a saloon through a mortgage or by paying for improvements or expenses such as heating the building. These “tied house” saloons would then reciprocate by selling no other beer than that of the brewery they were aligned with.

The strategy wasn’t effective. With over 120 saloons in Oshkosh it was impossible for the brewers to gain the control needed to end the pricing wars. The bleeding finally stopped in 1894 when Kuenzl, Glatz, and Horn & Schwalm merged their breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company (OBC). Now the brewers had the upper hand.

Though there was beer from Milwaukee and beyond being freighted to Oshkosh by train, the overwhelming preference was for locally produced beer. The Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported that “Milwaukee beer is sold at but six saloons in the city... at all the others the product of Oshkosh brewers is kept on tap.” The situation played directly into the hands of OBC.

With the expectation that they serve local beer, saloon keepers faced severely limited options. Just two breweries remained in Oshkosh: OBC and Rahr Brewing. And Rahr, with its strong network of tied houses, had no desire for striking deals or price cutting. OBC was poised to exact its revenge.

The brewery began by raising prices on beer. It followed up by refusing to extend credit to saloon keepers, demanding that they pay for their beer upon delivery and in cash. To drive the point home, OBC went on a buying binge purchasing more than a dozen saloons to compete directly with those unwilling to capitulate to their demands.

In 1898, the saloon keepers’ predicament worsened.

The Oshkosh Brewing company, controlling all the breweries in this city, has decided on an increase of $1 a barrel in the price of beer to dealers.
     - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 11, 1898

Oshkosh’s unimpeachable nickel beer tradition meant the saloonists would be forced to bear the entire burden of the increase. Pouring less beer into the glass was an option, but not a solution. With so many saloons in Oshkosh, customers could easily cross the street to another bar in search of a more generous pour.

A week after the $1 price hike, the saloon men threatened to take action.

According to the statement of a saloon proprietor who is in "the deal," about thirty or forty of the local saloon men contemplate operating their own brewery, thereby manufacturing the best grade of beer at a much reduced price.

As planned, these saloon men will organize a stock company, equip the old Loescher brewery, located in the vicinity of Gruenhagen Point, which has been closed for some time, put an experienced brewer in charge and turn out enough of the amber fluid to supply the members of the organization.
     - Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, June 18, 1898

And if they couldn’t get the old Loescher brewery running again, the saloon men threatened to start buying their beer from Chicago. Neither plan materialized. OBC continued to tighten the screws.

A decade later the brewery idea rose again. This time, the plan was more ambitious.

People's Independent Brewing Co., Oshkosh, a new company whose incorporation was mentioned in our November issue, according to present plans will erect a modern brewery of 25,000 barrels annual capacity.
- Western Brewer, December 1908

The new brewery would be a cooperative effort funded, in part, by locals who had spent years doing business with OBC. Among the most prominent leaders of the movement was John Larie. His White Seal Buffett in what is now the 300 block of N. Main was, perhaps, the most highly regarded saloon in Oshkosh. As always, click the images below to enlarge them.
Bunn's Oshkosh City Directory, 1908.
John Bischofberger, who had been selling OBC beer at his Main Street saloon for the past 10 years, was also among the ring leaders.

Bischofberger’s saloon, adorned with signage from the Oshkosh Brewing Co,
 in what is now the 100 block of N. Main St. 
Another would-be defector from the OBC fold was John Sitter. His concerns were more pressing. He had been a bottler of OBC beer since the brewery’s formation in 1894. He purchased beer directly from the brewery then bottled it for retail sales. But OBC was now striving to bring the bottling of its beer in house, a move that would put Sitter out of business.

Despite the fact that the group had ample financial backing and a solid foundation of leadership, the effort failed once again. But the groundwork had been laid. The next attempt would succeed. The consequences for OBC would be drastic.

In 1911, another group – again led by Oshkosh saloon keepers – formed with the intent of launching a brewery to compete with OBC. The model was much the same as that proposed by Larie, Bischofberger and Sitter. Even the name was borrowed: The Peoples Brewing Company.

The leader of the group was Joseph J. Nigl, owner of a saloon at the corner of Ninth and Ohio streets; land that had been purchased by his father in 1881 (Ohio Street Station Sports Bar & Grill, 815 Ohio St., is now located there).

Joseph Nigl standing outside his saloon
when he still sold OBC beer.
Nigl’s ties to OBC and the breweries that merged to form it were decades old, but the association had lost its allure. In 1897, OBC built a saloon and dancehall at the northeast corner of Ninth and Ohio (556 W 9th Ave.), directly across the street from Joseph Nigl’s saloon.

Nigl found himself in the uncomfortable position of being in direct competition with the brewery that supplied his beer. The relationship between Nigl and OBC deteriorated. To make matters worse, the brewery installed Nigl’s cousin Alois Nigl as its saloon keeper.

Alois Nigl wearing bow tie.
It would take two years, but Joseph Nigl would finally succeeded where his predecessors had failed. In 1913, The Peoples Brewing Co. of Oshkosh opened for business. Nigl returned the compliment OBC had paid him. The new brewery was built just across the street from OBC.

When it came to beer, Oshkosh would never be the same. OBC’s dominance of the Oshkosh beer market came to an abrupt end. The brewery would be hounded by its neighbor until OBC folded in 1971. And when OBC closed, Peoples purchased its brands.

How different would things be today if Nigl and his cohorts hadn’t succeeded? Would Oshkosh still have a production brewery if OBC had been able to maintain its hold on the local beer market? In Chippewa Falls and Stevens Point that was exactly what happened. Neither city lost its dominant brewer.

If OBC had not ignited the wrath of the saloon keepers, we might still have a production brewery in Oshkosh.