Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Memorial Day From the Oshkosh Brewing Company

Seeing as it’s a holiday, I thought I’d take a break from Oshkosh's burning breweries and post something a little more pleasant. Here’s a 100-year-old ad from the Oshkosh Brewing Company. This appeared in the Daily Northwestern in anticipation of the 1916 Memorial Day weekend.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, May 27, 1916
I don’t have a lot to add other than to ask you to notice that at this point OBC was offering just two beers: Special Lager and Oshkosh. Both were pale(ish) lagers. That’s a far cry from what the brewery was up to just 10 years earlier when it often had six or more beers in circulation, including a dark lager and a Berliner weisse. The blanding of American beer began well before Prohibition (1920). Drinkers in Oshkosh were experiencing that flavor recession first hand. Most appeared to be just fine with that. Those folks would go dizzy if they could see what we have to choose from today.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #50 – With ​Leoš Frank of Lazy Monk Brewing

This week we get together with Leoš Frank, co-founder and brewmaster of Lazy Monk Brewing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Leoš treads a unique path among American craft brewers by specializing in the beers of his Czechoslovakian homeland.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fire at the Oshkosh Brewery!

Before we dive down today’s rabbit hole, let’s clear something up. The Oshkosh Brewery mentioned in the title of this post is not to be confused with the Oshkosh Brewing Company.

The Oshkosh Brewery was located near the east end of what is now named Bay Shore Drive. It was launched by brothers George and Frederick Loescher in 1852. This was years before anyone dreamed of starting that similarly named and much larger brewery on Doty Street.

One more thing to clarify: Loescher’s name is consistently misspelled in all sorts of publications from the period covered in this post. We’ll see a number of variants here, but they’re all referencing the same man. Here’s a prime example from an 1868 city directory.

OK, before we begin sifting its ashes, let’s pinpoint where Loescher’s Oshkosh Brewery stood. First a map from 1858. Look for the red circle….

Here’s a recent aerial view of that same area. The white oval represents the location of the brewery.

Time to get on with the pathos. Here’s the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern to tell us of the terrible Sunday morning of April 28, 1878.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, April 29, 1878

The Sunday morning fire appears to have brought an end to brewing beer at that particular location. But I’ve stumbled across a couple of post-fire references to the brewery that I’m dying to share. Here goes….

The Webbed-Feet People of Sodom
A couple days after the Oshkosh Brewery went up in smoke, a reporter from the Fond du Lac Commonwealth was sent here to get the lay of the land. The fantastic letter he sent back to Fond du Lac was later picked up and published by the Northwestern. The Fond du Lac hack wasn’t prepared for what he found in Oshkosh. Here are a few of my favorite cuts from his report.

Oshkosh, April 30 (1878) – A Wicked City. This is a hard town to write about, because if you tell the truth you have to write hard things... Three years ago Sunday, Oshkosh was nearly consumed by a fire started by Spaulding & Peck’s mill. To commemorate the third anniversary, a brewery burned Sunday night… Immediately back of the Beckwith House is a man who administers Turkish baths, and he told me nearly all citizens of Oshkosh who have lived here five or more years are web-footed… Many people in this city eat fish with neither salt or pepper, but with their fingers… Yes, Oshkosh is the Sodom of the Northwest.

The other post-fire reference to Loescher’s old brewery is even better. Or worse depending upon how you view these things. I’m calling this one...

The Reinhard Digression
Godfried Reinhardt was born in 1799 in Schönburg, Germany. On the Wednesday morning of September 4, 1878, his lifeless body was found floating in the Fox River just west of Loescher’s recently ruined brewery. A coroner’s jury was hastily convened. Its verdict: suicide.

The inquest into Reinhardt’s death stated that at about 2 p.m. Reinhardt had wandered off from his home at what is now Parkway Avenue. He was in a glum mood and had no apparent destination in mind. That evening the Northwestern published a story subtitled, “Undoubtedly a Case of Suicide.” The paper reported that Reinhardt frequently said he was tired of living and wished he could die.

Reinhardt’s family didn’t buy it. Upset with the rush to label their father’s death a suicide, Reinhardt’s three adult children dug deeper. They discovered their father knew exactly where he was headed that afternoon. And it wasn’t for the bottom of the river.

Two days after Reinhardt’s death, the Northwestern reported the family’s findings: “It has since been ascertained that Mr. Reinhardt, late in the afternoon, strolled down to Luscher’s brewery in the Second ward, and did not leave there until dark.”

Now, I think it’s safe to assume that Reinhardt hadn’t strolled over to Loescher’s to spend several hours staring at the burnt remains of a brewery. So what in hell was he doing there? Perhaps, he passed the afternoon and early evening there drinking beer.

If you recall, the article about the brewery fire mentioned that, “The only portion of the building not wholly burned is a small portion over the cellar where the tubs and some of the stock was kept.”

It’s known that Loescher operated a tap room in conjunction with his brewery. “Over the cellar where… some of the stock was kept” sounds like the perfect spot for a beer bar. I suspect, Reinhardt was there until he’d had his fill and then wandered off into the dark to his watery death.

Born Again
Reinhardt wasn’t resurrected, but the Oshkosh Brewery was. George Loescher built a new brewery, just across and down the street from the old one. It was up and running by 1880. Here you can see their proximity.

I like nothing more than to end a blog post with a gravestone. Beats hell out a punctuation mark. This one goes out in memory of Godfried Reinhardt. May the earth be light on him. Prost!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #49 – Get Your Short's On

This week, we crack into a few beers from Short’s Brewing Company of Bellaire, Michigan. Short’s is about to begin distribution in Wisconsin. We get a tasting tour of what the brewery has to offer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

American Craft Beer Week in Oshkosh

Yes, this is American Craft Beer week. Here’s a roundup of what’s going down around here...

Craft Beer Week at Fox River Brewing Co.
Over at Fox River they’re celebrating all week long with special events, deals and more. Tonight (Tuesday, May 17) beginning at 5:30 p.m., they’ll have a Mug Club Member social with free appetizers and tasters of Fox River’s Session IPA along with other beer pairings. Check out the entire week’s worth of events here.

Summer Sneak Peek at Lion's Tail Brewing Co.
At Lion’s Tail they’re celebrating Craft Beer Week tonight (Tuesday, May 17) by tapping pilot batches of three seasonal brews that will be released this summer. Tonight, get a sneak peak at the brewery’s Kettle-soured Blackberry Black, Streetball 25 Lager (California Common), and their Summer Red IPA. They’ll have live music to along with the beer. Check out the event page HERE.

Oso's & Potosi Tap Takeover at Chester V’s
Thursday, May 19, Chester V’s will host a dueling Wisconsin breweries tap takeover featuring O’so Brewing of Plover and Potosi Brewing of – that’s right – Potosi. This is an early-bird takeover beginning at 2 p.m. Check out the event page for more including the list of all ten beers that’ll be pouring.

Craft Cycle Run for Craft Beer Week
This Friday, May 20, meet up with other cyclists at 5:30 p.m. for a ride up the Wiowash State Trail to Bare Bones Brewery. The ride begins at Fox River Brewing at 6 p.m. Each rider will receive a free beer coupon, after purchasing their first FRBC beer (the coupon can be used at a later date, if you’d like). After a beer or two at Bare Bones, the group will head back to Fox River Brewing around 8:30 p.m., for live music on the Patio. Here’s the event page.

Fifth Ward Brewing Company
Here’s a different kind of Craft Beer Week event. I posted this on Facebook this weekend, but for those who don’t indulge in that particular vice, here it is for you. If you’ve been past 1009 S. Main in Oshkosh recently you may have noticed the big “sold” sign. That’s a very good sign. Fifth Ward Brewing Company has now secured the building where they plan to launch their brewery. We’re one step closer to another brewery opening in Oshkosh.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Fire at the Union Brewery!

There were a few things Oshkosh was known for in the latter half of the 19th Century: Lumber mills. Mayhem. Saloons. Mass destruction by conflagration... Like other businesses that went up here, breweries had a habit of burning down. I haven’t posted much about Oshkosh’s brewery fires. Time to address that. We’ll start on the south side where brewers John Glatz and Christian Elser burned down a brewery that wasn’t even theirs to burn...

Burning the Union Brewery
In 1867 German-born brewmaster Franz Wahle moved to Oshkosh from Stevens Point, where he’d had a hand in establishing what is now known as Stevens Point Brewery. Upon leaving Point, Wahle purchased a 52-acre farm and its stock on the southern border of Oshkosh in what was then the Algoma Township. Here’s a map from 1873, showing the location of the Wahle farm with the brewery at the northern edge of the property. The red arrow points the way.

Two years after arriving here, Wahle leased his brewery to a couple of German-born brewers who had most recently been plying their trade in Milwaukee. John Glatz and Christian Elser took over Wahle’s brewery in September 1869. They re-named it Glatz and Elser’s Union Brewery. All was well until the Friday night of December 15, 1871.

Destruction of a Brewery
About ten o'clock on Friday evening the Union Brewery owned by Franz Wahle and leased by Glatz & Elser took fire and then burned to the ground. The steamers were promptly on the ground, but for lack of water were unable to do much.
- Oshkosh Weekly Northwestern, December 21, 1871

What an especially bad time to burn your brewery. Here’s why: Glatz and Elser produced cool-fermenting lager beer. For such brewers, a productive winter was crucial. The slow, cool fermentation lager beer requires meant that the peak of their brewing activity occurred during the cold months. It was also the time of year when they harvested tons of natural ice from Lake Winnebago for cooling their elaborate system of caves where they conditioned their beer. The Friday-night fire crippled the Union Brewery for the coming year.

For Glatz and Elser, getting things back in order wasn’t easy. The brewery they had just destroyed was not insured. They had also lost their entire stock of beer. A little over half of that loss was covered by insurance.

The two were left in dire financial straits. These were not rich men. Combined, Glatz and Elser had fewer assets than any other brewers in Oshkosh. Yet, they managed to rebound.

Less than a month after the fire, Glatz and Elser used their insurance money to help finance their purchase of the northernmost four acres of the Wahle property. The brewery had been valued at $6,000 (about $120,000 in today’s money). Glatz and Elser paid Wahle about $110,000 in today’s money. But what they bought was now vacant land.

A quick digression: I love the ornate lettering on the deeds that were recorded back then. Here’s the top portion of the deed transferring the property from the Wahles to Glatz and Elser.

Glatz and Elser took a series of loans to finance the rebuilding of the Union Brewery. It all worked out. By the end of the 1870s, the Union Brewery was producing more beer than any other brewery in Winnebago County. Here’s the brewery they built in the aftermath of the fire.

The Union Brewery is long gone, but you can still walk the grounds where it once stood. A part of that property is now Glatz Nature Park. It’s open to the public and you can see remains there of the brewery’s stone foundation. You ought to go visit.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #48 – ​IPA, Door County Style

This week Adam and I are drinking Sideshow, a Door County Style IPA. You didn’t know there was such a style? We didn’t either, but here it is. Sideshow surprised both of us and in different ways.

We've given our take on it, now hear what the brewer has to say. Here's Danny McMahon, brewmaster for Door County Brewing, talking about Sideshow IPA.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Beers for Bikes

I love that the two Oshkosh breweries are connected by a bike trail. The trip from Fox River Brewing Company to Bare Bones Brewery is about 4 miles via the Wiouwash Trail. It’s a great, quick ride, one that I’m going to be taking often this summer. Right now each of their taprooms has a beer going that’s perfect for biking. Check it out...

Session IPA at Fox River
A little hop monster. At 4.3% ABV it goes easy on the alcohol and that goes good if you're going on a bike. Hazy and golden, the beer looks just like an American hop ale should. The sticky, citrus hop aroma and flavor dominates every last thing about it. The finish is dry and quenching. Perfect for slaking a thirst. I didn’t expect this to happen, but I’ve really warmed up to this style and this is a terrific example of it. Let’s hope they can keep this one on over the summer months. Here’s the full Fox River tap list.

Dirty Snout Summer Stout at Bare Bones
Here’s another surprise: a nitro beer from Bare Bones. There’s something about black beer in warm weather that appeals to me. This one is black as coal. Better yet, it’s built for warmer weather. Light notes of chocolate and roast in the aroma with maybe just a whisper of piney hop coming through. The nitro business gives the beer’s light body a pleasant, creamy aspect that puts a nice round edge to the roastiness. At 4.8% ABV a couple won’t leave you feeling like your bike has square tires. Here’s the full Bare Bones tap list.

Wait… I’m not the only one thinking of this sort of thing. Just found out there’s an organized cycle run from Fox River to Bare Bones happening on Friday, May 20. The run starts at 6 p.m. More info on that here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Ghosts of Pabst in Oshkosh

Lately I’ve been documenting the 1890s onslaught on Oshkosh by some of America’s largest breweries (the entire stream of posts can be found here). They came to this city and built bottling plants, distribution centers, and saloons. But almost all they raised has since been knocked down. One of the big breweries, though, left lasting marks on Oshkosh. That brewery is Pabst.

Pabst, known then as Phillip Best Brewing Company, sunk its claws into Oshkosh in the mid-1870s. The brewery’s president, Captain Frederick Pabst, had transformed the Best brewery into the nation’s largest by 1874. Some of that Best beer was pouring in Oshkosh.

The beer was being peddled in Oshkosh by a Doty Street vinegar maker named John Young. Captain Pabst had hired Young to be his Oshkosh agent. Young distributed the Milwaukee beer from his vinegar plant located between Doty and S. Main, just south of 18th. Here’s an 1876 ad for Best and Young.

In 1889, Captain Pabst made it official: he took his deceased father-in-law’s name off the brewery and put his own there. Shortly after, Pabst hired Lorenz Thenee to be his new Oshkosh agent.

Lorenz Thenee was a German immigrant who got his start selling beer in Oshkosh as an agent for the Falk, Jung & Borchert Brewing Company of Milwaukee. After the Falk, Jung & Borchert brewery burned then merged with Pabst, Thenee went to work for the Captain.

He did exceptionally well. Buoyed by the success of his new agent, Pabst dug in deeper, establishing a distribution center at the southwest corner of what is now Pearl and Commerce streets. In 1896, Pabst went all in on Oshkosh.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of February 27, 1896

The block Pabst had grabbed is the triangular plot bordered by Pearl, Jackson, and Division streets. Here’s an aerial view of that property with a yellow tint.

Three months after acquiring the land, construction was underway. The architect was William Waters. He designed a Victorian Gothic style building that would house the Pabst bottling plant and refrigerated warehouse. Here’s how it looked shortly after its completion.

Waters had been instructed to design something that would be a recognizable piece of the Pabst empire. The Oshkosh branch, looked like the Milwaukee brewery in miniature. Here’s a portion of Pabst’s Milwaukee brewery from the same period. Waters certainly hit his target.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the marks Pabst made on Oshkosh were lasting. The old Pabst branch still stands on Division Street. It still looks good.

Here’s a bottle that was once filled with beer at the Pabst’s Oshkosh branch in the late 1890s.

A year after the Oshkosh branch was completed, Pabst was building again. This time it was a handsome saloon named the Pabst Exchange at the corner of 6th and Ohio streets. The Daily Northwestern commented that it looked like a castle. Notice how similar the design is to the property on Division.

Here’s a more recent photo of the old Pabst Exchange. A lot of people around here remember it as Beaner’s Shot & Beer.

For a time, Pabst appeared to be unstoppable. But the Milwaukee brewery was, in fact, far too bullish on Oshkosh.

While Pabst was staking its claim, the Oshkosh Brewing Company was mustering its retaliation. The rise of the OBC would thwart the Pabst incursion here. As OBC ascended in the early 1900s, the presence of Pabst in Oshkosh declined. The point was driven home in 1914, when OBC took over ownership of the showcase saloon at  6th and Ohio.

The Pabst branch on Division Street discontinued its bottling operations in the early 1900s. Pabst maintained the property as a warehouse and distribution center until Prohibition arrived in 1920. Pabst sold its Division Street property in 1925.

Blue Ribbon Beer poured again in Oshkosh when Prohibition ended in 1933. But by then, Pabst's Oshkosh castles had been taken by others.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Oshkosh Beer Show #47 - Fruited & Deluded

We venture into the realm of fruited American ale: hop-forward beers flavored with citrus fruits. Love 'em or hate 'em, you can count on seeing plenty of them in the summer ahead.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Beer Sampling Saturday at Barley’s

Barley & Hops final beer sampling of the season is this Saturday, May 7 from 6-9 p.m.

By now, I think we all know how this works. Here's the rundown, anyway...
  • If you head to Barley’s and land your ticket before Saturday night you’ll pay $20.
  • If you wait and pay at the door, it’ll set you back you $25.
  • Really, it's a bargain, either way.
  • This time, Stevens Point Brewery gets center stage. Think Whole Hog Series. You'll also get a sharp looking Point pilsener-style glass as part of the tasting.
  • And as always, there’ll be dozens of beers from other breweries to sample as well as a good selection of wine and spirits.
  • You know you want to...
Need more info? Check this out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Fulbright Announces Plan for Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Company

Jeff Fulbright is planning his return to the brewing business.

Fulbright, who ran Mid-Coast Brewing Company, the brewer of Chief Oshkosh Red Lager in the early 1990s, is now working to establish a new brewery here named the Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Company. If his current plan comes to fruition, it would be the largest brewery launch in Oshkosh since the opening of People's Brewing in 1913.

“It's going to be a 40-barrel system,” says Fulbright. “We're going to be able to do 40,000 barrels a year. That's before any expansion.” He says the brewery will sell beer from its own taproom and through distribution in 12-ounce cans.

Fulbright isn’t going it alone. “We have an advisory board of local businessmen I've put together,” he says. “I'm not going to name the guys at this time, but they're all well known, local, successful businessmen.” Fulbright describes his role as the administrator of the project.

“We want to build a 15,000 square foot building with a large taproom, and landscaped beer garden,” he says. “It's to the point now where things are coming into place. The site is picked and we're finishing up the financials and the business plan.”

Fulbright anticipates the brewery being operational in 2017. The site he refers to is located two blocks from the river at the corner of Jackson and Pearl streets. “This is a 3 to 3.5 million dollar project,” Fulbright says. “This will be a serious brewery.”

“I want Oshkosh Bier & Brewing to be more than just a beautiful brewery that makes great beer,” he says. “I want it to be part of the fabric of what is good and fun in this city and a source of pride for the people of Oshkosh. I want this to be a destination. When people come to town, I want this to be on their go-see list.”

The proposed Oshkosh Bier & Brewing Co.

Fulbright, a graduate of the Siebel Institute’s brewing program, says the new brewery will have two distinct lines of beer. “One is going to be a traditional lager line called Oshkosh Classic. And then we're going to have the craft line that's going to be called Oshkosh Reserve. That's where we get to go nuts. We'll do everything. We're going to have some great beers.” Fulbright says John Zappa, former brewmaster for Stevens Point Brewery, will act as a consultant and assist in getting the brewery up and running.

Having Oshkosh be part of the name is consistent with one of Fulbright’s objectives. “I really want to promote local involvement,” he says. “When I did Chief, the market wasn't big enough to do that. Now it is. We want to have this brewery involved with the city and work with local charities and homebrewers. We want to make it interesting for the city.”

The proposed brewery becomes the third currently being planned for Oshkosh. Fifth Ward Brewing and Highholder Brewing previously announced their intentions. If each comes into being, Oshkosh will have five breweries, the highest number in operation here simultaneously since the late 1880s.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The End of the Dancing Days

This agreement made and entered into this 15th day of May 1893 by and between J. Glatz and Son, a partnership, party of the first part, Horn and Schwalm, a partnership, party of the second part and Lorenz Kuenzl party of the third part, all being brewers and wholesale dealers in beer in the City of Oshkosh …. agree as follows… 

So begins the last ditch effort of Oshkosh’s three largest brewers to save their own hides. By the spring of 1893, Oshkosh’s breweries had lost their lock on the local beer trade. The city was swamped with beer sent in by some of America’s largest breweries (for more on that see this, this and this). The local brewers were in a panic.  
Faced with the dread prospect of having to compete with breweries that dwarfed them, three of the four Oshkosh breweries scrambled to contrive a united front against the onslaught. The old rivals were now allies. Together, they created a binding agreement to prevent each of them from undercutting the others.

From left to right, Oshkosh brewery owners John Glatz, Lorenz Kuenzl, and August Horn
The lone hold out was Rahr Brewing. Rahr was the smallest brewery in town, but its numerous tied-house saloons helped to buffer competition. The Glatz, Horn & Schwalm, and Kuenzl breweries had no rampart. And little trust in one another. The agreement the brewery owners hammered out was restrictive, rigid, and doomed to fail. The dancing days were over. Literally.

The agreement of 1893 had three main provisions.
  1. The price of beer would be fixed at $7.20 a barrel after discounts were applied (the actual list price was hiked to $8 a barrel).
  2. The brewers and their delivery men would be limited as to the amount of money they could spend at saloons “treating” customers when delivering beer or making collections.
  3. The brewers would not be allowed to spend money at “dancing parties” held at saloons.
That last restriction sounds innocuous, but those “dancing parties” were hardly innocent affairs. More on that later. First the beer.

At the time of this agreement, beer was selling for $6.40 a barrel. Jacking your price by 80 cents a barrel when you’re facing a pack of competitors ready and willing to sell cheaper isn’t going to endear you to your customers. This part of the pact dissolved almost immediately.

The limits on treating customer’s wasn’t going to increase their popularity either. It was expected that a brewer buy a round for the congregation when he visited a saloon. It was an Oshkosh tradition, one that would last well into the 1950s. The brewers couldn’t have picked a worse time to turn stingy.

Oshkosh was at the cusp of the brutal depression that followed the Panic of 1893. Unemployment was high and growing worse. New construction was headed for a screeching halt that triggered local woodworking plants to shed workers.

It didn’t help that at this same time, the men who owned Oshkosh's breweries had taken up residence in splendid homes that made a show of their wealth. Here’s a couple examples of their opulent digs.

This is where August Horn, president of Horn & Schwalm’s Brooklyn Brewery, lived at what is now 1662 Doty Street.

Just down the road, the mansion of Glatz Brewery president, John Glatz was being built. That home is still there, too. It's at 2405 Doty St.

Finally, we come to those dancing parties. This is impossible to confirm, but I suspect this part of the agreement is a veiled allusion to paying for prostitutes.

In the 1890s, saloons were almost exclusively the domain of men. And that’s just the way most saloon keepers meant to keep it. But at the same time, they knew that bringing in women who put out was good for business. Thus was born the dancing party, wherein ladies of a certain vocation were welcomed in to provide carnal entertainment.

Some considered it a spectacular problem. The pages of the Oshkosh Northwestern were littered with references to such parties and the inability of the mayor or police to reign them in. Here’s a typical Northwestern screed from the era that alludes to illicit dance parties taking place at the Getchius saloon, located upon the grounds of what is now West Algoma Park.

The institution over which Mr. Getchius presides was originally an ordinary saloon, but the rural aspect of its surroundings apparently infused the proprietor with the idea that his enterprise would reap a reward if he built an addition to the building where he could hold those "select dancing parties" so popular in the vicinity of Devil's bluff and other parts of Oshkosh. The proximity of residences to his place of business had no terror for Mr. Getchius, and during the summer season of '89 he erected the dance hall where, for months thereafter, the feet of lewd women and tougher men knocked out time to the tunes of a cracked orchestra.
    – Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, February 27, 1890

Fun! Were the brewers here actually helping to finance the flesh trade in Oshkosh? It appears that may have been the case.

Overall, the agreement of 1893 was a poorly aimed stab at trying to bring back the salad days for Oshkosh’s breweries. The attempt wasn't even remotely successful.

A year later, Glatz, Kuenzl, and  Horn & Schwalm took a more drastic measure. They merged their three breweries to form the Oshkosh Brewing Company. This tactic worked.

By 1900, the Oshkosh Brewing Company attained utter domination of the Oshkosh beer market. But this city would never again have the multitude of breweries that existed prior to those big breweries coming to town and forcing the hands of our local brewers.