Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Eulogy for Brews n’ Blues

The longest running beer festival in Oshkosh is no more. For the first time in 20 years, there will be no Brews n’ Blues Festival this summer. It’s all over.

Brews n’ Blues was Oshkosh’s first, annual beer festival. It had a typically Oshkosh sort of beginning: it was dreamed up on a Sunday night in summer at the old Lizard Lounge. The plan was hatched by Janek Cieszynski, of the Oshkosh Jaycees, and Jeff Fulbright, who was looking for a way to promote his struggling Mid-Coast Brewing Company. More than a year later, the event took place.

The first Brews n’ Blues was held on July 21, 1996. By the standard of today’s beer festivals, it was a simple affair. It was more like a party, actually. The Jaycees set up a tent in Riverside Park, hired a couple of blues bands and served that new “Microbrewed” beer people had been talking about. Simple. And it worked.  

More than 600 people attended that first festival. Tickets went for $15 in advance and $18 at the door. The big gate galvanized Cieszynski and the Jaycees. Brews n’ Blues became an annual event. And though the fest would develop, the basic premise it was founded upon remained intact. Which became part of the problem.

The expectations of beer drinkers has increased dramatically since that first  Brews n’ Blues in ‘96. But the festival failed to evolve along with its patrons. When Brews n’ Blues began, good beer was difficult to find in Oshkosh. That, of course, has changed. And for the past several years, the line-up at Brews n’ Blues has been primarily composed of beer readily available here in bars, restaurants and grocery stores. The festival had come to seem redundant.

The end became official when the Oshkosh Jaycees voted to dissolve last fall. There was talk of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers taking over the event, but there wasn’t enough interest to make it happen.

Despite its shortcomings, I hate to see Brews n’ Blues go. In recent years, I’ve attended the festival more for the sense of prevailing camaraderie than for the beer. But that was enough and I’ll miss it. It just doesn’t seem like summer without it.

Here’s to what was. This is a little movie from Brews n’ Blues 2010…


  1. Bummers......say! I gotz an idea! Have it in your backyard!

    1. Well at least that way we could have homebrew without the Tavern League or the Department of Revenue having a fit.

  2. As someone who not only attended nearly all of the Brews 'n' Blues but also participated in organizing it for years, I share your sentiment about this summer tradition. However, I find your viewpoint for it's demise far too simplistic and, in a way, insulting to those of us who quite literally put blood, sweat and tears into it. Here are REAL contributing factors for why the event is no longer:

    1. The demise began when the Jaycees could no longer convince breweries to represent themselves at the event. With so many more festivals, including two in Oshkosh, brewers now had to be selective. Towards the end, the event was lucky if it could convince an established brewery to even send an intern with product. Most breweries simply chose to have their distributor represent them, which leads to only locally available products being featured. Some didn't even send products.

    2. While BnB was a great excuse to gather, the bottom line was to raise money for local charities. In the beginning, money came from a simple base formula - Sell tickets to taste beer that brewers would donate or sell for a small fee. But as I'm sure most readers know, suddenly it became "illegal" for breweries to donate product. This more than quadrupled expenses and dramatically increased financial risks. Order too much and get stuck with beer that can't be resold. Order too little and upset attendees. That left the group with three decisions - cut expenses, raise ticket prices, or make less money. The event already ran lean. Leadership didn't feel they could raise ticket prices without in lost sales. That left reduced revenue which (along with other factors) led to...

    3. It takes thousands of hours to put on BnB. People were willing to volunteer at the event, but when it came to planning it was a struggle. A handful of people would work countless hours to plan an event that raised $5,000 - $10,000 each year. After the forementioned changes, the event required more hours but raised much less, sometimes even losing money. It's deflating when group realizes more money could have been raised spending the time at a minimum wage job. It didn't take long for people to lose interest.

    Since the dissolution of the Oshkosh Jaycees, I've heard many people say how disappointed they are that BnB is gone, how disappointed the are in "young people" and how much they wish someone would keep going. Before that, I would hear countless comments about what the group was doing wrong and how it would be better if ________ (insert critique here).

    To those people I would say the same then, as I say now - "If you want to see a change, get involved. Take action."

    Unfortunately, very few people did then and no one has today. However, I remain hopeful there are a few citizens of action. Thank you to EVERYONE out there who gave thier time to make Brews 'n' Blues happen. The event's time may have passed, but your contributions continue to live on.


    1. On a side note: with the loss of the Jaycees in Oshkosh, a new organization was conceived. The former entity was converted into the Oshkosh Benevolent & Social Club (www.oshbsc.org). OBSC is charitable organization with one goal - to help people who want do great things in our community. If anyone has a desire to lead the charge to keep BnB going or start something new, I strongly encourage them to get in touch with this organization. If you have the people, the vision and the passion, the Oshkosh Benevolent & Social Club has the structure and experience to help make it happen.

    2. Jay, if you found what I wrote insulting, then you're too easily insulted. My point was that the festival hadn’t kept up with a local beer drinking community that now has higher expectations than it had when the festival began. I think that’s indisputable. The points you make don’t address that, much less refute it. I’m not blaming the people who volunteered their time to make the festival happen. In fact, I’ve made an effort each year since I’ve been doing this blog of supporting them here.
      I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to flesh out what you identify as the “REAL contributing factors for why the event is no longer,” but those inside issues are of almost no concern to the average person deciding whether or not to buy a ticket. And in the end, those are the people who decided the fate of Brews n’ Blues.

    3. Lee,

      Always respect you and your thoughts and the words you write. Some day in the future we will have a beer to agree to disagree.


  3. There were many fun hours, and as Jay mentions many hours of hard work by many people. It is certainly sad to see it go. Raise a glass to those good memories.