Monday, October 24, 2016

When Peoples Brewing Made Chief Oshkosh Beer

If William Glatz wasn’t dead, he’d have been livid.

Glatz was president of Oshkosh Brewing Company from 1904 until his death in 1928. He presided over the brewery as it came to utterly dominate the Oshkosh beer market.

Glatz wasn’t shy about using his power. His domineering ways led to a backlash among Oshkosh’s saloon keepers. They revolted by launching Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh in 1913. Glatz resented that anyone should challenge his sovereignty. He couldn’t have imagined that one day it would come to this...

The picture that ran in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on November 5, 1971 epitomized everything William Glatz dreaded. The great brewery his father helped launch had been overtaken by the upstarts.

On Monday, October 18, 1971, the last bottles of Chief Oshkosh beer brewed by OBC came off the bottling line. The following day rumors began circulating that the brewery was closing. At OBC they would neither confirm nor deny the rampant speculation.

A Daily Northwestern reporter went looking for answers at the brewery across the street from OBC. Peoples Brewing Company president Theodore Mack was no more forthcoming than his counterparts at OBC. “I think they’ve got something doing over there,” Mack told the reporter, “but I don’t know what it is.”

Mack knew exactly what was “doing over there.” He had the inside track on OBC’s impending closure. Mack had already negotiated the purchase of OBC’s Chief Oshkosh, Rahr’s, and Badger Brew brands. By the end of November, Peoples’ version of Chief Oshkosh Beer was in production.

Peoples’ brewmaster Howard Ruff said he’d do his best to clone the OBC brew. "Each beer has its character and all beer is a little different, but we will try to match as closely as possible the beers that were produced by the other firm before the purchase," he said.

That bit of news may not have elicited the intended response. By 1971 the reputation of Chief Oshkosh Beer was thoroughly tarnished. That didn’t matter. Peoples forged ahead.

At the close of 1971, the first ads began to appear for Chief Oshkosh Beer made by Peoples Brewing. The can in the ads still bore the imprint of Oshkosh Brewing Company.

Here’s William Glatz’s nightmare in living color. A can of Chief Oshkosh “Brewed & Filled” by Peoples.

Glatz’s nightmare passed quickly. Less than a year after acquisition of the Chief Oshkosh brand, Peoples Brewing collapsed under the burden of its debt load. By October 1972 rumors were swirling in Oshkosh of Peoples’ imminent demise. When asked if the rumors were true, Mack would neither confirm nor deny. He’d go on being evasive. It didn’t matter. The question was answered soon enough.

On November 3, 1972 production employees at Peoples Brewing were permanently laid off. The beer in holding tanks waiting to be packaged was dumped. It was over. Chief Oshkosh was gone for good.