Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017: Oshkosh’s Year in Beer

It was another good year for beer in Oshkosh. The big news, of course, was the opening of Fifth Ward Brewing Company. But this year was significant in a number of ways. In chronological order, here are a few of the local highlights from 2017.

The Return of Canned Beer
On February 7, Bare Bones became the first brewery to can its beer in Oshkosh since 1972 (the year Peoples Brewing closed). Bare Bones used a mobile canning unit to package Double Dog Dazed, an 11% IPA. It was also the first time an Oshkosh brewery packaged its beer in 16-ounce cans or sold beer in four packs. Bare Bones had additional canning runs in May and December.

The Opening of Fletch's Local Tap House
Fletch's Local Tap House opened on May 6 at 570 North Main Street. Owner Jeremy West also runs the neighboring Varsity Club. Fletch’s launched with 24 draft lines in a newly remodeled space. The building dates to 1902. With the addition of Fletch's, there are now approximately 200 craft-beer draft lines in the bars along North Main Street between Irving and the river.

Fletch's Local Tap House

Juice Cloud
In September, Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah released Juice Cloud, a New England Style IPA. It was the first time the style had been produced by a commercial brewery in Winnebago County. Juice Cloud has gone on to become the brewery’s best selling beer.

Historic Fresh-Hop Beers
For the second year in a row, both Bare Bones and Fox River produced fresh-hop beers. Bare Bones' Wharrgarbl was brewed on September 9. All of the hops that went into the beer were Wisconsin grown. This hasn't been done by a brewery in Oshkosh in more than 100 years.

Bare Bones head brewer RJ Nordlund selecting hops at a Gorst Valley Hop Farm in in Nekoosa, Wisconsin.

Fox River's Big Ed's Hopyard Ale was brewed on September 13. The bulk of the hops used were grown in a Winnebago County hopyard cultivated by Scott Clark and Steve Sobojinski. This year's harvest included hops raised from cuttings of wild hops growing on the site of a former hopyard established in the late 1840s in Allenville. This site appears to have been the location of Winnebago County's first hop farm. The Fox River beer is the first commercial beer since 1879 to use hops from this lineage.

Big Ed’s Hopyard
Fox River Leading the Pack
Production at local breweries has been strong all year. By the end of October, Bare Bones, Fox River, and Lion's Tail had each produced more beer than they had in all of 2016. At Knuth Brewing in Ripon, production has more than doubled. The final numbers aren't in yet, but it appears likely Fox River will unseat Stone Arch this year as the largest brewer in the Fox Valley.

The Return of Casks and Caskets
After a three-year hiatus, Wisconsin’s first and only all-homebrewed beer festival returned to Oshkosh on November 4. Sponsored by the Society of Oshkosh Brewers, Casks and Caskets was suspended after state revenue officials deemed the club’s 2014 festival unlawful. This year, the SOBs staged the festival as a free event to conform to the latest interpretation of Wisconsin’s homebrew law. The $6,000 in donations collected at the festival went to the Oshkosh Hunger Network.

Casks and Caskets, 2017
The Opening of Fifth Ward Brewing Company
On November 8, Fifth Ward Brewing Company opened at 1009 South Main Street. It marked the first time since 1956 that three breweries have operated simultaneously in Oshkosh. Co-founded by Ian Wenger and Zach Clark, the brewery had been in planning since 2012. The first beers issued by Fifth Ward were Burl Brown, a brown ale made with cinnamon and molasses, and Hades’ Secret, a porter brewed with chocolate and mint.

Zach Clark (left) and Ian Wenger, opening day at Fifth Ward Brewing.

The Opening of the Granary
The Granary Brew Pub opened in early November. The craft-beer bar and restaurant began with 30 Wisconsin-brewed beers on tap. All four Winnebago County breweries were represented. In all likelihood, this was the first time beer from four separate Winnebago County breweries has been served on tap in the same bar.

The coming year is bound to be interesting. On the tavern side, I doubt we’ll see the launch of another full-fledged craft beer bar. We may have reached a saturation point there. But on the brewery front, we’ll likely see more development. HighHolder Brewing, which has been threatening to open for months, may finally break through. Let’s hope so. New breweries are also slated for Omro and Menasha. If each comes to fruition in 2018, we’ll have seven breweries in Winnebago County. That hasn’t happened since 1894. The beer scene here is maturing. Room for growth remains. Onward!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fox Valley Winter Beer Fest

A few years ago, a beer festival like the one coming in January would have been impossible. We didn't have the breweries for it. All that has changed. It's time we celebrate the revival of our local beer culture.

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, Bones Brewery in Oshkosh will host the Fox Valley Winter Beer Fest. There's been nothing like this in our area before. All of the beer poured at the festival will be from local breweries. Eight of them in all: Appleton Beer Factory, Bare Bones, Fifth Ward, Fox River, HighHolder, Knuth, Lion's Tail, and Stone Arch. Rushford Meadery and Winery will be there, too, pouring cider, mead, and wine.

This marks the first time these breweries (and winery) have worked together on an event like this. So, of course, they're going to do something different. Each of the breweries will present beers that deviate from their core line-up. There'll be a host of barrel-aged beers, cellared beers, and one-offs brewed for this event.

There’s another thing we haven't seen before. A beer festival held outdoors in winter. The fest will take place in the parking lot at Bare Bones. It ought to be cozy enough. There'll be a bonfire, games, music, and barbecue from DD's BBQ Company. Wear your boots and let it rip. And when it's over there'll be an after party at O'Marro's Public House where The MadPolecats will play from 7-11 p.m.

OK, here's the where, the when, and the how of it....
Fox Valley Winter Beer Fest
January 13, 2018, at Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh.
General Admission tasting runs from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
VIP tasting begins at 1 p.m.
General Admission tickets are $40.
That ticket includes 20 - 5oz samples and a commemorative glass.
The VIP ticket is $60.
VIP includes early access to the festival, 25 - 5oz samples, the commemorative glass, and access to the VIP lounge, better known as the taproom.
Tickets are now available at all the participating breweries. You can also get them up online at Brown Paper Tickets.

This has been a long time coming. See you there!

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Colorful Past #1

Oshkosh artist Paul Nickolai uses vintage photographs as his canvas. Imbuing color and texture, Nickolai creates something new from source material that's quite old.

I first came across Nickolai's work on the Oshkosh Memories Facebook page. I thought it would be interesting to see what he might do with older photos related to beer and brewing in Oshkosh. The results are coming in.

Over the coming weeks, I'm going to post a series of old photos re-imagined by Nickolai. We'll start with Oshkosh's two most well-known breweries: the Oshkosh Brewing Company and People Brewing Company. I've been posting pictures of these breweries for years. But nothing like this...

More on the Oshkosh Brewing Company.
More on Peoples Brewing Company.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


A new one from Fifth Ward for the growler collection. This is the first time since 1956, that we’ve had three breweries in Oshkosh.