Thursday, August 30, 2018

We Shall Never Pass This Way Again

Oshkosh author Randy Domer has a new book out titled We Shall Never Pass This Way Again - Stories from Oshkosh's Historic Past.

And what does this have to do with beer? Plenty. Randy invited me to contribute a chapter to the book. I couldn't pass that up. My piece, Riding the White Mule, is about the twisted history of Prohibition in Oshkosh. I believe this is the first time Oshkosh's beer-soaked stumble through the dry years has been covered in any kind of comprehensive way.

Of course, there's a lot more than my typing in there. Like Randy's previous two books, We Shall Never Pass This Way Again offers a generous selection of stories from Oshkosh's surprising past; with enough mayhem and murder along the way to keep things jumping. It's the sort of stuff that'll make you see our city a little differently than you did before.

You can pick up We Shall Never Pass This Way Again in Oshkosh at Caramel Crisp Cafe, the Oshkosh Public Museum Gift Shop, Studio 3, and Cinders Restaurant. Or you can go here and get it online.

For more info on Randy Domer and his books check out his Oshkosh History site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

When Hops Were King in Allenville

Hopyards once flourished in Winnebago County. From the 1850s until 1880, the county was among Wisconsin’s most productive hop-growing regions. This at a time when Wisconsin was a leader in U.S. hop production. It all came undone in Winnebago County after a devastating series of market upheavals and crop failures in the late 1870s. Farmers here plowed their hops under. They put cows and corn where the towering bines had grown. Silas M. Allen was there to see it all.

Born in 1867, Allen was raised on a hop farm in Allenville, just north of Oshkosh in the Town of Vinland. Allen's grandfather, also named Silas, appears to have been the person who introduced hop culture to Winnebago County. Silas the elder died in 1859. His hopyard survived, tended by his son Timothy, the father of Silas M. Allen.

Silas M. Allen was 13 when his family abandoned hop farming. It continued, however, to be a point of interest for him. A railway mail clerk by profession, history was Allen’s obsession. It led him to seek out and conduct interviews with early residents of Winnebago County. The information he gleaned helped flesh out his own memories of the emergent county.

In 1931, Allen’s store of knowledge about 19th-century life in Winnebago County was made public through a series of articles he wrote for the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern. Among them was a lengthy piece on farming. The piece was dominated by memories of the days when hops were king in Allenville. It's an invaluable record. The hop-related portions of it are excerpted below.

Allen’s history of hops was written some 50 years after the peak of hop farming in Winnebago County. It came at a time when, thanks to Prohibition, beer had been illegal for more than a decade. And five months after it was published, Silas M. Allen passed away at his home in Oshkosh. Following his death, the Daily Northwestern mentioned that Allen "was in a position to know more of the early history of the county than almost any other individual."

Time for me to get out of the way and let Allen have his say. I've included a number of captioned illustrations that I hope will benefit Allen's text. Aside from those intrusions, what follows is the writing of Silas M. Allen.

Allenville Hopyards Form an Interesting Background For Present Day Farm Methods

No person under 50 years of age has ever seen a hopyard in what is now the Allenville community, but from 1850 to 1880 hopyards in that section were a common sight.

From the Libby farm, now Hauler's, on route 41, to Tennis Miller's, near Lake Winneconne and from Albert Hinman's, west to Gillingham's corners, south to the Christian Boss farm, were a score or more of those fields or yards.

The highlighted area illustrates the hop-farming sections Allen references.
When Silas Allen settled there in 1846, he is supposed to have had a barrel of hop roots in his emigrant wagon.

He was soon followed by his father, Timothy Allen, by his brother, George, and by his brother-in-law, Frank King. They had come from Madison county, New York, and were hop growers there.

Timothy Allen was a dignified gentleman of the old school, one v,-ho, in traveling or going to church, rode on horseback ahead of the family conveyance. Being a strict Presbyterian, he did not, while living at Allenville. take an active part in the work of the Free-Will Baptist church. He died in 1856.

Hops are still raised in central New York, and our cousin, George Allen, of Brookfield, N. Y., was the largest single hop grower in that country. His last crop was raised in 1921, and consisted of 45 acres. The yards in Vinland were hardly over 10 acres each.

We do not know exactly the year hops were first planted there, but it must have been soon after Silas Allen's settling. He lived there only 13 years, dying from a sunstroke on July 16, 1859. (Note- July 16 of this year, 1931, was one of our hottest days.)

Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh.
At his death, he owned the farms now known as the Sidney Smith farm, the Grimm, Jones, and Harry Allen farms, the 80 acres south of Allenville station, 120 acres next west of the J. S. ("Till") Cross farm, 40 acres of timber - west of that, and 80 acres of marsh in section I. town of Winchester, where he died.

This land was paid for by wheat and hops. Yet this man, hustler that he was, never had a horse-rake, mower, nor reaper, let alone a hay-loader, horse-fork, binder or sulky plow, nor did he dream of the great later inventions and improvements, milking machines, paved roads, automobiles or electric power.

Botanically speaking, hops belonging to the nettle family, are really catkins. The leaves and stems are rough to the touch.

The catkins consist of several acute bracts or leaves and these leaves are attached to the stem in such a way as to form a cone. A bunch of these cones looks very much like a bunch of green grapes. The base of these leaves is covered with a yellow powder, which is the active principle of the plant.

The acreage, price, and production vary greatly from year to year. The state of Oregon is the great producing state now.

Hops contain 75 percent of water, and are dried down to 15 percent at 140 degrees of heat. Hops have many pests to damage them, lice and mildew being the greatest. About 20 million pounds are raised annually in the United States.

The soil most suitable for hops is the same as that for corn. A field of hops is called a hopyard. In setting out a yard, first the land was marked as if to be planted to corn by hand, the rows being four feet each way. In every second row. in every second mark, four roots were put, making the hill longer north and south. The hops roots looked- something like our modern vegetable oysters. The remaining hills were planted to corn, and as the hops grew the first year to only four or six feet, they did not interfere much with cultivating and harvesting the corn.

In the fall, after the corn was off. a large forkful of manure was placed on each hill of hops. This was both for protection against the cold of winter and for fertilizer the next year.

If it were the first hopyard, you went to the cedar swamps for hundreds of small cedar trees about four inches in diameter at the base and 16 feet long, the large end to be sharpened like a fence post.

In the spring, after the frost was out, these covers on the hills were removed and at each end of these hop hills, north and south, two holes were made with a hop spud, an iron bar like a crow bar with the ground end enlarged.

A hop spud, also known as a hop bar.
Into these holes the cedar poles were set by raising them in the air as high as your chin and plunging them into the holes.

As hop vines are climbers, going around with the sun, most of the young vines soon found the poles and began to climb. But some were unruly and some would be loosened by strong winds, so they had to be helped to find their places on the poles. This was a boy's job. All winter the women had been saving the legs of worn-out hand-knit woolen stockings This soft yarn ravelled made an ideal string to tie up the tender hop vines.

One wound the vine around the pole with the sun, then fastened it with a length of yarn with a twist of the ends, the kink in the yarn tightening it enough to hold the vine to the pole until it started growing around again.

By the middle of July the vines would have reached the top of the poles and branched out in all directions. At that time, a 10-acre hopyard was a very pretty sight.

As the hops began to form, they took on an appearance of bunches of green grapes, but with some leaves growing in the clusters. There are a number of farms in Vinland where the hop-houses are still standing, though in most cases the buildings have lost their distinguishing feature, the high end where the kiln was located. On the Albert Hinman farm is still standing a tepee-like stack of hop-poles.

A hop barn typical of the era.

The Hinman farm as it appeared in about 1880. The hop barn with its cone-shaped roof is seen at the center of the image.
 About Sept. 1 the hops were ready for picking. Girls were employed for this and they were usually secured from Poygan and Winchester. We usually had about 20 or 24 pickers but my mother used to tell me how, in her first year of married life and housekeeping in 1865, living in a log house, for four weeks they had 75 girls to cook for and to lodge in the big barn equipped with hand-made bedsteads, the bedticks filled with straw from the previous fall garnering.

The picking force was augmented by one man to tend box for each eight girls, that is to take the poles down and then stack them up after the hops were picked.

An 1880 photo taken at a Columbia County, Wisconsin hop farm.

The hops were put into boxes. The boxes were about six feet long, two and a half feet wide and two and a half feet high. They were divided into four compartments, each compartment holding seven bushels and the girls were paid 24 cents a compartment. A real live girl would pick four of them a day. At each end of the box two of the side boards were extended to make handles by which when the boxes were empty, two men could pick them up and carry them around.

On each end was a strip upright with a notch in the top. Across the box in these notches was a light pole on which the poles of hops were laid while the hops were picked. Thirty-six hills or 72 poles was a setting, after which the box would be moved to another setting. When a compartment was filled, the hops were emptied into a jute sack, the box-tender dipping the hops out by hand, while two of the girls held the sack.

Each night these sacks of hops were hauled to the hop-house. The kiln part of the hop-house consisted of a large high room on the ground floor in which were generally four large cast iron stoves long enough to take in four-foot wood. Above this was a floor made of slats covered with burlap on which the hops were placed to about two and a half feet in depth.

Fires in the stoves were kept up six or seven, hours, the hops being gently stirred during this time. During the last hour of the drying. brimstone was placed on the tops of the stoves, the fumes circulating through the hops above and giving them a rich yellow color. After drying, the hops very light and brittle, were gently pushed off the kiln floor into the storage room, which usually was the rest of the building, as the light dry hops took up much space.

It was quite a lively time in the neighborhood during hop picking time as there were then within a radius of two or three miles probably from 100 to 150 extra girls picking hops. Each yard was supposed to give at least one dance during the time. These dances were usually held on the lower floor of the hop-houses. So many girls made it necessary that all the men, young and old, should take part.

Even barefoot boys of 8 or 10 years, like myself, were drafted, and if a bashful boy held back he would probably be picked up and carried on the floor by some active young woman. The music would be a violin played by one of the men among the box-tenders. One violin was enough music for a hop dance and the fiddler generally called off the dance changes. All the dances were square dances.

After the picking and drying was over, generally on a rainy day, the hops were pressed into great bales The press was a huge box-like affair relined for each bale with burlap. Into this press the hops were poured, two men inside treading them down.

"Treading them down."

When the press had been filled, a four by four or eight by eight bar of strong wood, called a follower, with levers at each end was put on and the hops pressed down until the edges of the burlap met. The sides of the press were removed and the edges of the burlap sewed together with very strong cord threaded in a large needle with a curved point.

Caps were then sewed on the end of the bales. These bales were about five leet long, 30 inches wide, and 20 inches thick, weighing about 200 pounds.

It was considered quite a feat of strength to shoulder a bale of hops and only a few men could do it. Among those I can remember were Andrew Anderson, afterward living on the Jerry Vosburg farm. William Stannard and William Moran of Butte des Morts. Charles R. Allen, and my father Timothy Allen, all very powerful men.

Soon after the hop growing was well started there moved into the community several families and single men direct from Kent, the great hop district of England. They were excellent hop men and were a valuable addition to the industry.

First came Jesse Britcher, Edward Carl with some of the Richardson brothers, followed afterward by other Richardsons, the Weller brothers, George and Alfred, and Fred Brann.

By 1880 hop growing had declined so much that but a few yards were left. These were on the Cronkhite, Allen, Samuel Pratt, David Maxwell farms and the farms owned by Caroline Allen Bates and Louise Allen Vosburg, now the Sidney Smith and Grimm farms.

A 1932 map of the Town of Vinland. Green highlights indicate farms Allen mentions in his article.

All these soon disappeared on account of the damages by pests and The difficulty of getting pickers. Girls could not be induced to come, so the last year or two only elderly women with their nephews or grandchildren could be secured.

The last yard on the Allen farm was where the Allenville store now stands. The railroad cut right across it taking a strip 100 feet wide. The inconvenience caused by this broke the back of the industry in this section.
Silas M. Allen
Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, September 19, 1931

The photo above was taken at Allenville in the early 1900s. The white building with the awning is the Allenville store referenced in the article. Below is a recent photo of that same area. 

Hops still grow wild at the site of the last of the Allen family's hop yards. The photo below was taken there last week.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It’s Time You Learned How to Make Beer

Like it or not, believe it or not, summer's end is nearing. The good news is that now is the perfect time to start homebrewing.

Here's how to get started the right way… This Saturday, August 25, The Cellar Homebrew Shop in Oshkosh begins a new round of how-to-brew classes at its store at 465 North Washburn Street. The first class starts at 11 a.m. and, as always, admission is free.

The August 25th class will cover the basics of extract brewing. That class will be followed with a session on all-grain brewing on September 15. You'd be best off hitting both of them. From those two classes, you'll take away the skills you need to make great beer at home for years to come.

The Backstory
The Cellar has been offering brewing classes here since the store moved to Oshkosh from Fond du Lac in 2016. For the past couple of years, classes have been taught by Oshkosh area homebrewer Tim Pfeister. He has over 10 years of homebrewing experience behind him. “I've been addicted to it for at least a decade,” Pfeister says. And he’s been teaching others how to brew for nearly as long.

Tim Pfeister
“I was excited when David (Koepke, owner of The Cellar) asked me to do a teaching gig at The Cellar with no political ties to clubs, just focusing on the building of community through the sharing of passion and knowledge,” Pfeister says.

You hear that word passion a lot among homebrewers. This is a hobby that tends to consume people. For Pfeister, that sharing of passion works both ways. “I love the involvement,” he says. “I get students of varying levels, all full of questions. Their excitement to learn fans my own flames. It's cyclical that way.”

It even inspired him to return to his roots and do some extract-based brewing again. “I bought a kettle and returned to my stove top for a while,” Pfeister says. “It allowed me to take a decade's worth of experience and apply it to extract brewing, which I could then share the results with my classes, proving that you can actually make very good extract brew with correct practices.”

It’s about more than just beer. Pfeister views The Cellar classes as an alternative for people looking to learn and become part of a homebrewing community that isn’t tied to the agenda of an organized homebrewing club.

“I want to stress that our number one priority is community,” he says. “This is where I feel that we differentiate a little from the clubs. Not that what they do isn't good, but politics and bureaucracy tend to get in the way. The Oshkosh club, unfortunately, is a little obsessed with festivals which, in my opinion, is off-putting to fledgling homebrewers and tends to rob time from education; which I feel clubs should really focus on. We are trying something a little different, that's all.”

In the end, though, it always comes back to the beer. And for a beer lover, there’s nothing like the satisfaction that comes from drinking a good beer that you created. It’s what recently sent Pfeister chasing after his vision of the perfect IPA, and in the process “Eliminate my dependence on shelf-bought product for good, hoppy brew.”

Pfeister has been methodically constructing his recipe for what he’s calling STANK IPA. “In fact, It took me nearly four years to make an IPA I was happy with,” he says. “I now have a house recipe that is better than just about anything you can buy off the shelf at Festival. We now consume more homebrew around the house than commercial beer.”

That’s a place most homebrewers would like to be in. Getting started the right way will get you there that much quicker. To keep up with the upcoming classes at The Cellar follow the store's Facebook page or contact The Cellar via its website.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Getting Cozy on Main Street, 1902

Fancy beer bars are hardly a new phenomenon on Main Street in Oshkosh. Here's one that was pouring the good stuff back in 1902. Enter the Little Cozy Sample Room…

The Little Cozy was located at what is now 216 N. Main Street. The building still stands. City records show it was constructed in 1900. I suspect it's actually a little older than that. It's now home to Screwballs Sports Pub.  The red arrow points the way in.

As you walked in you'd see the bar. In back was a sitting area where you could enjoy a drink, act civilized, and hawk loogies into spittoons.

Flying spit aside, this was a class joint. "A Specialty of High Grade Goods only..." This ad is from 1902.

The property's inner space was split down the middle. The sample room occupied the south half. The north half held a dining room. The picture below was taken in the dining area. Apparently, the mucus didn't flow as freely on this side of the wall.

Bert Gough and George Miller opened The Little Cozy in 1901. Both were the offspring of German immigrants. Bert Gough was 33 and born in LaCrosse. He'd been in the saloon business in Oshkosh for years. When The Little Cozy opened, Gough took up residence in a room above the bar.

George Miller was 25 and born in Fond du Lac. He was still a boy when his father died. After that, the family moved up here. He was living with his widowed mother. Maggie, over on Broad Street and working in a hotel when he and Gough launched The Little Cozy. This was his first stint managing a bar.

The Miller-Gough partnership didn't last. Gough was a transient saloonist moving from place to place. A couple years was all he lasted at The Little Cozy. Miller took on a new partner, John Larie; another veteran Oshkosh saloon man. Miller and Larie beefed things up, saying in 1905 that "They have entirely transformed The Little Cozy and have gone to much expense and spared no effort... The Little Cozy is new from one end to the other."

This was a fascinating period for Oshkosh gastronomy. Below we have the full Little Cozy menu.  This was published in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern on October 28, 1905.  Click the image to enlarge it or do a right-click download for an even better view.

Digging down into the wine list, we find beer. On the restaurant side, there was no beer on tap, only bottled beer. This was typical of restaurants trying to project an upscale image. Bottled beer was comparatively rare. Draft beer was the norm. Bottled beer was a luxury item and presented in a haze of folderal about it being purer than the kegged stuff.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, July 21, 1906.

Customers paid dearly for that bit of bullshit. Here's The Little Cozy's bottle list.

Budweiser, Pabst, and Schlitz may not impress you today, but in 1905 this was premium beer. And at 15 cents a pint, it was three times what you'd pay for that same beer on draught. Oshkosh Select was brewed by the Oshkosh Brewing Company. It was one of five beers the brewery produced during this period. Select was OBC’s premium bottled beer.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, August 7, 1907
The beer that grabs me on that list is White Label Bass Ale served up in pints and 7-ounce nips. This was a beer with little resemblance to the Bass Ale available these days. White Label Bass was brewed in  Burton on Trent, England and bottled in the U.S. by Thomas McMullen & Co. of New York. The White Label Bass Ale served in Oshkosh was pale amber, 7.25% ABV, and, in comparison to other beers on that list, hopped to the gills.

The Little Cozy did quite well. Nonetheless, Miller and Larie parted company in 1908. Miller then partnered with Byron Luther, the brother of his wife Enda. In 1910, they expanded into the property one door north, the former Greenwood Inn. Now with rooms to let alongside the restaurant and sample room, the operation was no longer little or cozy. In 1910, Miller and Luther rechristened the business as the Brunswick Hotel and Cafe. It was styled as a European Hotel specializing in German cuisine.

The sample-room days were coming to an end. In 1913, Miller closed the saloon and put the Brunswick Barbershop in its place. With Prohibition a looming threat, it probably seemed like the sensible thing to do. It would be 90 years before there was another tavern at 216 N. Main.

Miller left Oshkosh in 1919. He moved to Los Angeles where he continued in the hotel business. He died there in 1957 at the age of 81.

Meanwhile back in Oshkosh, the old Little Cozy was all but forgotten. The space was inhabited by a series of meat markets, dress, and dry-goods stores. The building was purchased by the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1927 which held it until 1963. For much of that time, the property was leased to the Montgomery Wards Catalog Store. Ho Hum.

North Main Street, 1950
Finally, in 2003 there was a bar there again when Screwballs Sports Club opened. The Chief Oshkosh Saloon was there for a brief time in 2010, which gave way to the Old Oshkosh Saloon for a couple years, before it became Screwballs once again. And so it remains. You can still get Budweiser at Screwballs, but that good Bass Ale and Oshkosh Select are long gone.  It’s a whole different world.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Beer Here: Bare Bones Nemesis Brown Ale

Wednesday, August 8, Bare Bones Brewery is partnering with the Oshkosh Area Humane Society for the release of Nemesis, a brown ale. Nemesis begins pouring at 6 p.m. with 10% of the evening's sales going to the Humane Society.

The Beer
Nemesis is an English-style brown ale, a style of beer rarely brewed around here. It's been years since we've seen one made in Oshkosh. It's a style that favors malt and Nemesis does just that, with notes of caramel, toffee, and chocolate. Despite that malt complexity, though, the beer is exceedingly quaffable. There’s plenty of flavor interest, but nothing that overwhelms the palate. This a true session ale at 4.4% ABV.

This is a beer with some roots. Nemesis was made using English malts and an English yeast strain that's purported to have been sourced from London's storied Whitbread Brewery. Whitbread was among the first breweries to produce the style when the modern brown ale emerged in the early 1920s. Something to chew on when your downing of few pints of Nemesis.

The Backstory
Nemesis was brewed by Jody Cleveland, the new head brewer at Bare Bones. And it’s the first time since taking over there that he’s produced a beer from his own recipe. It's no accident that Cleveland decided to start with a sessions beer. He came in as head brewer on May 1, with the idea of introducing more variety into a line-up that’s had a surplus of IPA and high-alcohol beers. “We'll still have our share of big and bold beers, but we need to have more balance here,” Cleveland says. We're going to strive for a more varied lineup. I want us to have something for everybody who comes in.”

Jody Cleveland
Cleveland began brewing professionally in 2016 when he started at Bare Bones as an assistant brewer. Later in 2016, he moved over to Fox River Brewing where he was an assistant brewer until April of this year. During the same period, Cleveland continued brewing at home on an electric one-barrel system he designed. It was on that system that he worked up the recipe for Nemesis.

"It's a beer I've been working on for four or five years now,” Cleveland says. I've always loved that style, but when I started brewing it I didn't like many of the commercial examples that were available around here. It kind of became an obsession to perfect this recipe. I wanted to make one that I liked. I'd love for it to be an ongoing beer, but we'll have to find out what customers think of it."

Nemesis marks the beginning of a turning point for Bare Bones, which opened in 2015. Much of the current line-up at the brewery’s tap room was produced by RJ Nordlund, who left Bare Bones in April with plans to launch a brewery in Michigan. Cleveland’s beers are just now coming to the fore at Bare Bones. The next few months should prove to be interesting there.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Beer Here: HighHolder's Opening Line-up

HighHolder Brewing Company will have its grand opening at O'Marro's Public House on Saturday, August 11, at 3 p.m. This will be the first time, since the brewery officially opened in March, that Oshkosh's lone nano-brewery will have multiple beers on tap. 

The Beer...
HighHolder has been stocking up and will release five beers for the grand opening: Borderlands, a dark, German-style altbier; EWECO, a New England style IPA; Raspberry Slide, a wheat ale conditioned on raspberries; Up N Down, a German-style K├Âlsch beer; and The Inky, an 8% ABV imperial milk stout. The Inky has been aged on vanilla and will start pouring as a special release at 6 p.m. Flights will be available.

The Backstory...
HighHolder Brewing is located at 221 Oregon Street, in a suite behind O'Marro's Public House. Launched by Mike Schlosser and Shawn O'Marro this is Oshkosh's first nano-brewery – loosely defined as a brewery that makes its beer in batch sizes of about three barrels or less. Those small batches have been met with enthusiasm. Each beer HighHolder has released has been finished off in less than a week. And that's left gaps where the brewery has had no beer available for sale. I asked Schlosser if those dry periods have been frustrating.

"It was at first," he said. "I wanted to always have our stuff available, but the reality is that it's just not possible at this point. We've been trying to tell people that when you see we've got it, come on in because it'll be gone next week."

Shawn O'Marro (left) and Mike Schlosser in the HighHolder Brewhouse
Nearly all of the brewery's production has been poured at O'Marro Public House. O'Marro says his customers have been understanding when they've come in to find they can't get a HighHolder. "Nobody really gives us too hard a time about it," he says. "And it's been kind of cool to see people getting excited when we do get a new beer out."

All of which should go to make the grand opening seem like a feast. And those periods of famine may be coming to end before too long. Just six months after its opening, HighHolder is planning an expansion. "We're looking to keep it a nano, but we're probably going to step up to a 3.5 barrel system," Schlosser says. "It's not a done deal, but that's where we're headed."

In the meantime, there are those five beers waiting in the pipeline for the grand opening. In addition to the HighHolder beer, there will be food, games, and live music by The MadPolecats and Swamp Water Boogie with special guest Max Jones. For more info, check in at the Facebook event page.