Monday, September 3, 2018

The Beer Here: Foxtoberfest, Oshkosh’s Original Oktoberfest Beer

Foxtoberfest has been brewed in Oshkosh for more than 20 years now. It's Fox River Brewing's longest running fall-seasonal and it's pouring once again at the brewery's pub and taproom in Oshkosh.

The Beer
Foxtoberfest is a German-style Märzenbier (better known as an Oktoberfest beer). It looks the part, pouring brilliantly clear with a tight cap of white foam over an amber-hued beer that edges toward red. The aroma tells you everything. The smell of toffee and toasted bread cross over from nose to palate. It's medium bodied and yet rich, a touch lighter than the chewier examples of the style most American brewer's lean towards. The hopping here is perfect. The hops stay out of the way until the very end when just a bit of bitterness appears to balance the sweet maltiness. This is one of my favorite styles of beer and I'm an unabashed fan of this interpretation of it.

Over the past twenty years, I've drank this beer 100 times or more; sometimes draft, sometimes from a bottle. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, Foxtoberfest seems especially vulnerable when it passes through a tap line that's anything less than pristine. So, this is one of the rare cases where I tend to prefer the bottled version of a beer. That said, the beer is even better if you can get it from a well-maintained draft line.

The Backstory
Germans swarmed to Oshkosh in the mid-1800s and left an indelible mark on the city's beer culture. German-style lagers poured everywhere here where beer was poured. But until the latter half of the 1900s, there was one, prototypical style of German beer that went noticeably missing from tap lists here. Oktoberfest, beers were nowhere to be found in Oshkosh. Of the 16 breweries that operated in Oshkosh prior to 1990, not one of them produced an Oktoberfest beer.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that Oktoberfest beers began catching on here. Coincidently (or perhaps not), that occurred at a time when our local breweries were pumping out almost nothing but pale and increasingly bland lagers. The first Oktoberfest beer to reach Oshkosh in any significant way was Lowenbrau Oktoberfest, which was then still being brewed in Munich.

From the Oshkosh Advance-Titan, October 8, 1970.

But the true rise of Oktoberfest beer in Oshkosh began in the 1980s. Ground zero was Oblio's Lounge. Mark Schultz and Todd Cummings became co-owners of Oblio's in 1979. At the time, Cummings was dating a woman who worked for a Manitowoc beer distributorship. She introduced him to Hacker-Pschorr’s Oktoberfest. Cummings and Schultz decided they needed to bring the beer to Oblio’s. “It became my new favorite beer,” Schultz says. “You had to order it in spring to get it in fall. The first year we ordered 25 barrels and the next we ordered 50 and the year after that 75. Our distributor would have to go through other distributors to get the beer.”

Hacker-Pschorr’s Oktoberfest has been pouring at Oblio's every fall ever since. It's become a staple beer at Oblio's. They try to keep it on tap until St. Patrick's Day. I had a pint of it there this weekend. As always, it was wonderful.

The Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Tap Handle at Oblio's.

Those pints of Oktoberfest poured at Oblio's inspired Oshkosh homebrewers to take up the style. The first Oktoberfest beers made in Oshkosh came out of brew systems cobbled together by homebrewers here in the 1980s.

Jeff Fulbright was also among those at Oblio's drinking Hacker-Pschorr’s Oktoberfest. In 1991 Fulbright launched the Mid-Coast Brewing Company of Oshkosh. “My favorite style of beer at the time was Oktoberfest,” Fulbright says. “I wanted to do a toned-down version of an Oktoberfest that people could drink throughout the year.” And with that, Chief Oshkosh Red Lager was born.

Finally, in 1997, an Oshkosh brewery produced a full-on Oktoberfest. Fox River Brewing's Foxtoberfest became the first Oktoberfest-style beer produced in Oshkosh by a commercial brewery.

This year, Bare Bones Brewery produced its first Oktoberfest-style lager. Bare Bones Oktoberfest will be released Wednesday, September 5th in the brewery's taproom.

For a style of lager beer that dates back to 1841, it's surprising that it took so long for Oktoberfest beers to be taken up here. We've certainly made up for lost time. These days, Oktoberfest is so ubiquitous in Oshkosh it seems like it couldn't ever have been any other way. But it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment