Thursday, October 31, 2019

Irrational Fear at Fox River Brewing

Probably it's because I'm a homebrew geek, but I'm much more interested in beer flavor created through the brewing process and the transformation of raw ingredients than I am in beers flavored with syrups, extracts, and the like. So for me, what's been happening lately at Fox River Brewing has been worth following.

the brewhouse at Fox River in Oshkosh.

Andrew Roth took over as the brewmaster at Fox River in August. Since then he's been changing the brewery's approach to making a number of its beers. You won't notice it in Fox River's core brands such as BLU Bobber, but it's readily apparent in the new beers released in the brewery's taprooms. Today (Thursday, October 31) at Fox River, they're releasing a new IPA named Irrational Fear that demonstrates what some those changes taste like.

The beer's hop profile is built along the lines of a hazy IPA, with a large and late addition of hops. For Irrational Fear, Roth used Citra, Mandarina Bavaria, and Michigan-grown Chinook. The hops come in at the end of the boil and in the whirlpool after the wort has cooled to 170ºf. Then it gets dosed again with dry hopping. There was no bittering addition.

The grist includes flaked barley and Blonde RoastOat Malt. This is a new malt from Briess Malting of Chilton that imparts slightly sweet and toasty flavors while creating a creamy mouthfeel. It's definitely a modern IPA sort of malt.

Roth has also been dealing with the water chemistry for the IPAs he's brewing at Fox River. If you've made IPAs with Oshkosh water you already know it can be a challenge making a pale beer with a pronounced hop flavor that doesn't come off as harsh. Since taking over as the head of brewing operations, Roth has been adjusting the mineral content of the local water to create a profile more hospitable to hop-forward beers.

I'm looking forward to seeing how these changes continue to present themselves in the beer Roth is making and tasting those changes in real time. Maybe this stuff isn't as sexy as the latest Chocolate-Peanut-Vanilla-Slushee-Habernaro Stout, but it's a lot more drinkable. And, for me at least, a lot more interesting.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Return of Kuenzl’s Kulmbacher

The second beer in the Oshkosh Heritage Series will be tapped Tuesday, October 15, at 5 pm at Bare Bones Brewery. This time, Jody Cleveland of Bare Bones and I have revived a pitch-black lager beer that was an Oshkosh mainstay in the 1880s. It's the Gambrinus Brewery's Kulmbacher Beer.

An ad featuring the Gambrinus Brewery's Kulmbacher beer from the 1888-1889 Wisconsin State Gazetteer.

Lorenz Kuenzl was the owner and brewmaster of the Gambrinus Brewery in Oshkosh from 1875 until 1894. We based our recipe and methods for recreating his Kulmbacher upon an 1893 inventory of ingredients and equipment used at the Gambrinus Brewery. We coupled that with documentation of brewing practices employed in the making of Kulmbacher-style beers during the period when Kuenzl was brewing his Kulmbacher in Oshkosh.

The Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave. in Oshkosh.
 Lorenz Kuenzl is seen leaning on the fence in white sleeves and hat.
Our recreation of Kuenzl's Kulmbacher was brewed on August 24, 2019, at Bare Bones on the brewery's pilot system. It was our only option. Like most modern, commercial brewing systems, the 15-barrel brewery at Bare Bones is not designed for 19th-century brewing practices. The pilot system allowed us to use the manual, traditional methods we wanted to employ.

The wort was made using a modified, Franconian-style decoction mash as documented in 1865. We coupled that with an arcane technique known as hop roasting. It was a practice once favored by brewers of Kulmbacher beers. This had us taking a portion of the thin mash (dunnmaisch) and boiling it with the whole-cone Cluster hops we used for the beer. As you might expect, the aroma that comes off the kettle at this point is fairly staggering.

Hop roasting at Bare Bones.

"The Kulmbacher, which owes its singular flavor to the peculiar treatment of the hops."
   – Chicago Daily Tribune, January 30, 1881.

This is not, however, a hoppy beer. There is a firm bitterness, but it's balanced by the beer's malt-rich profile derived from the decoction mash. This is the first time in well over 100 years that a commercial brewery in Oshkosh has used any form of decoction mash to create a beer.

And there hasn't been a Kulmbacher brewed commercially in Oshkosh since the Oshkosh Brewing Company stopped producing its version in the latter half of the 1890s. By then, the popularity of the style faded here. I think it's about time we give it another shot. Hope to see you at Bare Bones for the tapping.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Big Ed’s Goes Red

Big Ed’s Hopyard Ale goes on tap this afternoon at Fox River Brewing in Oshkosh. This marks the third year in a row that Fox River has released a wet-hop beer made with hops grown locally by Steve Sobojinski in the Town of Nekimi.

Steve Sobojinski tending to his hop yard.

This year, they managed to pull in more than 60 pounds of hops from that yard. It all went into Big Ed’s. Among those hops, which included Columbus, Cascade, Sterling, and Nugget; is a Winnebago County varietal grown from rootstock transplanted from the site of Silas Allen’s 1850s hop yard in the town of Allenville (there’s more about all that HERE).

Big Ed’s 2019 will be different from that of previous batches. Fox River’s new brewmaster, Andrew Roth, has changed up the recipe making it a red ale. Roth said he thinks the malt notes of a red ale will provide a better backdrop for the beer's hop flavor.

Want to dive deeper? If you live in Oshkosh, check out the article I wrote for the Oshkosh Herald that should have hit your mailbox yesterday. It’s all about the wet-hop beers made this year from locally grown hops. If you’re outside of the paper's delivery area, you can check that out HERE.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Twin Cities Beer

This Friday, October 11, I’ll be at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha talking about the history of beer and brewing in Neenah and Menasha. The talk begins at 3:00 pm. It’s part of this year’s Fox Cities Book Festival. I’m going to cover the entire (and sometimes contentious) history of brewing in the two cities from the first brewery of 1850 right up to the opening of Barrel 41 last year. Hope to see you there. For more info, CLICK THIS.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Drink that Made Wisconsin Famous: Beer and Brewing in the Badger State

The Drink that Made Wisconsin Famous is an epic. It is easily the most comprehensive book ever written about the history of beer brewing in Wisconsin. And it looks the part. Across 744 pages author Doug Hoverson manages to touch upon every Wisconsin brewery. He begins with the inception of commercial brewing here in the 1830s and carries forward through the most recent burst of craft brewery openings. Approximately 800 breweries are covered with more than 600 color images accompanying the text.
The book is divided into two major sections. The first presents a high-level overview of the brewing history of Wisconsin. Hoverson weaves together the stories of massive producers, such as Schlitz and Heileman, with those of local and regional breweries. It's a complex story, but Hoverson's fluid, inviting prose makes it an accessible and enjoyable read. This section could have been a book unto itself.

The second half, though, is where Hoverson outdoes himself. Here he presents concise histories of every Wisconsin brewery. There's been nothing of this scope attempted before and when you see it in print you understand why. It's an almost overwhelming amount of information that took Hoverson a decade to gather. It’s an amazing collection of work.

The Drink That Made Wisconsin Famous becomes the essential resource for anyone with an interest in the state's beer and brewing history. There's simply nothing else like it. And I should add that Oshkosh definitely gets her due.

If you’d like to dig deeper, here are a few additional resources. First, Bobby Tanzilo of On Milwaukee conducts a good interview with Doug Hoverson about the book here. The publisher's book page can be found here. And you can purchase the book online from Amazon here.