Monday, December 16, 2019

The Return of Chief Oshkosh Holiday Brew

On Tuesday, December 17 Bare Bones Brewery will release the latest in its Oshkosh Heritage Series of beers. This time, it’s a remake of the Oshkosh Brewing Company's Chief Oshkosh Holiday Brew. The beer will go on tap at Bare Bones Tuesday at 5 p.m. A limited number of 12-ounce commemorative bottles will also be available at the brewery.

This is the third in a series of beers that Jody Cleveland, head brewer at Bare Bones, and I have collaborated on based on beers produced by long-gone Oshkosh breweries. This time, we went back 60 years to the 1950s version of Holiday Brew. Putting the recipe together was easy. We were working from the brewery's logbooks, so it was just a matter of scaling things down from the 230-barrel batch made at OBC to the seven-barrels of Holiday Brew we made at Bare Bones.

We felt obligated to follow the same process that OBC used when making Holiday Brew in the 1950s. That meant performing a traditional cereal mash. This technique hasn't been used by a brewery in Oshkosh in almost 50 years. And I can understand why. It's time-consuming and difficult to coordinate. But it produces a distinctive flavor that can't be achieved otherwise.

On the brew deck at Bare Bones. Jody Cleveland is on the right.
I’m with the canoe / mash paddle wondering why we thought it “might be fun” to do a cereal mash.

The Holiday Brew Backstory
The Oshkosh Brewing Company introduced Holiday Brew in 1935; two years after Prohibition had ended. It was what was known then as a Strong Pilsener. Today we might call it a Premium Lager. In essence, Holiday Brew was a pale lager that was a bit stronger, maltier, and hoppier than standard-issue Chief Oshkosh. At just over 5% ABV and 26 IBUs, this would hardly be considered a "winter warmer" by today's standards. In its day, though, Holiday Brew was something special.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; November 30, 1940.

Holiday Brew was a more expensive beer to produce, but OBC would sell it at the standard rate as a favor to the brewery's customers. It was typically released in late November or early December, though as the years went on pre-Thanksgiving releases became more common. Most years, Holiday Brew would sell out before the new year.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; December 12, 1955.

Holiday Brew remained an annual tradition until the last batch hit the market in November 1968. By then, OBC was trapped in a downward spiral it would never recover from. The brewery closed in 1971.

The last Holiday Brew. Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; November 23, 1968.

We're excited about bringing Holiday Brew back as part of the Heritage Series. And thanks to local collector Steve Schrage, when the beer is tapped Tuesday, it will be from an original Holiday Brew tap handle.

But like the Holiday Brew of old, when this batch is gone, that'll be it. Get it while you can.

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