Monday, December 30, 2019

The Year in Oshkosh Beer, 2019 Edition

It was another eventful year for beer and brewing in Oshkosh. Here's a look back at 2019 and how the beer scene here continues to evolve.

A couple of Oshkoshers at February's Winter Beer Fest. 
HighHolder Brewing releases a Grisette, an obscure style of Belgian beer, at O'Marro's Public House. It’s the first time this style has been produced by an Oshkosh brewery. Like most of the beers HighHolder released in 2019 – and there weren't many of them – this one sells out in a matter of days. Tracking down beer from Oshkosh's only nano-brewery grows increasingly difficult as the year progresses. HighHolder has not released a new beer since June.

Bare Bones Brewery holds its 2nd Annual Winter Beer Fest. It features beer from six of Winnebago Counties eight breweries (HighHolder and Emprize are absent). There had never been a previous occasion when so many of the county's breweries had their beer available in a single location. 

Zach Clark (left)and Ian Wenger (center) of Fifth Ward at the Winter Beer Fest.
The hairless one is your humble blogger.
Bare Bones releases Oshkosh Lager, a beer inspired by classic Oshkosh beers such as Chief Oshkosh and Peoples Beer. It soon becomes the brewery's best-selling beer. It's also the first time since Mid-Coast Brewing ceased operations in 1994 that an Oshkosh-based brewery has included a lager as part of its year-round line-up.

Fox River Brewing releases Red Bobber raspberry ale, the companion to its best selling BLÜ Bobber blueberry ale. Fruit-flavored beers have taken hold in Oshkosh in a big way.

Fifth Ward Brewing sells bottles of Blueberry-Peach Frootenanny from its lineup of kettle-sour beers. It's the first time since the early 1900s that an Oshkosh brewery has released a sour beer in bottles.

A Fifth Ward bottled sour alongside an 1870s clay bottle from the Leonard Schiffmann brewery in Oshkosh.
The Schiffmann bottle contained a sour, Berliner-style Weissbier.

Fox River Brewing's BLÜ Bobber goes on tap at Miller Park in Milwaukee. It's the first time since 1972 that an Oshkosh beer has been sold at a Major League Baseball stadium.

Winnebago County Beer is released. It's the first book to detail the complete history of beer and brewing in Winnebago County.

Bare Bones Brewery's Pawsome Pils wins the Northeast Wisconsin Brew Battles Craft Beer Bracket Challenge. It was an upset win for a pale lager in a bracket heavy with strong stouts and modern IPAs.

Historic Oshkosh tavern Mabel Murphy's burns to the ground. It had been a fixture on the local tavern scene since 1890 and was a major player in the Oshkosh beer wars of the early 1900s. It’s later announced that the tavern will be rebuilt on the same site. As of now, there's nothing but an empty pit there.

Craig Zoltowski and Jeff Duhacek purchase The Cellar Brew Shop from longtime owner Dave Koepke. Zoltowski is co-owner of Emprize Brew Mill, a brewpub that opened in Menasha in 2017. 

Craig Zoltowski

Hidden Valley Hops Farm in the Town of Winchester is up and running. It’s the first commercial hop farm in Winnebago county since the 1880s. Among the hops being grown by Justin Gloede of Hidden Valley are plants transplanted from the site of the former farm of Silas Allen. In the late 1840s, Allen had established the first hop farm in Winnebago County in what is now the Town of Allenville.

Hidden Valley Hops Farm.

Bare Bones releases the first beer in its Oshkosh Heritage Series. The series begins with Peoples Beer brewed from the original, 1950s recipe supplied by Wilhelm Kohlhoff,  a former brewer at Peoples.
Wilhelm Kohlhoff

The Granary Brew Pub closes. The restaurant opened in August of 2017 with plans of having a brewery as part of its operation. It never came to be.

Kevin Bowen leaves Fox River Brewing. Bowen had been the brewmaster there since 2009. The new brewmaster is 29-year-old Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth of Fox River Brewing.

The Magnet Bar closes. When it opened in 1940, the Magnet was Wisconsin's first teen-age beer bar. It was recently announced that the bar will reopen in early 2020.

Both Bare Bones and Fox River produce wet-hop beers using locally grown hops. The Bare Bones beer is made with hops grown at Hidden Valley Hops Farm in the Town of Winchester. Fox River's beer is made with hops grown by Steve Sobojinski in the Town of Nekimi. It's the third year in a row that each brewery has produced a wet-hop beer. It's the first time they've both used locally sourced hops.

The hop harvest for Fox River’s Big Ed’s Hopyard Ale.

Iconic south side bar Witzke's closes. Built by the Oshkosh Brewing Company in 1902, the closure is symbolic of the plight of Oshkosh's "neighborhood" taverns.

Witzke's in the early 1980s.

The Society of Oshkosh Brewers hosts its annual Cask and Caskets Homebrew Event for Charity. The festival, composed entirely of homemade beer, cider, mead, and wine, remains the only event of its kind in Wisconsin. The festival nets $7,000 for the Winnebagoland Hunger Network.

Through the first 10 months of 2019, overall beer production in Oshkosh is up 7% compared to 2018. Nationally, growth among craft brewers is up 4%. The largest producer in Oshkosh remains Fox River, accounting for more than half of the 1,994 barrels of beer made here through the end of October. Fifth Ward is Oshkosh’s fastest-growing brewery with production up 31%. Production numbers for all of 2019 will not be available until February.

Fifth Ward Brewing celebrates its second anniversary with the release of the first set of beers from the brewery's barrel-aging program. The endeavor includes beers aged in spirits barrels and sour beers conditioned in wood.

Barrel aging at Fifth Ward.

Oshkosh Bier and Brewing - in planning since 2016 - fails in its bid to secure a city-owned property in the 700 block of South Main Street. The vacant land there is part of the Sawdust District. After the announcement, Oshkosh director of community development Allen Davis says he'd still like to see more breweries in the Sawdust District. “We have Fifth Ward, but it would help to have a second or a third,” Davis said. “It would help to make Oshkosh a destination.”

Bare Bones releases White Paw and becomes the first Oshkosh brewery to release a hard seltzer.

At the end of December, Oshkosh’s four breweries have combined to produce well over 100 unique beers. Never in the city’s long history of brewing has the number of different beers made here approached that amount. Fifth Ward, which has clearly had a breakout year, is the leader in this category having released more than 50 unique beers in 2019. BLÜ Bobber is once again the most widely distributed and best selling beer produced by an Oshkosh brewery.

And now it’s on to 2020. Let’s hope it’s a good one filled with plenty of good beer. Happy New Year, and thanks for reading the Oshkosh Beer Blog. Prost!


  1. Just a fantastic story of success for Oshkosh! Thanks Lee and Happy New Year!

    1. Happy New Year to you Karen! Thanks for checking out the blog.