Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Breweriana Show in Oshkosh

On Sunday, October 4, beginning at noon, Fifth Ward Brewing Company in Oshkosh will host a brewery collectibles trade show. The free event will feature beer-related memorabilia that spans more than a century of American brewing history. It's been almost 40 years since the last time a show like this was held in Oshkosh. The man who's working to organize it wasn't even alive then.

Jared Sanchez.

Jared Sanchez is 32, and despite having a full-time job, a wife, and a young daughter, he manages to make time for his obsession: collecting items related to American brewing history. Or as hobbyists like Sanchez call it, breweriana.

"My interest in brewing history began when my college roommate, Zach Clark, started brewing beer in our college house basement with Ian Wenger," Sanchez says. Clark and Wenger went on to establish Fifth Ward Brewing. Meanwhile, Sanchez was studying up on Oshkosh brewing history and searching for remnants of the city's old breweries. But his pursuits grew more focused after a 2014 chance encounter with fellow collector Ron Akin.

Akin is co-author of the book The Breweries of Oshkosh and has amassed the preeminent collection of Oshkosh-related brewery memorabilia. "I had bought a Tonka Truck off of eBay and I had no idea that the seller was Ron Akin," Sanchez says. "When I arrived to pick up my purchase we talked for a few minutes and he asked if I collected anything else. I told him I collected Chief Oshkosh Beer items and his face lit up. He asked me if I wanted to see his collection. The moment I saw his basement, my life was never the same."

Now, Sanchez wants to pay the inspiration forward. "I wanted to set up this show as a way to promote the hobby and bring collectors together in the area and spark some local interest in the brewing history of Oshkosh," he says. "I wanted to put something together where we could all gather and enjoy time together and share our interests."

Many of the items displayed will have ties to Oshkosh, but Sanchez says the scope of the show will be broad. "People can expect to see items from breweries all across the state and country," he says. “There will be items from before Prohibition all the way up to more current things."

At least 15 vendors will be on hand to display their items. Sanchez encourages those who might be interested in showing their collections to contact him at 920-410-7073. His goal is to generate enough interest to ensure that it won’t be another 40 years before the next breweriana show happens here. “I hope to host this event annually,” Sanchez says. “I want to keep the hobby alive so that brewing history is never forgotten.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Doppelbock at Fifth Ward

Fifth Ward released its Doppelbock last weekend and it is definitely worth a go. A big, chewy bock with a deep malt flavor. The three-hour boil they put to this thing creates an incredible richness. My favorite beer to date from Fifth Ward. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

New Top Dog: Oshkosh's First Collaboration Beer

Oshkosh's first brewery was launched 171 years ago. Since then, we've had 21 legal breweries and at least a dozen illegal breweries. And in all that time, there's never been an instance of two Oshkosh breweries collaborating on a beer. Until now.

New Top Dog Golden Ale.

On August 27, the brewers from Bare Bones and Fifth Ward got together to brew New Top Dog, a honey golden ale, that will be released at each brewery's taproom on Saturday, September 12.
From left to right: Ian Wenger and Zach Clark of Fifth Ward
with Jody Cleveland of Bare Bones during the New Top Dog brew.

New Top Dog is an English-style golden ale made with additions of honey and spelt. "We wanted to make something super approachable," says Zach Clark of Fifth Ward. "We used local honey from a producer in Neenah that has hives all around this area. We included some spelt in the grain bill to give it a nice kind of nutty aroma that should go well with the biscuity flavor we get from the English malt we're using."

"Super approachable" is a good way to put it. New Top Dog is an easy-drinking ale with an interesting fruity character and a clean, grainy finish. It's quaffable in the extreme. This is a young beer with flavors that are bright and fresh, which is exactly what you want in a light ale. The sooner you can get to this beer the more you're likely to enjoy it. In a lot of ways, this beer exemplifies what local brewing is all about.

New Top Dog was brewed and kegged at Fifth Ward. There were 42 cases of it canned yesterday afternoon at Bare Bones. You'll be able to pick up sixers of it at each brewery beginning Saturday. The beer will also be available at Wagner Market in Oshkosh in the near future.

Friday, September 10. Canning New Top Dog at Bare Bones.

The idea for the collaboration didn't come from either brewery. It was set in motion by Steve Romme of the Oshkosh Mid-Morning Kiwanis. "Steve asked me what I thought about doing a beer for a fundraiser that would feature dogs," Clark says. "He thought we could also get Bare Bones involved with it. So I got together with Jody (Cleveland, head brewer at Bare Bones) and we put together a recipe"

"This thing came together really fast," says Cleveland. "It all just fell into place."

Part of the proceeds from the beer will benefit the Oshkosh Area Humane Society and the Oshkosh Mid-Morning Kiwanis Club. In conjunction with the release, dog owners can bring their pets to either brewery on September 12 and 13, to have them photographed and entered into a competition to have their dog's picture appear on the label of next's year collaboration. For more on that aspect of the fundraiser click here.

With Oshkosh's lengthy history of beer making it would seem a collaboration like this one would have happened long before now. In any case, we won't have to wait another 171 years for it to happen again. Next year's collaboration between Bare Bones and Fifth Ward is already being discussed. "We're thinking this is going to be an ongoing thing," Clark says.

For more info on the first Oshkosh brewery, which launched in 1849, click here.
For more on those dozen or so illegal Oshkosh breweries, click here.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Dortmunder at Fifth Ward

Fifth Ward released a Dortmunder-style lager last week. It's on now at the brewery's taproom.

Fifth Ward's Dort.

Dortmunder is a style of pale lager that's only been brewed in Oshkosh a couple of times. And until now, only at Fox River. The style occupies a thin slice of territory that sits between Pilsner and Helles. It's not as hoppy as a Pils. And it's not as malty as a Helles. Fifth Ward’s Dortmunder manages to deftly thread that needle. But to appreciate this beer fully, it helps to know a little about the story behind it.

Dortmunder Export Lager originated in the late 1800s in and around the city of Dortmund in the north of Germany. Pale lager was just then coming into vogue. In Dortmund, where they'd been brewing ale for centuries, they abandoned the old ways and began producing a pale lager built around the hard water native to the region. It's that last tidbit that helps make Fifth Ward's Dortmunder so interesting.

Fifth Ward brews with Oshkosh water, which has a bicarbonate level on par with the brewing waters used for those original Dortmunder lagers. That hard water shows all through the drinking of this beer. It lends a firmness to both the malt and hop character that immediately presents itself. This beer is just what it should be. If you've had it before, I'd suggest trying it again with the Dortmund backstory in mind. It'll enhance the experience.

This is just the second lager Fifth Ward has produced on its 10-barrel system. Last spring the brewery released a doppelbock brewed on a pilot system. Fifth Ward's Oktoberfest, which was released early in August was the first lager made in the big kettles. And in October, the brewery will release another lager – a doppelbock – that’s going to come off the large system.

And that looks like that'll be the last of Fifth Ward's lager beers for a while. The longer fermentation/conditioning times of these beers has caused the brewery to run into production disruptions and created gaps on their tap list. However, Fifth Ward is looking to increase capacity next year, so perhaps we'll see more lager brewing there after that happens. More to come...

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Oshkosh Brewed Oktoberfest

Right now, three Oshkosh breweries have Oktoberfest-style beers on the market. It's the first time that's ever happened. An Oktoberfest beer is an amber, malt-forward type of lager beer that originated in Germany nearly 200 years ago. But the style has a surprisingly short history in Oshkosh. We're now, though, at what looks like the start of an annual tradition among the breweries here.

Patti Dringoli, co-owner of Bare Bones Brewery, pours an Oktoberfest in her brewery's tap room.

Oktoberfest beer, also known as Märzen beer, didn't make its way to Oshkosh until the late 1960s. It first appeared here as an import arriving in late September to coincide with the annual Oktoberfest celebration in Munich. Oshkosh's earlier breweries, though deeply influenced by the German brewing tradition, never included Oktoberfests in their output. It wasn't until Fox River Brewing released its Foxtoberfest Märzen in the fall of 1997 that the style was made locally. Fox River has released its annual Foxtoberfest at about this time each year ever since.

Andrew Roth is the brewmaster at Fox River. When he began there as a lead brewer in 2018, Foxtoberfest was among the first beers he made. Before that, Roth had worked as a brewer in La Crosse where he had an immersion experience with this type of beer. "I lived in La Crosse for a year and Oktoberfest is like a religion there," Roth says. The Oktoberfest he makes at Fox River is from the same recipe the brewery has been using for about a decade. It's become the most important beer in the brewery's seasonal lineup and often sells out by mid-October. Roth can't imagine Foxtoberfest not being in his rotation. "It's not going anywhere," he says. "We'll brew it every year until people don't want Oktoberfest beers anymore." 

Bare Bones Brewery introduced its Oktoberfest in 2018 when Jody Cleveland took over as the head brewer there. "Its one of my favorite styles," Cleveland says. "I look forward to it every year." For Cleveland and Bare Bones, Oktoberfest fits well within the brewery's production scheme. It's brewed using a traditional lager yeast which requires a cold fermentation and a somewhat longer period of maturation. "Because of the different sizes of our fermentation tanks, I can time things out in a way that allows other beers to work around it," Cleveland says. "It actually works out really well for us. I'm able to give it the time it needs to get the right flavor."

This year, Bare Bones became the first Oshkosh brewery to package its Oktoberfest in cans. "I just think the cans help it hold up better," Cleveland says. "You don't have to worry about it getting light-struck or being so susceptible to the elements like bottles are. Cans offer a little better protection."

At Fifth Ward Brewing, this year marks the release of the brewery's first Oktoberfest. It's also the first time the brewery has produced a large batch of lager beer on its 10-barrel system. "We learned a lot," says Ian Wenger, who co-owns and shares brewing duties at Fifth Ward with Zach Clark. "We were tasting it almost daily to track how it developed over that long fermentation and all of a sudden it just got over a hump and became what we wanted it to be." The beer was brewed entirely from German ingredients. "It's definitely authentic in that way," says Clark.

But for Fifth Ward, the production of the beer proved more of a burden than initially anticipated. The cold, slow fermentation tied up the brewery's tanks causing Fifth Ward to run out of several of its other beers. "We're going to need to increase our capacity if we're going to brew this again next year," Clark says. "There's a good chance we'll get some new tanks in here by next summer, so a lot is going to depend on the timing of that."

Though each of the three breweries has produced an Oktoberfest that hues to the traditions of the style, each of the beers has its own distinct flavor profile. For Jody Cleveland, that's part of what makes them interesting. "Seeing what people will do within that limited framework is fascinating to me as a beer drinker and brewer," he says. "I just think it's pretty cool that all three of us have an Oktoberfest out now. They're all fairly different and they're all pretty damned good."

For more on the history of Oktoberfest beers in Oshkosh, click here.
There's more on the space that Oktoberfest beers occupy in the current scene and how that relates historically here.