Monday, November 30, 2020

The Year of the Doppelbock

Totes Ma Goats Doppelbock went on draft late last week at Fox River Brewing in Oshkosh.

This looks and tastes like a classic, German doppelbock, but there's a twist. "It features absolutely no imported malts or hops," says Andrew Roth, head brewer at Fox River.  "It is a part of an ongoing side project of mine to find local and US produced ingredients to make European style beers without sacrificing quality." It certainly worked for this one. At 7.3% it's an ideal warmer as we head into winter.

Totes Ma Goats is the fifth doppelbock released by an Oshkosh brewery this year. That’s a record for doppelbock here. Every Oshkosh brewery put out a doppelbock this year. The first three came in March and were poured at the Winter Beer Fest. Bare Bones Brewing, Fifth Ward Brewing, and HighHolder Brewing all had doppelbocks there.

Bare Bones Salvatore, released in March as part of the breweries Heritage Series.

Fifth Ward Struck again in September with a big doppelbock made from with reiterated mash.

And now there's Totes Ma Goats at Fox River. The bocks are back!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Oshkosh's Holiday Beer Revival

A slightly different version of this article appears in today's Oshkosh Herald.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 1998, Steve Lonsway went into the Oshkosh brewhouse of Fox River Brewing Company and did something no professional brewer had done here in 27 years. He made a special beer for the holiday season. The Vanilla Cream Ale he brewed that morning was pouring in time for Christmas. Lonsway, who had been named the brewmaster at Fox River earlier that year, didn’t realize it but he had just taken the first step in reviving a lost tradition that had long been honored here.

Holiday beer in Oshkosh dates back to at least 1913 when Peoples Brewing released a special beer in anticipation of Christmas. The Oshkosh Brewing Company would later follow suit with its Chief Oshkosh Holiday Brew. The seasonal specialities were somewhat stronger than the year-round beers but were offered at the regular price. It was a brewery's way of saying “thank you” to its customers. The highly anticipated beers usually appeared just before Thanksgiving and were often sold out by the first of the year.

Wilhelm Kohlhoff, who was a brewer at Peoples Brewing for much of the 1950s and 1960s, said that Peoples Holiday Beer was a couple of shades darker and slightly stronger than the brewery's flagship brand. “We used a special malt; it was darker, it was a brown color malt, and then what you used was brown sugar, 600 pounds of sugar in the kettle and that makes the beer a different color, too."

The use of unique ingredients to distinguish these beers is still something Oshkosh brewers rely upon. The current iteration of Fox River's Vixen's Vanilla Cream Ale is a deep-golden, strong ale brewed with additions of Ceylon cinnamon, Madagascar vanilla bean, and California orange peel. At 5.9% ABV, the beer is creamy/sweet yet surprisingly drinkable. It's currently available on draft at the Fox River taproom in Oshkosh and in bottles at the brewery and area stores.

At Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh, they've brewed their annual holiday beer with ingredients those early Oshkosh brewers would never have dreamt of using. When the brewery's Cookies and Milk Stout was brewed for the first time in anticipation of the 2016 holiday season, the grist included more than 100 pounds of chocolate chip cookies. The milk in the title is a nod to the milk sugar that gets added to the kettle. This year's edition includes honey malt, flaked oats, chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla to round out the cookie experience delivered by this chewy, 6.3% ABV ale. Cookies and Milk Stout is available in cans at Festival Foods and in cans and on draft in the Bare Bones taproom.

At Fifth Ward Brewing in Oshkosh, they'll release their first holiday-themed beer this year. It will arrive in time for Thanksgiving. "We thought we'd do something a little different and have a pie sour available for Thanksgiving time," says Zach Clark of Fifth Ward. They're calling it Key Lime Pie Frootenanny. Ian Wenger of Fifth Ward describes it as a pastry inspired kettle-soured beer made with lactose, key lime purée, vanilla bean, and graham cracker. "Pumpkin beers are great but there are a lot of great breweries that already make them," Wenger says. "We want to bring the Key Lime Pie to Thanksgiving dinner, instead of the classic pumpkin pie." The beer will be available exclusively at the Fifth Ward taproom.

Key Lime Pie Frootenanny.

When Peoples Brewing closed in 1972 it appeared as though the days of locally brewed holiday beer had come to an end in Oshkosh. But now, almost 50 years later, the tradition is as vibrant as it has ever been. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Southside Brewing District Part I

Mike McArthur of the Oshkosh Public Library and I are making a couple of videos that cover a few of the main spots of the brewing district that once thrived on the "Brooklyn" side of Oshkosh. I should say, Mike is doing most of the work. As you'll see, I just stand around and yammer.

Part one of this series is now live. Part two will be out in early December. Here's the first installment.

This video is part of a series that Mike has done concerning Oshkosh history. They've all been wonderful. You can find the entire series here.

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Plight of the Posted

The photo below was given to me by a friend who thought it was taken in an Oshkosh saloon. Judging by the signs on the back bar, I'm guessing it dates to sometime around 1914. What jumped out to me was the white sign at the upper right with a warning set in bold type: NO MINORS OR POSTED MEN Allowed Here.

To be "posted" meant that a person had been deemed to be a habitual drunkard. Posted individuals in Wisconsin were put on par with minors. They were forbidden from purchasing or consuming alcohol. It was illegal for such a person to even step foot into a saloon. It became, in essence, a form of selective prohibition.

December 25, 1913; Eau Claire Leader.

The posting law was an outgrowth of an 1872 Wisconsin statute making it illegal to sell alcohol to "minors, spendthrifts, habitual drunkards, (or) persons intoxicated or bordering on intoxication." The provision relating to minors was broadly accepted. The other restrictions were not. Many local officials complained that the broad scope of the law made it unenforceable. The Oshkosh common council's response at the time had been to say that the law simply did not apply here.

But the statute was given new life in the early 1900s after the Wisconsin branch of the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) began badgering municipalities to use it to go after saloon keepers. The ASL also helped to ram through amendments in 1909 and 1913 that made the law more punitive and its application more arbitrary. No hearing or trial was required to post an individual. No complaint had to be filed. A person could be posted upon the whim of almost any city, town, or county official. It was just a part of the ASL's ongoing attack on individual rights, saloons, and the liquor trade.

A poster railing against the Anti-Saloon League.
It was displayed in many Wisconsin saloons in the years immediately before Prohibition.

In cities where local officials favored the ASL, postings went unchecked. It devolved into an ugly experiment in behavior modification by humiliation. In Fond du Lac, pictures of posted individuals were hung on the walls of saloons. In Manitowoc, they sought to have each of the posted be required to wear a mark; a red button. In Racine, their names were printed in large black type on placards mounted where liquor was sold. "Everybody has noticed, no doubt, what a host of 'posted men' have their portraits adorning telephone poles, windows, and fence posts all over the state," a dry advocate happily observed in a letter published in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern in August of 1913.

It wasn't just men who were posted. Though the majority of them were men, a woman who liked to drink was just as likely to be tarred with posting. And by 1915, a backlash was well underway.

In Stevens Point, where more than 100 people had been posted, there sprung up an underground club catering specifically to their needs. It grew into a movement called The Independent Order of the Black List. "The revolt of posted men furnishes a situation unique in Stevens Point and perhaps in any city," the Stevens Point Daily Journal reported in 1916. "The posted men have raised the time-worn cry of personal liberty."

Stevens Point wasn't the only place. In Appleton, where temperance advocates held sway, posted men and women organized with the aim of taking their fight to the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the law. Similar efforts occurred in other Wisconsin cities, but the most common resistance tactic was also the simplest: catch a ride to a city where you hadn't been posted and drink to your heart's content.

The conflict never amounted to much more than grumbling in Oshkosh. Here, local officials applied posting measures sparingly. So sparingly in fact that by 1917 the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern was blooming with fuming letters and editorials about what a shameful place this had become. One of the screeds reported that saloon keepers were routinely "selling to minors, selling to men already intoxicated, to posted men, or in fact to anyone who could produce the necessary price of a drink.”

Their vexation was to little effect. Oshkosh remained as soaking wet as ever. It did, however, starkly illustrate the division. The most vocal supporters of the law, the people who had a vicious appetite for its application, were those who considered themselves part of the upper crust. The complaints came bellowing from the folks who lived in big houses on boulevards named Algoma and Washington. They seemed to think it only fitting that they should be allowed to regulate the social life of the working-class saloon goers who toiled in their factories. It was the people who accumulated wealth versus those who created it.

Case in point: Florence Griswold Buckstaff.

Florence Griswold Buckstaff

In a lengthy, self-serving letter to the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern published in March of 1918, Mrs. Buckstaff congratulated herself for having lived in Oshkosh for 30 years and for having devoted so much of her energy to charity. Then she dipped her pen in the well of her bleeding heart and wrote, "I can recall vividly the misery I have known in Oshkosh homes, those in which hunger and cold and immorality were due to drinking habits." She went on to say, of course, that it was the poor children she was really concerned for. Her solution was to post everyone by abolishing all saloons and making liquor illegal.

It was no skin off her ass. Florence Griswold Buckstaff was the wealthy wife of George Angus Buckstaff, president of Oshkosh's Buckstaff Company. The Buckstaffs had built their fortune here selling caskets made by a workforce, which included scores of children, paid subsistence-level wages. Her high-minded rectitude apparently didn't extend into that bleak realm.

The Buckstaff Company, circa 1915.

In the end, it was people like Florence Buckstaff who carried the day. In 1920 everybody became posted with the arrival of national Prohibition. It would take 13 years to put a halt to that disastrous experiment. And to this day its consequences remain with us in the patchwork of reactionary liquor laws that linger on in the aftermath. Few of those of Buckstaff's ilk would ever admit to how recklessly wrong they were.

Enough about that. Let's go back to the picture that started this. Here it is again.

As I mentioned, the person who gave that to me thought it was an Oshkosh saloon. I hadn't seen a shot of an Oshkosh saloon that included a "Posted Men" sign before, so naturally, I tried to figure out which saloon this was. I failed. But I suspect now that this place wasn't in Oshkosh. Look to the right side of that picture where there hangs a banner for Eulberg's Crown Select Beer.

Eulberg Brewing was in Portage, Wisconsin. I've been digging and I have yet to find anything suggesting that Eulberg beer was available in Oshkosh before Prohibition. This saloon was probably in the southern part of the state. And that makes sense when you consider how those Oshkosh dries croaked about the welcome mat being out for anyone with a nickel for beer. No minors allowed? Bosh!

End Note
I know I'm being harsh towards Florence Griswold Buckstaff here. To be fair, she wasn't entirely terrible. She was also an advocate for Women's rights. If you're looking for a more balanced portrayal of her, you could begin here. Otherwise, a simple Google search of her name will turn up plenty.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Dick's Bedford Porter

The relationship between homebrewers and pro-brewers in Oshkosh runs DEEP. For example... Dick's Bedford Porter is brewed from a recipe by Dick Waltenberry of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers. Dick won the club's annual homebrew competition back in July with this beer, so Fox River Brewing brewed it on their big system in Oshkosh in early October. It's available now in bottles at Fox River and will soon be pouring there on tap as well.

Dick Waltenberry at the Fox River Kettle on October 2, 2020.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

It’s Fifth Ward’s Third Anniversary

Time flies. Fifth Ward Brewing has been going strong for three years now. All this week, the brewery will celebrate its third anniversary with the release of a dozen different barrel-aged beers. It's an incredible line-up and I'll get to it in a moment, but first, there's this...

At Fifth Ward's grand opening on November 12, 2017, I took a picture of founders Ian Wenger and Zach Clark behind their bar on opening night.

Ian Wenger (left) and Zach Clark; November 12, 2017.

I took another one just before the brewery's first-anniversary party in 2018.

November 7, 2018.

They lined up again for the brewery's second anniversary in 2019.

November 4, 2019.

Yesterday morning, we added the latest to the series...

November 10, 2020.

I'm hoping we get to do this for years to come. But in the meantime, Fifth Ward is celebrating its third anniversary all this week with the release of a dozen, small-batch, barrel-aged beers. They're packaged in 22oz, waxed top bombers that will be available only at the brewery. Bottles are $15 each with sales beginning at 3 pm. To keep things safe, they've set up a heated tent in the beer garden so you can remain socially distant while queuing up for beer. Here's the rundown...

Tuesday, November 10

14.8% ABV | 450 Bottles | No limits.
A double mashed stout made with real, Wisconsin maple syrup, then aged in Bourbon barrels and conditioned on house-roasted coffee from New Moon in Oshkosh.

14.8% ABV | 50 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Double mashed stout brewed with real, Wisconsin maple syrup, then aged in Bourbon barrels and conditioned on raisin puree and liquid cocoa.

Wednesday, November 11

12.7% ABV | 175 Bottles | No Limits.
Maple rye scotch ale aged in rye whiskey barrels.

13.2% ABV | 50 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Double-mashed oatmeal stout aged in Bourbon and brandy barrels with raw coconut and hazelnuts.

Thursday, November 12

12.3% ABV | 100 Bottles | Two bottles per-person limit.
American barleywine aged in a wheated whiskey barrel.

14.8% ABV | 50 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Double mashed stout brewed with real, Wisconsin maple syrup then aged in Bourbon barrels, and conditioned on tart and sweet cherries, liquid cocoa, vanilla beans, and pecans.

Friday, November 13

9% ABV | 100 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Bourbon-barrel aged kettle-soured blonde with tangerine, sweet and tart Cherries, and NA bitters.

13.2% ABV | 175 Bottles | Two bottles per-person limit.
Double-mashed oatmeal stout aged in a Brandy Barrel.

Saturday, November 14

13.2%ABV | 500 Bottles | No limits.
Double-mashed oatmeal stout aged in Bourbon and brandy barrels and conditioned on a double dose of cocoa nibs and liquid cocoa.

14.8% ABV | 50 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Double-mashed oatmeal stout aged in Bourbon and brandy barrels and conditioned bananas, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and walnuts.

13.2% ABV | 50 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Double-mashed oatmeal stout aged in Bourbon and brandy barrels and conditioned on a double dose of Madagascar vanilla beans.

14.8% ABV | 50 Bottles | One bottle per-person limit.
Double mashed stout brewed with real, Wisconsin maple syrup, then aged in Bourbon barrels with white Chocolate and macadamia nuts.

Also on Saturday, Kitty Corona will be playing in the beer garden from 3-8pm. DD’s BBQ will also be on hand serving up Oshkosh’s finest smoked meats. For more on all of this, check out Fifth Ward's event page on Facebook. Happy Anniversary, guys!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Asterweiss, the Bottled Beer de Luxe

Here's another long, lost Oshkosh beer that no living person has tasted. It's Asterweiss from the Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh...

Peoples Brewing opened in June 1913 with two beers in its portfolio. First, there was Standard, the brewery's unpasteurized budget lager. It was packaged in brown, pint bottles and wooden kegs. Standard was what you'd get if you put a nickel on the bar and ordered a schooner of Peoples in one of the 25 or so Oshkosh saloons that served it in the summer of 1913. There were folks here who drank Standard by the gallon. In fact, Peoples encouraged that sort of consumption. The initial advertising for Standard noted that it was "a beer that you can indulge in quite freely without sensing any distasteful after effects." Bring out the funnel.

And then there was Asterweiss. This was not a beer to be guzzled. Here we have the high-toned stuff.

This was a classic, American-style pilsner. Asterweiss was brewed with artesian water and Bohemian hops. The grain bill was made up of Wisconsin-grown barley malt and it almost certainly had some corn in it. About 95% of American Pilsners made during this period did. At 4.5% ABV, it was a fully-aged lager with a light, golden color. Peoples described its appearance as "Clear, sparkling, bright."

Asterweiss was packaged in clear bottles that were pasteurized at the end of the bottling line. Each bottle was then individually wrapped in tissue paper. The brewery called it “The Bottled Beer de Luxe.” The presentation was meant to be an indication of its quality.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; April 29, 1916.

The fancy trapping didn't come cheap. At $1.40 for a case of 12-ounce bottles, Asterweiss was among the most expensive beers sold in Oshkosh. In today’s money that $1.40 would be worth about $37.30; or about $9.25 a six-pack. That's a little more than we pay for most craft beer six-packs sold here today.

In 1916, Peoples copyrighted the Asterweiss brand.

And shortly after that, things went bad. With the First World War weighing on the minds of many Americans, some people began looking askance at American breweries using Germanic branding for their beer. Weiss is the German word for white. Peoples bowed to the pressure. Asterweiss became Asterwite.

It got worse. In 1920 Prohibition came and Asterwite stopped being a beer altogether. But the brand didn't die. Peoples went on flogging Asterwite as a non-alcoholic, near beer. The once-mighty Asterweiss beer had been neutered, reduced to a mere "Beverage."

Prohibition-era Asterwite containing less than 1/2 of 1% Alcohol by Volume.

The Asterweiss brand finally died sometime around 1926, during the absolute depths of Prohibition. And it was left for dead when real beer returned in 1933. Lovely Asterweiss was consigned to the dustbin of brewing history. Now, only the collectors remember. These days, an Asterweiss tray like the one below can go for as high as $700.
I mentioned that Asterweiss almost certainly had some corn in its grist. A lot of people really have the wrong idea about the use of corn in American beer. I explored that in this post.

A Peoples’ beer named Aristo became the companion to Asterweiss in the brewery's portfolio. There's more on Aristo here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Fox River's Barrel-Aged Sour Program

A slightly different version of this article appears in the November 4 edition of the Oshkosh Herald.

A sour beer can be a tough sell. For the casual beer drinker, the mere idea of sour beer can be off-putting. But that's a rather recent bias. Prior to the 19th century and the rise of industrial lager brewing, tart and sour flavors in beer were not only common, they were sought after and appreciated. Drew Roth isn't thinking he's going to undo a couple of centuries worth of received ideas about flavor. He's just trying to offer an alternative for those interested in exploring the breadth of what a traditional beer can be.

Roth is the brewmaster at Fox River Brewing and earlier this year he launched what is now the most extensive barrel-aged, sour-beer program Oshkosh has seen. To date, Fox River has released three beers in its "Foxxine" series of small-batch sours. Roth had been hoping to work something like this into the Fox River line-up since becoming the brewmaster there last year. He spotted an opportunity after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Drew Roth of Fox River Brewing.

"We hit the shutdown period and had this fully fermented batch of beer in the tank that we didn't think we were going to need," Roth says. "And we had these empty wine and bourbon barrels sitting idle that had outlived their use for non-sours. So the thought was, we've got these barrels, and I've got these sour cultures I know work, so instead of just dumping the beer, let's put it in the barrels. Worst-case scenario, we dump out the barrels."

The beer that went into those 59-gallon, oak barrels just happened to be ideal for Roth's purpose. "The original batch was the base beer for our Red Bobber," he says. "There's a sizable amount of wheat in there, which those mixed cultures love, and the hops are low enough not to inhibit the growth of the culture."

Roth has been working up his various sour cultures since his homebrewing days. They're a mix of wild yeast and bacteria that have the ability to re-ferment beer that has already undergone primary fermentation. The "bugs", as brewers sometimes call them, tend to work slowly and perform best in warmer temperatures. "We kicked the barrels out to a secondary storage facility where we filled them and inoculated them with the sour culture," Roth says. "They sat out there in a non-temperature controlled environment. During the summer I'm sure it was up to 90 degrees in there. That beer soured very quickly."

Some four months after the barrels had been filled, Foxxine #1 was released on September 17. It was the first mixed-culture beer Fox River had ever produced. Roth had made the most of the bad situation the pandemic had handed him. A beer on the verge of being flushed had been re-made into a tart, dry ale with notes of pineapple, vanilla, and oak similar to those found in barrel-aged Chardonnay.

That degree of flavor complexity is what differentiates Fox River's barrel-aged from the more commonly found and quickly produced "kettle sours" many craft brewers now offer. The latter beers tend to lean heavily on fruit juices, sugars, and other flavorings to quell the blunt acidity "quick souring" produces. Or as Roth says, "By adding anything to it to make it not sour anymore." Roth isn't opposed to using fruit in his sours, but he'd rather employ it as an accent rather than making it the main feature. For Foxxine #2, he used black currant to highlight the jammy, dark-fruit flavors produced from a separate sour culture working in tandem with the barrel aging.

"I don't foresee these super fruity, super sweet sours lasting too much longer," Roth says. "It just seems like every year or two we rediscover a beer that has already existed." He's hopeful that the barrel-aged sours he's making will get to see their time come again. In the meantime, Roth continues to build-up his barrelage. "I have eight barrels going right now,” he says. “The ninth one will be added soon and that's about as far I want to carry it for now."

"The goal is to keep bringing them out. I want to get to the point where we have a barrel-aged sour on at all times. It's going to be an ongoing project. I want to concentrate on the flavors we develop from the mixed cultures and the barrels and eventually get into blending beers from the different barrels to achieve specific flavor profiles. I love making them. As long as people keep drinking them I'll keep making them."

A Deeper Dive
The section above was written with the Oshkosh Herald's readers in mind. In those articles, I generally try to avoid going off the deep end into pure geekdom. But not here. When I interviewed Drew for this piece we went into the weeds about the mixed cultures he's using. Here are a few snippets from that conversation.  

At the moment, he's working with three separate mixed cultures. He also has a fourth culture that he's currently working up and hopes to introduce into the program in the not-too-distant future.

For Foxxine 1 he used what he's calling his American Sour Culture. This culture is a blend of lactic bacteria, pediococcus bacteria, and Brettanomyces yeast. Drew says it imparts "A citrusy, lactic tang from the lactic and pedio, with a hint of fruity funk from the Brett on the back end. The brett character in it is really subdued, a little more on the fruit than the funk." I had this beer on a couple of different occasions and each time I got a lot of pineapple out of it.

His second culture was used in Foxxine 2. He calls it his lambic culture. This one began from a small batch culture from The Yeast Bay. "It's got a ridiculous blend of different bacteria and yeast," he says. "It's one they don't do for commercial brewers. I propped it up as part of my homebrewed sour program originally." To me, this one came across as more citrusy; with some stone fruit, which lined up nicely with the black currant he used in the beer.

"The third culture is one that I refer to as our Flanders culture," Drew says. "We've got that one going now. I'll eventually transition that into brown, Oud Bruin style beers. With that one, you get more of an acetic character and then a different funk out of the brett."

Finally, there's a fourth culture that he's still developing. "I've got that one going at home," he says. "It was a wild yeast propagation from fermenting wine naturally, so the yeast and bacteria originate from red grapes. I added that into fresh-pressed apple juice this fall, so it will also have the cultures from the apple juice. For that one, I have a red wine barrel that we did a stout in. We'll see what happens."

That unpredictability is part of what makes these beers exciting. You never know exactly what you're going to get until you get it.

Monday, November 2, 2020

There's a Beer Named Rahr Pouring Again in Oshkosh

1972... Until a couple of weeks ago, that was the last time you could buy a beer with the name Rahr on it in Oshkosh. But now there's this...
The name on that can is going to be familiar to a lot of people around here. It should be. Rahr beer in Wisconsin predates the state joining the Union. The story is a winding tale of an immigrant family that came here in the mid-19th Century. It all began with a man named Wilhelm.

Wilhelm Peter Mathias Rahr, circa 1849.

In 1847, Wilhelm Peter Mathias Rahr arrived in Manitowoc Wisconsin. He had immigrated from Wesel, a city now part of North Rhine-Westphalia, in northeast Germany. The Rahr's had been brewing beer and vinegar there for as far back as the family could recall. In Manitowoc, Wilhelm Rahr established what would come to be known as the Eagle Brewery and later William Rahr and Sons. It was among the first lager-beer breweries in northeast Wisconsin.

A pre-Prohibition Meyercord sign for the William Rahr and Sons Brewery of Manitowoc.

Wilhelm's nephews August, Charles, and Henry followed in his wake. All three of them would spend time working at their uncle's Manitowoc brewery. Henry was the first to set out on his own. In 1858, he launched the Shantytown Brewery in what is now the Village of Bellevue; just southeast of Green Bay. Six years later, he established the East River Brewery on Main Street in Green Bay. That brewery would come to be known as the Rahr Green Bay Brewing Company.

Rahr Green Bay Brewing Company, 1895.

In 1865, the third Rahr family brewery was launched by brothers August and Charles Rahr in Oshkosh. Their brewery – originally named the City Brewery – would later become the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh.
Rahr Brewing Co. of Oshkosh, 1930s.

The three Rahr breweries in Wisconsin continued their operations until 1920 when Prohibition arrived. At that point, the Manitowoc Rahrs abandoned brewing to concentrate on their already well-established malting business. Rahr Malting would grow into one of the world's largest producers of malted barley. The business remains in operation with its headquarters in Shakopee, Minnesota.

Both the Green Bay and Oshkosh Rahr breweries survived Prohibition and returned to making beer in 1933.

The 1936 Green Bay Packers featured on a post-Prohibtion beer label
from the Rahr Green Bay Brewing Company.

A Tavern sign for the Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh.

The Rahr Brewing Company of Oshkosh closed in 1956. But this wasn't the last time a beer named Rahr was brewed in Oshkosh. And even after the brewery closed you could still buy beer here with a Rahr label on it. Here's where the story gets convoluted.

The Rahr Brewery in Green Bay began distributing its beer in Oshkosh shortly before the Rahr's of Oshkosh closed their brewery. Though the Green Bay brewery was no longer controlled by the Rahr family, their name was still attached to the brewery's beer.

The Rahr Green Bay Brewing Company closed in 1966. Immediately after, the Oshkosh Brewing Company purchased the brewery's brands. OBC then began producing Rahr Beer in Oshkosh at its brewery on Doty Street.

A can of Rahr’s Beer brewed in Oshkosh by the Oshkosh Brewing Co.

When OBC closed in 1971, the Rahr brand was sold to the Peoples Brewing Company of Oshkosh, which continued making Rahr Beer until it closed in 1972. And that was the last time you could buy a beer in Oshkosh that had the Rahr name on it. That is, until a couple of weeks ago when a keg of Rahr's Original Beer went on tap at Bare Bones Brewery.

This Rahr wasn't brewed in Wisconsin. It comes to us from Forth Worth, Texas where Frederick “Fritz” Rahr – the great-great-grandson of Manitowoc’s Wilhelm Rahr – established Rahr & Sons Brewing in 2004. The Texas Rahr brewery recently began distributing its beer in Wisconsin. When it showed up at the liquor store in Gardina's last week, I felt duty-bound to pick up a sixer of it.

It's not bad. It's light and fairly dry with a clean, firm bitterness in the finish. I doubt that it tastes much like the Rahr beers that were once made here in Oshkosh. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The Rahr-branded beer made by OBC in Oshkosh after 1966 was a mess. I’ve seen that recipe and how they made it. It was concocted from, among other things, corn syrup, soy flakes, and hop extracts. They used to sell it for $2.50 a case and they'd sometimes give you a free 6-pack to boot. It was one of those beers.

On the other hand, Rahr's Elk's Head beer from the Oshkosh Rahr Brewery was considered by some to be the best post-Prohibition/pre-Craft beer produced in this city. I have the recipe for that beer and have home-brewed it several times. The Texas Rahr beer is fine, but it doesn't stand up to Elk's Head.

That said, I'm sure I'll be buying more of this Texas Rahr Beer. It makes me feel good to have a beer on the table with the Rahr name on it.