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.