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.



  1. Fritz has several of his own beers in Ft. Worth Texas. We have tried 3 of them and they were all liked by the beer drinkers in our family. He is the one distributing Rahr's Original in Oshkosh now.

    1. Posted by Lee Rahr - wife of Robert C Rahr Jr.

  2. This is so exciting to see such history and it is nice to keep things alive.

  3. Rahr family is still rooted in in WI. They own property on Tenderfoot Lake in Land O Lakes.

  4. The Rahr family of Green Bay is in Green Bay, WI. The beer with "original" on it means "a pre prohibition style lager beer" according to Fritz Rahr of Texas. It does not mean of Green Bay he has said. The label was made to look similar to Green Bay and the word "original" was to deceive people to think Green Bay. The Oshkosh Rahr beer which is said to be an Oshkosh beer actually is a Green Bay label. More twists. Fritz Rahr has nothing to do with Rahr Green Bay, never has , not now, and never will. The authentic Rahr recipe and method of Green Bay plus the Rahr Green Bay entity are my Green Bay Family only, it is passed down to the direct male son descendants of Henry Rahr I.

    Henry C C Rahr V, Rahrs Beer of Green Bay