Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Saloons, The Reverend, and the Wicked City of Oshkosh

Sunday, September 30, 1900... 
Rev. George D. Lindsay mounted the pulpit and began preaching on the wickedness of Oshkosh. Lindsay was the pastor of Oshkosh's First Presbyterian Church. His sermon was nothing the congregation hadn't heard before. Outsiders had been spewing this sort of drivel at Oshkoshers for close to 50 years.

Rev. George D. Lindsay

Lindsay had come to Oshkosh two years earlier from Galena, Illinois having served as a pastor there. Upon leaving Galena, Lindsay wrote that his "call to Oshkosh is attended by so many indications of divine Providence that I could not refuse it."

His messianic zeal may have been coming across a little too harsh on this particular Sunday. Lindsay eased up for a moment on the talk of wickedness. He told his parishioners that he had never lived in a more beautiful place than Oshkosh or in a city more pleasantly situated. He said he would be content to spend all the days of his life here.

Home base for Lindsay in Oshkosh, the First Presbyterian Church
at the corner of Church and Division streets.

But Lindsay hadn't been delivered onto Oshkosh to indulge in its beauty. "Oshkosh has a reputation for wickedness," he said, getting back on track. "Manufacturers do not care to remove their institutions here when they know that their mechanics will be subject to temptations that can be avoided in other places. Men do not wish to remove to Oshkosh with their families when they know that their sons and daughters will be tempted in ways that are not open in some cities."

Oshkosh’s population grew by 50% during the city’s peak saloon years of 1885-1912.

Where others saw a thriving city, Lindsay saw an infestation of rot. And the source of Oshkosh's rot was obvious to him. It was the saloons.

Ironically, this is where Lindsay’s sermonizing finally makes contact with reality. Amidst the jumble of his raving, he delivered a nice, concise description of how the typical Oshkosh saloon of 1900 was laid out. The Reverend will now lead us on a saloon tour. His words come to us via the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of October 1, 1900. Imagine yourself stepping off Main Street and passing through the swinging doors...

"Mr. Lindsay described the modern Oshkosh saloon. First, he said, there is the place where cigars are sold."

Cigars and bottled goods for sale in the anteroom of the
Oasis Sample Room, at what is now 416 N. Main.

 "Then a partition behind which is the bar."

The barroom at the Zayat Saloon at what is now 224 N. Main.

"After that, behind another partition, is a place where men may sit and play cards and drink."

The club room in the Little Cozy Sample Room, a former saloon at what is now 216 N Main.

 "After that, comes another place where men may meet women and drink wine and liquor."

The gathering room with a back entrance at
the White Seal Saloon, in what is now the 300 block of N. Main. 

The partitioned saloons Lindsay describes were cased in long, narrow spaces. You had to pass through the length of one room to reach the next. The map below is from 1903 and illustrates the shape of Nic Stein's saloon at what was then 138 N. Main (now part of the 400 block). Stein's place was near the northeast corner of N. Main and Washington.

The red dot is above the entrance to Nic Stein's Saloon on
the east side of N. Main Street just north of Washington; Circa 1910

The rectangular floor plan can still be seen in many Oshkosh taverns. The southern half of Oblio's – it was called the Schlitz Beer Hall when Lindsay was doing his thing – presents a good example. The long, narrow, main room leads to a separate space at the back of the building where there once was a club room. That space had a separate entrance off an alley that's now part of the parking lot behind Oblio's.

Oblio's Lounge, 434 N. Main St.

The backside of Oblio's from what used to be the alley.

Which brings us back to Rev. Lindsay. He despised those alleyway entrances. He referred to it as the “alley evil”.

Lindsay's bombast was undermined by the admission that he knew there was no hope of abolishing saloons in Oshkosh. The American-born reverend said there were too many Irish and German here for that. "We may abominate the saloon," he explained, "but the majority of the people want it and it is therefore going to remain."

The Bohmerwald saloon at the corner of 9th and Knapp, circa 1900.

Yet somehow all that wickedness had to be contained. Lindsay had a plan: regulate the saloons into submission. He graded his proposals as "not too puritanical."

Lindsay said all the saloons should be confined to a single, isolated district where the cops could patrol them continuously. There should be NO neighborhood taverns. Each of the remaining saloons would be allowed just a single entrance with NO doorway to the alley. NO chairs or tables would be permitted. NO free lunches served. NO card playing. NO alcohol served on Sundays or election days. NO remaining open into the wee hours. "Ten o'clock is an hour when all decent people should be in bed," he quivered.

Poor Lindsay. They'd have none of this in Oshkosh. He ended his sermon on a wistful note.

"Mr. Lindsay once more paid a beautiful tribute to the city of Oshkosh and concluded with the observation that if the saloons could be placed under the restrictions he had enumerated it would be almost a paradise. A place where he would be content to spend the remaining days of his life in contentment and pleasure."
   –Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, October 1, 1900.

It was not to be. Lindsay left Oshkosh two years later. He moved on to a church in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. But his hatred for saloons never left him. Lindsay was arrested in 1916 for his anti-saloon agitation in Marion, Indiana. He had relocated there in 1907 after quitting the church.

George D. Lindsay died in 1946 in Sarasota, Florida. Sarasota had been a dry town for more than a decade when Lindsay arrived there in 1925. Let's hope that made him feel a little more at home.

A photo of George D. Lindsay taken during his Sarasota days.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Clone Brews of the 1920s

Homebrewers attempting to clone a favorite beer goes back a long way. Here's how they did it in the 1920s. During Prohibition, many American breweries made malt syrups for homebrewers. Most groceries in Oshkosh carried several different brands of these canned extracts. You couldn't buy Blatz or Chief Oshkosh, but you could make your own...

Sunday, January 17, 2021

In the Shadow of the Brewery...

One this day in 1927…

After Prohibition arrived in 1920, the Oshkosh Brewing Company stopped making beer. But the dry law meant nothing at the little house next door to the brewery. In the basement of that home (highlighted in yellow) there was a booze factory.

The Oshkosh Brewing Company with what is now 1650 Doty Street, Oshkosh.

The bootlegger there was named  William Van Brocklin. At the time, he was the ringleader of one of the largest moonshine operations in Oshkosh. When the police busted this place on January 17, 1927, they discovered a “huge” still and more than 100 gallons of moonshine. Van Brocklin got four months of labor at the Winnebago County Workhouse. After that, he moved to Detroit. The brewery is gone, too. But the old booze house is still standing...

A recent photo of 1650 Doty Street.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Story of Peoples Bock and How to Brew Your Own

We're a couple of months out from what used to be the traditional season for bock beer in Oshkosh. So now would be a good time to start brewing a bock of your own. I've got just the recipe for you.

Peoples Bock was first brewed in Oshkosh in 1913 for the 1914 bock-beer season. When Prohibition arrived in 1920, Peoples Bock went on hiatus but it came back again when 3.2% ABW beer was legalized in 1933.

The low-alcohol Peoples Bock of 1933.

Full repeal of Prohibition arrived in December of 1933. The following year, Peoples returned to brewing its full-strength Bock. The post-prohibition Peoples Bock was discontinued for a period beginning in 1941. However, the brewery brought it back again in 1959 and continued brewing it until 1967. The brewery closed in 1972.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; February 20, 1959.

My late friend Wilhelm Kohlhoff brewed Peoples Bock every year from 1959 onward. I first met Wilhelm in September of 2018. He was 91 years old then and still had the ability to recite from memory the recipes he had brewed at Peoples more than 50 years earlier. He loved talking about beer. And we did plenty of that as we went through the old notes that he had kept from his days working at the brewery. Wilhelm passed in May of 2019.

I was thinking of Wilhelm the other day and decided now would be a good time to share one of the recipes he gave me. This is the 1960s recipe for Peoples Bock.

Peoples Bock
Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.047
Post-Boil Gravity: 1.058
Final Gravity: 1.016
Apparent Attenuation: 67%
ABV: 5.5 - 6%
IBUs: 22
SRM: 11-12

44% American 6-Row or 2-Row Pale Malt
22% American Munich Malt (6-10º Lovibond)
8% Caramel Munich Malt (60º Lovibond)
14% Flaked Corn
12% Brown Sugar

60 Minutes Before End of Boil: American Cluster for 11 IBUs
45 Minutes Before End of Boil: German Hallertau for 6 IBUs
30 Minutes Before End of Boil: German Hallertau for 3 IBUs
15 Minutes Before End of Boil: German Hallertau for 2 IBUs

Yeast & Fermentation
Use a clean fermenting lager strain such as SafLager W-34/70.
Pitch at 50ºf and let rise to 53ºf (see the notes below if you don’t have the ability to maintain these temperatures).

A recently opened bottle of Peoples Bock that was brewed in the late 1960s.

Process and Recipe Notes
Peoples Bock was made using a cereal mash coupled with a step mash. It’s a fairly complicated process that I’ve documented here. Don’t let that put you off. This beer can be made with a simple infusion mash at 152ºf.

In the recipe here I’ve replaced the corn grits used at Peoples with flaked corn. If you're willing to go through the pain of a cereal mash, then corn grits is the way to go. If not, flaked corn works just fine.

At Peoples, they followed a standard, cold fermentation for their lagers – fermenting at about 50ºf for 14 days before cold crashing the beer to near freezing. The bock beer was typically aged for two months; sometimes longer if they could afford to tie up their tanks. Again, don't let that stop you from brewing this. I mentioned SafLager W-34/70 in the recipe because that yeast performs well into the mid-60ºf territory. That's the yeast to go for, if you don't have the ability to ferment at those colder temperatures.

I’ve brewed this recipe a couple of times now. I prefer my bocks a little bit darker, so for my most recent batch I tweaked the original recipe by adding 1% black malt to the grist to boost the color. The flavor contribution of the black malt at this percentage is negligible. The beer turned out wonderfully.

I like to think Wilhelm would approve. Prost, my friend!