Thursday, April 29, 2021

Get Your Brew On With the SOB’s

Here's a welcome sign: The Society of Oshkosh Brewers is back in action. This month, Oshkosh’s homebrewing club held its first in-person meeting since last fall. And this weekend the tribe is gathering for its annual Big Brew.

This Saturday morning, the SOBs will gather for a communal brew day in the parking lot behind The Cellar Brew Shop at 465 N. Washburn. 

The brewing begins about 9 am with at least nine homebrewers there with their gear making beer. Get there early if you can, as the bulk of the actual brewing is likely to occur before 11 am. It's great way to see how homebrewing gets done. And if you’re nice to them, those SOBs might even share some of their homebrew with you. It’s a free event and always a hell of a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Here’s something of a preview... This minor masterpiece was shot at the SOBs’ 2010 Big Brew event. You’re bound to see a few familiar faces...

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner

Long before the Fox River Brewing Company was there, the sawmill for the Paine Lumber Company held that spot on the river near the Oshkosh/Congress Avenue bridge.

Fox River Brewing opened on that parcel in 1995.

Fox River Brewing, circa 1996.

The first beer made there was named Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner. It was brewed on Saturday, November 18, 1995. It was also the first beer made by a commercial brewery in Oshkosh in 23 years.

The brewers who made that beer were Al Bunde and Rob LoBreglio. Bunde would be the head brewer at Fox River for the next two years. LoBreglio, who had co-founded Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company in Madison, was there as a consultant.

Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner was a part of Fox River’s core line-up until 2003. It has appeared as a seasonal offering many times since. The recipe has gone through a number of permutations; changing with every Fox River brewer putting their own slant on it.

Here's the original recipe. This first batch of Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner went on tap at Fox River on Friday, December 15, 1995.

Paine’s Lumberyard Pilsner

Original Gravity: 1.048
Final Gravity: 1.009
ABV: 5.1
IBUs: 20-25
SRM: 5.22

93% Briess Brewers Malt 2-row
3.5% Briess Caramel Malt - 40L
3.5% Briess Carapils

Mash: 40 minutes at 157
Sparge: 95 minutes with temp rising to 171 during the sparge
Water: Untreated, City of Oshkosh municipal water.

Boil Time: 90 minutes

Czech Saaz: 90 minute boil for 12 IBUs
Czech Saaz: 10 minute boil for 6 IBUs
Czech Saaz: whirlpool addition for 4 IBUs

Wyeast 2278 Czech Pils

Ferment at 50f for 17 days
Lower Temperature to 35 and rest for 7 days
Transfer to serving vessel.

For a deeper dive on the history of Fox River Brewing...
A full history of the brewery can be found here.
And a full history of the brewery’s beer production can be found here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Chief Gets a Cleaning

In March, I had a post here about the meanderings of the 110-year-old, 800-pound terra cotta emblem of the Oshkosh Brewing Company. A couple of days ago I noticed that the folks at the Oshkosh Public Museum, where the emblem now resides, were giving the piece a thorough cleaning. With the protective shield off you can get an even better look at the old chief. Here you go...

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Barrel of Fun

Here’s a jewel from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern of Monday, June 9, 1879.

“There was a lively row on Seventh street last night. A small but select party got a keg of beer and took it to a private house and proposed to have a little picnic of their own. After the disappearance of the beer a row ensued in which a man named John Florrip was terrible pounded. In fact Florrip was almost killed, and was not able to attend court this morning when the case came up.”

By Tuesday, Florrip was well enough to stand in court and face the two men who had “terrible pounded” him. John Baker and Louis Terrill were brought in on charges of assault. They told the judge that it was all Florrip’s fault.

"The defendants claimed that Florrip abused the hospitality and was too much at home; that he played on the accordion, sang, whistled and raised Ned generally."

So they beat the hell out of him. Then they tossed him out the door leaving him in a bloody heap. This is what can happen when you "raise Ned" with an accordion in Oshkosh.

Florrip’s rebuttal was to wave a shirt caked with blood that had come from the wounds pounded into his skull. The judge took pity. He fined Baker $5. Terrill got a $3 fine.

About a Keg
That’s a nice story, but as always, I’m here for the beer. So what about that fateful keg at the heart of this drama?

Most likely, it was an eighth-barrel keg holding about four gallons of beer. During this period, these small wooden kegs were the most popular form of packaged beer in Oshkosh. They were much more common than bottled beer, which in 1879 was still relatively rare and too pricey for the average drinker. The small, wooden kegs were the go-to for people having a beer party at home.

Kegs stacked outside Josef Fenzl’s saloon at 10th and Rugby (now Jeff’s on Rugby).
Atop the pile is an eighth-barrel keg.
Beneath it are quarter barrels and half barrels.

Kegs leaving the Kuenzl’s Gambrinus Brewery on Harney Ave.
Most of the vertically stacked kegs appear to be eighth-barrels.
The photo is from the early 1890s when Kuenzl had 300 eighth-barrel kegs in his inventory.

A standard, eighth-barrel keg was approximately 16 inches in length and 13 inches in diameter at its midsection. If it was full of beer it weighed about 55 pounds. The barrels were lined with pitch to preserve the flavor of the beer. To get at that beer, you hammered in a spigot (made of either brass or wood), loosened the bung, and let gravity do the rest. You could get about 30 pints of beer out of one of these diminutive barrels.

So where did Florrip, Baker, and Terrill get that keg? It was common to purchase these kegs directly from the brewery that made the beer. The Oshkosh breweries kept plenty of them in stock. For example, the Horn & Schwalm Brewery on the south side had 1,500 of these kegs in its inventory. They accounted for almost half of all the brewery’s kegs.

There's a decent chance that the Horn & Schwalm Brewery was the source of the keg that Florrip and his pals drained on that Sunday evening in June. It was, after all, the nearest brewery to their picnic on Seventh Street. Here's a look at one of those eighth-barrel kegs from Horn & Schwalm. This barrel is at least 130 years old (and probably quite a bit older than that). You can’t see it in this picture, but on the head of the keg is the Horn & Schwalm brand.

Of course, the beer that inspired that south-side brawl could have come from any number of sources. In 1879, this city was beer soaked in a way that's almost unimaginable now. Oshkosh was home to six breweries in 1879. The previous year, those breweries had combined to produce more than 3,800 barrels of beer. Most of that beer was consumed here in Oshkosh.

Let's put that in perspective.

In 1879, Oshkosh’s population was about 15,000. That means there was one brewery for every 2,500 people. Today the ratio is one active brewery for every 22,257 people. If we were keeping pace with the spirit of 1879, we'd now have 26 breweries in this city.

Here's another way of looking at it. The breweries of 1879 were producing 7.85 gallons of beer for every person living here. Last year, our breweries produced less than four ounces of beer for every person living in this city.

This makes one thing absolutely clear: it's incumbent upon each of us to drink more locally made beer. I'll end here so as to not keep you any longer from that mission. Have one for me while you're at it.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Allenville 2021

Silas Allen was Winnebago County's first hop grower. He came here from New York in 1846. I found his farm using old land records and county maps. This plant is from that site. I've been growing and brewing with these hops since 2013. They’re off to a good start this year!

More on the Allenville hops is available here, here, and here.

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Circa 1927

The building in color on the left is the home of Oblio’s Lounge. It was built in 1884 from plans drawn by Oshkosh architect William Waters. The first saloon there – the Schlitz Beer Hall – opened in the spring of 1885. When Prohibition began in 1920, the saloon became a speakeasy. This postcard shows the building during that period. The bar closed in 1927 after it had been raided by federal officials. It remained closed for nine years. It’s the longest stretch of time since 1885 that the bar there has been closed. The second-longest closure is about to come to an end. Oblio’s has been closed for the past six months due to the pandemic. The home of the old Schlitz Beer Hall – Oblio's Lounge – reopens Monday.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Omega Brewing Experience Three Years Later

Three years ago, Omega Brewing Experience opened its taproom at 115 East Main Street in Omro. In celebration of that anniversary, the brewery is releasing a series of special release beers throughout April. This weekend, the little brewery in Omro is going big.

The Omega taproom in Omro.

When the taproom opens Friday, the heaviest hitter on the list will be Clearly Ambiguous, a 12% ABV barleywine aged in a rye whiskey barrel. Next in line is Westhaven XII, an 11.8% Belgian quad that Omega owner and head brewer Steve Zink says was inspired by the famous Trappist ale Westvleteren XII.

“I’m still keeping things balanced, though,” says Zink. “We’ll have beers and seltzers ranging from 4% to your 12%.”

The current taplist at Omega (click to enlarge).

Omega opened in 2018 as Winnebago County’s first nano-brewery – a designation applied to breweries that produce beer in batch sizes of three barrels or less. The first beers went on tap in Oshkosh at the Chalice Restaurant and Pilora’s Cafe in early 2018. The Omega taproom opened in April that year. And in the time since, Omega has carved out a comfortable niche as Omro’s sole brewery. It has developed into one of the more unique beer destinations in the state.

Both the brewery and taproom coexist in the same space. When you’re sitting in the taproom, you are also sitting in the brewery proper. “We don’t have a lot of extra space, so we have to do everything right here,” says Zink.

Omega's barrel-aging rack doing double duty as a taproom counter top.

Beyond the back door is another world entirely. The taproom exits onto a deck that ushers you to a gentle slope of lawn that meets the Fox River. It's all part of the taproom property and includes park benches and boat docking. It's become a popular spot for Omega customers to picnic with a couple of beers.

The beer garden.

Built in 1927, what is now the Omega taproom was initially Anton Bang's Meat Market. Since purchasing the property in 2016, Zink and his wife Kathy have transformed the building inside and out. “Every wall has been taken down, and the floors taken up. We cleared this place out and entirely redesigned it,” Zink says.

2017, pre-restoration.

During the interior remodel in 2017.

Steve and Kathy Zink behind the bar in the Omega taproom.

The brewery has been a family affair from the start. It began as an outgrowth of the homebrewing Zink was doing with his son Eric and son-in-law Cory Tellock. It continues to be a family brewery in the truest sense with Zink's daughter Becca Tellock now part of the brewing team. "Our lead-assistant brewer is Becca," Zink says. "She works on most, but not all of the brews. She also has a background in the sciences and biology that will help in the future as we refine our water treatment, process controls, and yeast program."

The output has been prolific. Since its opening, Omega has released 60 unique beers, including a number of sour beers and hard seltzers. And though, the output has been wide-ranging, it is still very much a nano-brewery with Zink's 40-gallon, glycol-chilled, fermenters sharing space with patrons.

Like most small breweries, Omega was hit hard by the Pandemic, but the rhythm now seems to have returned. "We're back to running at full capacity," Zink says. "Right now, our number-one challenge, due to the size of our brewing system, is keeping up with demand."

This month will offer the full range of what this small brewery is capable of. Updates on new releases for the April anniversary celebration will be posted to the brewery's Facebook page. The Omega taproom is open on Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 4 p.m.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

More on the Mess of 2020

How about some sobering news for National Beer Day.... Yesterday, the Brewers Association released its 2020 production figures. Beer production for craft breweries is down 9%. That's the first decline for craft beer in the modern era that the BA has reported.

Those production numbers are self-reported, so I suspect the loss is considerably more than 9%. The data from individual state reports (like those issued by the Department of Revenue in Wisconsin) showed craft beer production down by 18%. That is identical to the decline in Oshkosh's 2020 beer production. Nationally, draft sales are down by a full 40%. Meanwhile, there are now 8,764 American craft breweries. That's a record number. I doubt that will be sustainable without a dramatic and swift recovery this year.


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Beer Gardens Coming to Menominee Park

This was supposed to happen last summer. But like most events set for the summer of 2020, the Beer Gardens planned for Menominee Park never came to pass. This year those gardens will finally bloom.

The first Brews on the Bay will be Wednesday, June 9, from 5-9pm at the Kiwanis Shelter in Menominee Park. Beer Garden dates have also been scheduled for the second Wednesday of July, August, and September. Save the dates. More to come...

Monday, April 5, 2021

The SOBs Turn 30

On this day 30 years ago an ad ran in the Northwestern announcing the formation of a new club for homebrewers in Oshkosh. It would be known as the Society of Oshkosh Brewers.

Oshkosh Northwestern; April 5, 1991.

Thirty years later, the SOBs are still chugging along and the club’s meetings are still held in what used to be the Lake Aire Center at O’Marro’s Public House. The card shown here is from the first set of membership cards issued by the SOBs.