Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The SOBs Celebrate 30 Years

The Society of Oshkosh Brewers homebrewing club is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month with a series of beers made in collaboration with three Oshkosh breweries. The first of those beers will be released at Bare Bones Brewery on June 10. It will be followed by beer releases at Fox River Brewing on June 17, and Fifth Ward Brewing on June 26. The three beers were produced from recipes supplied by members of the Society of Oshkosh Brewers; or as they've come to be known locally, the SOBs.

A few of the SOBs during a recent group brew at Bare Bones.
In back on the steps of the brew deck is founding member Al Jacobson.

Al Jacobson's Christmas in June, a spiced ale, was brewed at Bare Bones and will be the first in the series to begin pouring. Jacobson is an original SOB. He was on hand when the club was launched in April 1991 at the now-defunct Galaxy Hobby on Oregon Street. He's also the last of the original members still active in the club. "It started with brewing classes at Galaxy," Jacobson says. "The club came out of those. There were about 10 or 12 of us in the beginning. We'd meet and try each other's homebrews and exchange ideas and recipes. That part of it hasn't changed much."

Some of those early brews were more powerful than expected. "I'm probably the only one that ever hit the ceiling at Galaxy Hobby," Jacobson says. "I took the cap off a beer I made and it shot out of the bottle and hit the ceiling." Remembering it still makes him laugh. "We were learning," Jacobson says. "You never knew what you'd get. We were making beer in soup pots."

SOBs making beer on a stove top in the early 1990s.

As a group, they accumulated knowledge and became a training ground for at least a dozen members who have gone on to brew professionally. Bare Bones' head brewer Jody Cleveland, and Fifth Ward's brewing team of Ian Wenger and Zach Clark are among the club’s alumni who have joined the professional ranks.

Future Oshkosh brewery owners Ian Wenger and Zach Clark during
an SOB visit to the Milwaukee Brewing Company in 2015.

The SOBs' influence has also spread beyond Oshkosh. The club has been the starting point for similar groups in Appleton and Fond du Lac and has been instrumental in re-shaping Wisconsin’s homebrewing laws. In 2012, the SOBs hosted Cask and Caskets, the first all-homebrewed beer festival in the state.

Jeff Eaton, who now brews for Lion’s Tail in Neenah, serving his homebrew
while dressed as a hot dog at Cask and Caskets.

Mike Engel has been the SOBs' president for 15 of the past 17 years. He's guided the club through its most dramatic period of growth. There are now more than 50 members in the club making it among the largest, most active organizations of its type in Wisconsin. “I can’t believe how successful the club has become over the past few years,” Engel says. “We seem to get one or two new members at almost every meeting.”

Engel's Pumpernickel Rye Ale will go on tap at Fifth Ward on Saturday, June 26. It's a rustic beer brewed with flaked rye, molasses, and caraway seeds. "What really gives it the flavor is the caraway seeds," he says. "It’s almost like drinking liquid rye bread." This is the third time Engel has had this beer produced by a commercial brewery. "It feels great," says Engel, who is stepping down as the club's president this year. "It’s kind of like the icing on the cake of my brewing career."

Mike Engel at Oblio’s pouring his 2013 version of Pumpernickel Rye
made by Stone Cellar (now Stone Arch) Brewpub.

But new brewers still come to the SOBs for the same reasons that Al Jacobson did 30 years ago. Logan Anderson joined the club in 2017 "I was 21 at that point," he says. "It was only a few months after I started brewing. I knew from the get-go that I was going to need to find some people who knew what they were doing to give me pointers. That was the best choice I could have made"

Logan Anderson filling a carboy during an SOB wort share last July at Fifth Ward Brewing.

Anderson, who recently graduated from UW-Platteville with a degree in engineering, will have his Kellerbier, a German-style lager, released at Fox River on June 17. "Having the opportunity to brew one of my beers on a large system is like a dream come true," he says. "Looking back five years ago, I never would have expected that I’d make it to this point."

Anderson says the club's appeal extends beyond brewing. "The real benefits go back to that community of beer thing," he says. "I’ve made lifelong friends and could not imagine a group of more enthusiastic and fun-loving people. We have a great beer history in Oshkosh, and I think that people who know about it are proud. So, to be part of that community and history was really a great draw."

The Society of Oshkosh Brewers will hold their next meeting on Thursday, June 17 at 7 pm in the Taproom of Fox River Brewing in Oshkosh. The meeting will be open to the public.

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