Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A Record Year for Beer Production in Oshkosh

This article also appears in today's Oshkosh Herald.

Beer production at Oshkosh's three breweries rose sharply in 2021. Bare Bones Brewery, Fifth Ward Brewing, and Fox River Brewing bounced back in record-setting fashion last year after experiencing a downturn triggered by the pandemic of 2020.

The three breweries combined to produce 2,757 barrels of beer last year, a 47-percent increase over their total output for 2020. It was the most beer made in Oshkosh since 1972 when Peoples Brewing Company was still in operation. Each of the breweries broke their previous record for annual production.

Fox River Brewing continues to be the largest brewery in the city accounting for almost half of all the beer made here. In 2021, Fox River's Oshkosh facility produced 1,313 barrels of beer, a 42 percent increase. Fifth Ward saw the largest percentage increase – 57 percent – with its total production rising to 790 barrels. Bare Bones production rose 46 percent on 653 barrels brewed. The amount of beer in a barrel is the equivalent of 31 gallons or 248 pints.

The production increases have come with each brewery riding a separate wave. Fifth Ward's best-seller was its Frootenany series of fruited sours. The individual beers in that set employ different combinations of fruits. Fox River's BLÜ Bobber, a blueberry-flavored ale, remained its leading beer. It's also the most widely distributed beer produced in Oshkosh and is sold throughout much of the state. Oshkosh Lager, a classic American-style lager, was the top beer last year at Bare Bones where co-owner Dan Dringoli watched the momentum build as the year progressed.

"We really didn’t hit full stride until late spring, after the vaccine was available to most adults," Dringoli says. "It was a great rebound year for us. The pendulum towards traditional beers is swinging back and we were ready for it."

Dan Dringoli

But the rapid growth created a new challenge. By mid-year, all three breweries were operating at or near capacity. Fifth Ward felt the impact acutely and had to cut back on distribution to ensure there would be enough beer to meet the demands of its own taproom. Each brewery is taking a different approach to resolving its limitations.

In November, Bare Bones purchased a two-barrel fermenter for small-batch beers and to free up the availability of its larger tanks. The first beer from the new unit, a Double New England IPA, came out in early January. "This is going to give us much more flexibility," says Bare Bones head brewer Jody Cleveland. "It's going to allow us to do things we just haven't been able to do in the past."

Fox River, which has a second brewery in Appleton, has had to refashion its operations at both facilities to meet demand. Jay Supple, CEO of the Supple Group which operates Fox River, credits his head brewer, Andrew Roth, for puzzling together a solution. "With Andrew and his team utilizing new ingredients and modern brewing processes, we still have room to continue to grow," says Supple "We’re excited for 2022."

Fox River Brewing Company, Oshkosh.

At Fifth Ward, they’re betting big on the future. This year, the brewery plans to undertake the largest expansion seen by an Oshkosh brewery in 60 years. In addition to automating part of its production, Fifth Ward is in the process of acquiring three 35-barrel fermenters. The immediate goal is to approximately triple the brewery’s capacity.

"With the new expansion we should be able to produce between 3,000 and 3,500 barrels a year," says Zach Clark, co-owner and co-brewer at Fifth Ward. "We also have enough room in our production area to put more tanks in. We could ultimately produce 10,000 barrels out of this facility."

Clark's optimistic view of the future is shared by Dan Dringoli at Bare Bones. "We have always had a very loyal customer following,” Dringoli says. “I believe the best years are ahead of us now that things are starting to resolve."

1 comment:

  1. In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we brew it here.