Sunday, November 27, 2022

Dark Side of the Moonshine

Prohibition led to a flood of novel mayhem in Oshkosh. Here's one of those stories…

There once was a little grocery store at the corner of Elmwood and Woodland. It was run by an old-timer named Amos Luessen. His store had been in the neighborhood for years.

Thieves broke into Luessen's store on the night of October 24, 1923. They didn't get much: 90 cents and several cartons of cigarettes. Luessen figured it was neighborhood kids. He was going to find out. He was going to take care of this himself.

The former site of Amos Luessen's corner store is now occupied by the Halsey Science Center on the UW-Oshkosh campus.

A couple of nights after the Luessen break-in, Winnebago County sheriff's deputies raided a desolate resort on Stroebe Island. The place had been turned into a speakeasy. The cops barged in, arrested Harry Stroebe, and confiscated his stock of moonshine. Stroebe was set free on bond. His booze was taken to the county jail in Oshkosh and locked in a cell on the second floor.

Stroebe Island in the Fox River at Menasha.

After asking around, Amos Luessen concluded that the break-in at his store wasn't the work of neighborhood kids. He called the police and reported the crime.

A few days later, the cops heard about a couple of local delinquents peddling stolen cigarettes. Albert Youngworth, 19, and Louis Kaltenbach, 18, were arrested and charged with the burglary of the Luessen store. They were taken to the county jail and locked in a cell on the second floor.

The old Winnebago County Courthouse at the northeast corner of Ceape and Court streets. To the immediate right of the courthouse is the jail where Youngworth and Kaltenbach were held.

Neither Youngworth nor Kaltenbach could make bail. These were not young men of means. They were from poor families, and they had been in trouble before. There was nothing to do but wait for their court date. And think about how to get their hands on some of that moonshine sitting there in the opposite cell.

On the Friday afternoon of November 10, Youngworth or Kaltenbach succeeded in their quest to obtain the moonshine. The jailers were never able to explain how they did it. But by dinner time the two young men were full of shine and wicked ambition. They dreamed up another plan.

At 6:20 pm, jailers Fred Radkey and Herman Nass entered the jail cell to collect the prisoner's dinner plates. Youngworth was ready, waiting with a bunk chain wrapped in a towel. "They came at us like wild animals on their prey," Radkey later said.

Youngworth chain-whipped the jailers and then dashed through the jail-cell door. Kaltenbach was trailing him, but his escape was blocked when Radkey stumbled into the cell door, slamming it closed.

Youngworth kept running. “(He) ran down the stairs carrying the towel containing the bunk chain with him," Radkey said. "He probably expected to encounter someone in the hall. He ran out the side door dropping his weapon just outside”

In Youngworth's other hand was a bottle of moonshine. He held it tight as he sprinted into the dark.

The jailers called the police. The cops arrived to find Radkey and Nass drenched in gore from flowing head wounds. The two-pound, iron bunk chain they’d been whipped with had connected with such force that it broke through the towel it was wrapped in.

Youngworth had darted across Ceape Avenue heading for the factory complex making up the Oshkosh Gas Works and the Robert Brand Company. The adrenaline spike seems to have deserted him after about 100 yards. He hid behind a building and rewarded himself with another draw of moonshine. Liberty. For a little while.

The Robert Brand Company at the lower left and the Oshkosh Gas Works at the lower right. A portion of Ceape Ave. can be seen running left to right (east/west) in the image.

At 7:45 pm, Youngworth was found by a motorcycle cop named Roy Welton. The bottle of moonshine was half empty and Youngworth was so drunk, Welton said, that “he hardly knew what he was about.”

A few days before Christmas 1923, Youngworth was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. He was sent to the reformatory in Green Bay. The assault charge against Kaltenbach was dismissed. He was given a short jail stay for the burglary charge. Kaltenbach was on parole and back on the street in the spring of 1924.

Albert Youngworth returned to Oshkosh in early 1925. He picked up where he had left off. In June of 1925, Youngworth stuck a gun into the ribs of a speakeasy operator and demanded a bag of cash. There was no bag of cash to be had. Youngworth ran away.

The Reptile Palace at 141 High Street, where Albert Youngworth attempted his failed stick-up. In 1925, this was a speakeasy called the Blue Front Buffet.

Youngworth was arrested two days later and again placed in the county lockup. It was a reunion of sorts. Kaltenbach, who had been picked up on a parole violation, was at the jail with him. This time there was no moonshine.

Youngworth was sent to Waupun where he did five years of hard labor. The judge threw in a bonus: once a year Youngworth was to serve 24 hours in solitary confinement. After his release from Waupun, Youngworth left Wisconsin and ended up in San Francisco working as a janitor. There he appears to have led a rather solitary and more settled life.

Kaltenbach never lost his appetite for trouble. He got married in 1924, beat his wife, and was soon divorced. He remained on perpetual probation for a litany of petty offenses, and in 1926 was given a 19-month stay at the reformatory in Green Bay. He returned to Oshkosh and continued racking up the arrests: drunken driving, drunk in public, petty theft. In 1932, he was convicted of committing a string of burglaries and was sentenced to three years at Waupun. It went on and on like this.

For the last 30 years of his life, Kaltenbach lived in a rented segment of a tumbledown home on Division Street. Where the trains swept by his doorstep day and night.

The Soo Line rumbling down the 500 block of Division Street. Kaltenbach lived on the west side of the street (right side of this photo) in a home near the bend in the track.

Kaltenbach remained a reprobate all the while. His last arrest was in the summer of 1973. He was 68 years old and taken into custody for disorderly conduct.

Louis Kaltenbach died at home on September 18, 1984. There was no one to mourn him. His brief obituary ran the following day and was as devoid of affection as his entire life seemed to be.

He's buried somewhere out there in Riverside Cemetery.

End Note
Newspaper writers applied a number of creative interpretations to the Youngworth and Kaltenbach names during the years when these two men were up to their worst. I've used the spelling that Youngworth and Kaltenbach favored when signing documents.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Sodom of the Northwest

People have been telling mythical stories about Oshkosh ever since the city has existed. Here’s a taste from 1878. The article below first appeared in the Fond du Lac Commonwealth newspaper. This is an abridged version, but you’ll get the drift...

π—’π˜€π—΅π—Έπ—Όπ˜€π—΅, 𝗔𝗽𝗿𝗢𝗹 𝟯𝟬  – 𝗔 π—ͺ𝗢𝗰𝗸𝗲𝗱 π—–π—Άπ˜π˜†. This is a hard town to write about, because if you tell the truth you have to write hard things. Three years ago Sunday, Oshkosh was nearly consumed by a fire started by Spaulding & Peck’s mill. To commemorate the third anniversary, a brewery burned Sunday night. Immediately back of the Beckwith House is a man who administers Turkish baths, and he told me nearly all citizens of Oshkosh who have lived here five or more years are web-footed. Many people in this city eat fish with neither salt or pepper, but with their fingers. Yes, Oshkosh is the Sodom of the Northwest.

I've posted a few other stories like this one. If you'd like more in this vein you can get it HERE and HERE.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Badger Brew: A Lost Oshkosh Beer

Badger Brew wasn’t intended to be a memorable beer. On the contrary, it was an efficient beer for erasing memories. Badger Brew was produced fast, cheap, and without any pretense. This was a lager for those with an eye towards price and a forgiving sense of taste.
A case of Badger Brew.

The first batch of Badger Brew was released on September 4, 1954, by Effinger Brewing in Baraboo. Effinger was taking a stab at the budget beer market. The targets were mid-sized Wisconsin cities like Janesville, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Oshkosh.

he Effinger Brewing Company of Baraboo in the early 1960s.

Badger Brew was usually the cheapest beer on the shelf. You could get a case of it for as little as $1.98. Shockingly cheap compared to something like Hamm’s or Pabst, which sold for about $3.50 a case.

The bottle label for Effinger's Badger Brew. The beer was never packaged in cans.

There was never much of a budget for promotion. Newspaper ads would lead with played-out hokum: "Refreshingly light." Or pointless drivel: "From Baraboo's oldest industry." But the bottom line was always consistent: "Beer to meet your budget." It was all about the price.

It wasn’t enough to save Effinger Brewing. The company lost money year after year until Effinger finally failed in February 1966.

How low can you go? Cases of Badger Brew were sold-off at closeout prices after Effinger went out of business. Sheboygan Press, August 12, 1966.

Along came the Oshkosh Brewing Company. OBC agreed to purchase the Badger Brew brand in March 1966. The deal was sealed a month later. Fred Effinger packed up Badger Brew and sent it to Oshkosh, bottle caps and all.

Click to enlarge.

OBC continued pushing Badger Brew down the same path that had been cut by Effinger. Though the price had lifted slightly, Badger Brew remained the cheapest of the cheap. Had the beer changed now that it was flowing out of OBC's tanks? Probably. Did anyone care? Probably not. The flavor was never the point.

The Oshkosh version of Badger Brew listed Lakeside Brewing Company as the producer on the label. In reality, it was an OBC beer.

Badger Brew was no savior for OBC, either. The Oshkosh Brewing Company failed in October 1971. But once again, Badger Brew survived.

After OBC collapsed, its neighboring brewery came by to pick through the rubble. Peoples Brewing of Oshkosh salvaged the Badger Brew brand in early November 1971. By the end of the year Peoples was making its own version of the beer. The Badger Brew never stopped flowing.

Theodore Mack (left) of Peoples Brewing and Harold Kriz of the defunct Oshkosh Brewing Company during their announcement that the OBC brands – including Badger Brew – had been sold to Peoples. Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; November 5, 1971.

Grant Peterson worked as a delivery driver for Peoples Brewing. He recalls hauling cases of Badger Brew to country taverns around Oshkosh.

“We didn't really have a cheap seller before that. All these old farmer taverns loved it because it was so cheap. A case sold for 95 cents wholesale to the taverns. Those farmers wanted a cold bottle of beer and they didn't want to pay a lot for it. And really, you drink six of them and you're going to get just as drunk as if you drink six of these,” Peterson says hoisting a Miller High Life.

In 1972, the curse of Badger Brew struck again. Peoples Brewing Company failed. This time, nobody came to the rescue. Badger Brew was dead.

It wasn’t a sudden death. Cases of expiring Badger Brew lingered on beer depot shelves well into 1973. And the price was still $1.98 a case. Just like it was almost 20 years earlier.

End Note
I've long suspected that the Badger Brew produced by the Oshkosh Brewing Company was actually Chief Oshkosh Beer with just a different label wrapped around it. You can check into that here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Judge Luther

Here’s a bit of a follow up to the post I had the other day about Gary Luther, the former brewmaster for Miller who hails from Oshkosh. 

The story below (click the image to enlarge it) is from 1993 when Luther was a judge at the Great American Beer Festival. I suspect he is the only Oshkosh native to ever have judged at the GABF (if anyone knows otherwise, I’d love to hear about it). 

After reading that I went looking through the GABF medal winners of 1993 and got hit with a wave of nostalgia. The list is filled with beers like Berghoff Dark, Liberty Ale from Anchor, Downtown Brown from Lost Coast, Burning River Pale Ale from Great Lakes, Old Crustacean from Rogue, and of course Point Special which won bronze in 1993 in the American Premium Lager category. Go Point!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Gary Luther: A Brewer’s Journey

As a kid in Oshkosh, Gary Luther never dreamed of being a beer brewer. But that outcome wasn’t too surprising. There were those early influences. Luther's mother was part of the Nigl family, an extended clan of Bavarian and Bohemian immigrants who had been central to Oshkosh's beer and brewing culture since the 1880s. Born in 1943, Luther came of age in a city awash with beer.

Young Gary Luther with his older sister Faye.

“The Rahr's brewery was right down the street from our first house on Eveline Street,” Luther says. “The Chief Oshkosh Brewery and the Peoples Brewery were still around then. My Uncle Ray was a brewer at Peoples. We moved over to Ninth Street when I was four. They had Peoples Beer at all the German taverns around that area, like Punky Nigl's and the Gemuchlichkeit, or the Bohmerwald on Ninth and Knapp, or the Chieftain at Ninth and Ohio. When I was 10 or 12 years old, I would go over to Leo Lang’s Midway Bar on Ninth and stock the coolers with that beer."

Luther was the second of six children and the Southside was his domain. “It was the St. Vincent parish area at that time,” he says. “It was a great neighborhood. We had friends all over the place. The Dettlaffs were our best friends. There were 17 kids in the family. All these little rascals were all over.”

Another pack of “little rascals” from the Southside. Gary Luther is at top left.

He was schooled at St. Vincent where Luther thought he had found his calling. “I was very religious,” he says. “I was an altar boy and served every chance I could. In 8th grade I decided I wanted to become a priest and went to Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida.” He had a change of heart three years later. “I just found it wasn't for me. I began to feel this drawing away from the priesthood.”

At Sacred Heart Seminary in Oneida, Wisconsin, 1961.

Luther came home to Oshkosh and graduated from Lourdes High School in 1962. From there, he went to the Wisconsin State College at Oshkosh (now UW-O).

“Where I majored in going to bars,” he says grinning. “I started in pre-architecture, then switched to economics, and then to history. Finally, I said this isn’t doing me any good. After three years of college I wanted to do something with my life other than partying. I decided to go into the Military.”

The recruiter tried talking him out of it. When that didn't work, he steered Luther towards the Army Intelligence Corps. After basic training at Fort Knox, Luther joined the 511th Army Intelligence Company in Furth, Germany. "I knew how to say Ein Bier, bitte (A beer, please), but that was about it. So they sent me to an immersion school where I learned to speak German."

Bayreuth, Germany, 1967.

Luther found that life in Germany agreed with him. It was where he became acquainted with his wife-to-be. "I met Marianna in Bayreuth. I was still in the military. We had to wait to get married or they would have pulled my top-secret clearance. I knew if we waited until just before my discharge there would be no problem. So we married in November and I was discharged in February 1969."

He also knew what he wanted to do next. Luther had gotten to know the technical director for the EKU Brewery in Kulmbach, Germany. "I asked him how you became a brewer. He was from a brewing family. He explained it all to me. I said, I gotta do this."

Luther spent the next six months working at Bavarian breweries in Kulmbach and Bayreuth. The practical experience helped him gain entry to the Munich Technical University’s prestigious brewing school at Weihenstephan. Luther's training there came under the auspices of the Reinheitsgebot, the Bavarian purity law that limits brewers to the use of just four ingredients: barley malt, hops, water, and yeast. He soon arrived at a place where rules like that meant nothing.

Luther graduated from Weihenstephan in November 1973, and two months later was on his way to the Antarctica Brewery in SΓ£o Paulo, Brazil. "Where we used sugar, we used corn, we used rice, we used starch... you adapt to it very fast."

Luther on his way to Brazil in 1974.

The beer was good. SΓ£o Paulo was not. "It was not a pretty city at that time. We had an apartment across from the brewery. Marianna hated being there. So they gave me a brewery called Polar in southern Brazil. We got down there and there was nothing to rent. I put Marianna on an airplane back to Germany and I stayed in a hotel."

The situation was untenable. "I was going back to Germany and on the way back, I visited my parents in Oshkosh, and my buddies in Milwaukee. I stopped by Schlitz and Pabst and Miller. Miller was going like gangbusters. Miller Lite had just gotten on the market. They said, what if we want to hire you? I gave them my number and got on the plane. When I came into the house Marianna said a company named Miller called."

The Luthers headed for Wisconsin. "I started at Miller in January 1976 and said, this is it, we're going to be happy here for the rest of our lives.” Six months later he was sent to New York. After the launch of Miller's Fulton, New York brewery, Luther went to Eden, North Carolina to set-up a new brewery there. "We were growing like crazy. We went from 12 million barrels a year to 24 million barrels just like that. We were running 500-barrel brew kettles and making 48 brews a day, seven days a week."

The Miller brewery at Fulton, New York.

The Luthers were flourishing, as well. Gary and Marianna now had two daughters. The family found their way home to Wisconsin after Miller called Gary back to Milwaukee. As his role with the brewery continued to expand, Luther helped pilot Miller’s initial foray into craft beer. The initiative included the extension of the Leinenkugel’s brand acquired by Miller in 1987.

At the Leinenkugel’s innovation brewery on 10th Street in Milwaukee.

"At one point, I went over to England and talked with Charlie Bamforth and told him I needed some top-fermenting yeast. He gave me four nice tubes. He said this is the Bass yeast, you'll be happy with that. I went back and formulated the Reserve Amber Ale. It was a delicious beer, but when you’re making that in Milwaukee, you’re making 500 barrels of it. That was just too much."

Luther has been awarded an Honorary Life Membership in the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. This 1999 photo shows him when Luther was president of the organization. With him is Hugo Patino, then of Coors Brewing, who would succeed Luther as Master Brewers president.

Luther remained with Miller until his retirement in 2000. The brewery was at its peak then producing nearly 50 million barrels of beer annually. Miller had become the largest brewery ever based in Wisconsin. And Gary Luther was Principal Brewer.

Marianna and Gary Luther.

He didn't leave the beer world behind him. Since retiring, Luther has consulted for breweries both at home and abroad. And he devotes significant time to preserving the heritage that has informed his life. He’s active in Wisconsin’s German-American community taking part in choral groups and recording the oral histories of German-born Americans.

Luther was also instrumental in creating the ongoing Brewing Experience program at Old World Wisconsin where visitors step into the world of an 1860s Wisconsin brewery. "We actually started talking about that around 2003. We were starting from nothing, just like the Germans did when they came over here. They were doing small volumes and working with what was available to them. So we did that, we started a hop garden, and barley field, we had wooden vessels. It was authentic. It was a lot of fun."

Making beer at Old World Wisconsin. Luther is on the right wearing the green vest.

The Luthers now have five grandchildren and divide their time between their home near Milwaukee and a home in Bavaria. That's a long way for a Southside kid who used to fill tavern coolers with Oshkosh beer. The journey has had a significance all its own.

Gary Luther came of age amid a legacy initiated by immigrants who transported their beer culture to Wisconsin from Germany. He went back to the source to become a brewer himself. Meanwhile, the breweries of his hometown were washed away in a tide of beer let loose by industrial-sized breweries. Luther rose to the top of his profession at just such a brewery. He has spanned the breadth of American brewing.

Gary Luther and family.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

An Inflated Union Brewery

Here’s another exaggerated illustration of an Oshkosh brewery. This 1891 drawing of the Union Brewery inflated the reality of what actually stood down there at the end of Doty Street.

Here's the real thing.