Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Oshkosh Brewers Celebrate 175 Years of Brewing in the City

In the summer of 1849, a German immigrant named Jacob Konrad established a brewery just south of Ceape Avenue on the shore of Lake Winnebago. Konrad’s brewery was the first in Oshkosh. The brewing culture he initiated here is still going strong 175 years later.

Brewers in Oshkosh are celebrating their heritage this year with beer releases and events that tap into the city’s history as a center for beer making. 

April 4: Fifth Ward's 175 Bock
The series begins at Fifth Ward Brewing on Thursday, April 4, with the start of Oshkosh Craft Beer Week. Fifth Ward will commemorate the anniversary with the release of 175 Bock, a strong German-style lager.

April 20: The SOB's Book Release at Bare Bones
On Saturday, April 20, the Society of Oshkosh Brewers homebrew club will be at Bare Bones Brewery for the release of Oshkosh Classics, the club’s first recipe book. The collection includes twelve recipes that illustrate the history of Oshkosh’s beer and brewing culture. The SOBs will share free samples of homebrewed beer made from recipes included in the book. In addition to the book release, Bare Bones Brewery will release Peoples Bock, made from the original recipe used at Peoples Brewing of Oshkosh in the 1950s and 1960s.

June 1: Bare Bones' Helles Bock
On Saturday, June 1, Bare Bones Brewery will release a Helles Bock made from a recipe that amplifies the brewery’s popular Oshkosh Lager. 

Fox River's Pre-Prohibition Bock
Fox River Brewing Company will round out the series with the release of a pre-Prohibition style Bock later this year. Each special release will be available on draft and in a collectible can featuring a commemorative “175” emblem.

It’s especially fitting that the anniversary will be observed by an offering of Bock beers. This subcategory of lager beer was first brewed in Oshkosh in 1858. Over the next century, the robust Bocks became the most commonly produced specialty beer here. The annual spring releases were highly anticipated. Saloons and beer depots posted placards illustrated with a grinning goat in their windows to alert beer fans that the Bock was back. Aficionados on hoarding binges grabbed all they could afford, causing the Bocks to rapidly sell out.

The tradition survived well into the 20th century as Oshkosh’s small breweries grew into larger, more industrial concerns. By the early 1950s, Oshkosh was home to three breweries with a combined production of more than 90,000 barrels of beer annually. An astounding quantity considering that the city’s population was just 41,000 and that most of that beer was consumed locally. Last year, less than 3,500 barrels of beer were brewed in Oshkosh.

Industry consolidation led to the end of our large breweries in 1972 when Peoples Brewing Company closed. The city was without a brewery for the first time in 123 years. In response, a homebrewing movement developed in Oshkosh even though it was a crime to make beer in an unlicensed facility. Oshkosh Congressman William Steiger took care of that by introducing federal legislation legalizing homebrewing. Steiger’s bill was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Our current breweries are a direct outgrowth of that early homebrewing movement. All three breweries here have brewhouses run by former homebrewers who came out of the local scene. The kinship with the city’s earliest breweries is no less tangible. After Jacob Konrad established his brewery in 1849, he began making hand-crafted, small-batch beer that he sold directly from his brewery to people living nearby. That description applies just as well to our current breweries.

There have been 21 breweries established in Oshkosh since Konrad came to town 175 years ago. That count doesn’t include the score of wildcat breweries that flourished, albeit illegally, in the city during Prohibition from 1920-1933. The beer and brewing culture here has been central to the identity of this place from the start. Oshkosh has always been a beer town. It’s time we celebrate that.