In 1870, Oshkosh’s population was just over 12,000 and the city was home to six breweries. Today our population exceeds 66,000, but we have only one brewery.
In the early 1950s, Oshkosh had three breweries and produced nearly 100,000 barrels of beer annually. Last year, less than 700 barrels of beer were made in Oshkosh.
We’re overdue for a revival. Perhaps it’s about to begin.
Over the past couple of weeks at the Oshkosh Beer Blog I’ve been covering the flurry of activity that’s occurring here among people seeking to establish breweries. At the moment, there are at least five brewery projects being planned for the Oshkosh area. Here’s a brief look at two of the frontrunners.
The project nearest completion is Bare Bones Brewery, which plans to open by Memorial Day Weekend. This will be a small brewery and taproom just over the Oshkosh city line at the intersection of County Roads S and Y. The building for this brewery is already up. The tap room and brewhouse are currently being outfitted.
Dan Dringoli, brewmaster and owner of Bare Bones, will start with 12 guest beers on tap. He’ll work his own beers into the mix as they become ready early this summer. Located adjacent to the Wiouwash State Recreation Trail, the timing of this opening should prove to be ideal. More on Bare Bones Brewery can be found here.
Last week, the City of Oshkosh approved a Conditional Use Permit for the development of a brewery and taproom at 611 Oregon St. The working title of this project is Fifth Ward Brewing Company. The name is a nod to an early Oshkosh brewery launched in the 1850s.
Zach Clark is leading the way on this startup. Clark has been part of Oshkosh’s homebrewing community for several years. He’s well known within the Oshkosh beer scene for his work planning and preparing the beer dinners that have occurred over the past couple of years at Dublin’s Irish Pub.
Fifth Ward Brewery still has a number of hurdles to get over, but the groundwork has been laid. The likelihood of this project becoming reality looks quite good.
Whatever the outcome, these are welcome signs. They indicate what may be the beginning of a return to form. The current dearth of commercial brewing here is an anomaly. For most of its history, Oshkosh has supported multiple breweries. It’s time for a return to form.
A New Beer Garden
Speaking of tradition, the beer garden has been a feature of the Oshkosh landscape since the inception of the city itself. At the moment, there’s a new beer garden under construction.
If you’ve been downtown recently you may have noticed the work taking place in the parking lot of Barley & Hops at 663 N. Main St. The asphalt has been torn up in preparation for an enclosed beer garden that should be ready for habitation and libation this summer.
Barley’s owner Nate Stiefvater has had this plan rumbling around for a couple of years. After overcoming numerous zoning setbacks, his idea is now taking shape. Stiefvater’s vision includes accoutrements – such as a stand of hop plants – that often accompanied beer gardens of old. This will be a modern, urban interpretation of a classic Oshkosh habitat.
Monday, April 20: Beer v. Wine Dinner at The Roxy Supper Club.
The Roxy will host a five-course dinner, each course accompanied by a wine and a beer, to find which makes the better pairing. Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are just $35, but seating will be limited. To reserve a seat, contact the Roxy at (920) 231-1980. See The Roxy’s Facebook page for the full menu.
Tuesday, April 21: Cask Tapping and Food Pairing at Gardina’s.
Gardina’s will tap into a firkin with a special guest on hand to do the honors. Kirby Nelson, brewmaster at Wisconsin Brewing Company, will be at Gardina’s with a cask of WBC’s Blister in the Sun. This is an India White Lager dry hopped with Amarillo and Nelson Sauvin hops and spiced with orange peel and coriander. I spoke with Nelson last week and he described the beer as having a malty, wheat body accompanied by a burst of hop flavor. The firkin will be tapped at 6 p.m.
In addition to the firkin, Gardina’s will have three other WBC beers on tap and will offer a four-course dinner pairing the WBC beers. The pairing option is $30. The full menu and beer pairings can be viewed here.