Saturday night found me standing around in Green Lake with a bad taste in my mouth. I was at a beer festival. I had been going from table to table for the past hour searching for beers I hadn’t tried before.
I’d just finished a beer from a popular Wisconsin brewery. They claimed the beer was “totally original.” It was the kind of thing beer geeks like me are supposed to like. It was a strong, Belgian-style ale that had been hopped like an American IPA then aged on oak. The taste was even more off-putting than that combination of flavors would suggest.
What do you drink after something like that?
Then a woman came hustling by in pursuit of her friend who was standing near me. She took her friend by the wrist. “You have to try this!” she told her. I watched as the woman steered her friend over to the Fox River Brewing Company table. They were each poured a glass of BLÜ Bobber. They drank and when they were done their enthusiasm was loud. And fairly contagious.
I went over and asked for a sample. I hadn’t drank this beer in years. It’s not the sort of thing a beer geek drinks. But it turned out to be exactly what I needed. It tasted fresh and clean and just tart and dry enough to wash the ruin of that “totally original” beer from my mouth.
As the festival wound down, they began the presentation for the best beers of the evening. I wasn’t too surprised when BLÜ Bobber took first place. It beat out more than 100 other beers that were poured that night. I was glad to see it win.
BLÜ Bobber is thought of as a “gateway beer” by the crowd I tend to be a part of. That’s beer-geek speak whereby a beer gets carelessly dismissed for its perceived lack of complexity. Often it’s used as a snide kind of shorthand for beers that haven’t been Imperialized, Bourbon-Barrel Aged, or tortured into some peculiar derivation of an IPA.
BLÜ Bobber is a 5% ABV golden ale. It has a subtle, cracker-like malt flavor and a bright note of blueberry that provides the beer’s signature flavor and aroma. The beer is well-balanced, crisp and exceptionally refreshing. It’s a flavorful beer, but not one that screams for your attention. It’s a beer that invites you to have another.
Kevin Bowen is the brewmaster at Fox River Brewing. He brews everything from barrel-aged beers, to imperial IPAs, to German-style lagers. He’s won World Beer Cup Awards for his barrel-aged Belgian-style dubbel and for his Kölsch-style beer. Awards, though, don’t pay the bills. BLÜ Bobber does.
BLÜ Bobber is Fox River’s best selling beer. Bowen appears to be just fine with that. It’s a beer that came into the brewery’s line-up about the same time that he began working in the Fox River brewhouse.
“The original concept of the beer came from my mentor Brian Allen in about 2003 as a summer specialty,” says Bowen. “The recipe has not changed all that much over the years other than some slight tweaks. In 2009, we made it nearly a full time beer. In 2011, we officially made this a year round offering. For the last two years, BLÜ has been our best seller, year round.”
The beer has struck a chord outside of the Fratellos/Fox River orbit as well. Last fall, after Fox River relaunched its distribution efforts, I noticed BLÜ Bobber popping up on tap with increased frequency at taverns in Oshkosh and beyond. Each time I’ve seen it on, I’ve asked the bartender how it was selling. The answer has been the same every time: very well.
No doubt, that popularity has played into Fox River’s recent decision to install a new bottling line. It’s a system geared for the brewery’s future. It can package a case of beer a minute. They’ll need that capacity. The distribution of BLÜ Bobber and the other beers in the brewery’s Bago Brew series has expanded rapidly over the past four months.
Much of that growth has taken place in markets north and east of the Fox Valley. The distribution pattern closely resembles that of Chief Oshkosh Beer in the 1950s and 1960s. More than 40 years after that iconic brand faded away there’s again a beer with Oshkosh on the label that’s finding favor in Wisconsin. It’s about time.