Oshkosh has a long – more than 160 year – history of making bock beers. There’s one pouring right now at Fox River in Oshkosh that does that tradition proud.
It’s named, simply enough, Maibock and it’s a terrific example that style. This is a golden beer with a stark-white head lacing down the glass as you drink. It begins with a cookie-like malt aroma intermingled with a zesty, floral hop scent. The initial impression is medium-bodied, fairly rich and toasty, but that gives way to peppery, earthy hop flavors leading to a crisp, clean finish. This is where Maibock truly shines. The hop flavor is upfront, but not overdone and creates a delicious balance. At just over 6% ABV, Maibock is nicely warming and pairs well with these coolish days of early spring.
It seems everything you hear these days about Fox River Brewing has something to do with either Blu Bobber or its new affiliate, Red Bobber. But the beers now pouring in the taproom and restaurant in Oshkosh show another side of the brewery. The current list has a quartet of lagers including three different bock beers. They’re all quite good and about as far removed from “Bobber” territory as can be. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s been following Fox River for the past decade.
Head brewer Kevin Bown has been in charge of the Fox River brewhouses in Appleton and Oshkosh since 2009. He’s been there long enough to see one hot “new” beer style after another come blazing in and go flaming out. He’s made those beers, too. But at the same time, Bowen has kept a steady stream of more traditional styles flowing from the Fox River brewhouses. Among those have been German-style beers that, to me at least, include some of the best lagers being made in Wisconsin.
That German influence began early for Bowen. When he was 16, he visited Germany where he had his first formidable experience with beer. “I was able to drink in German beer gardens,” he told me in a 2012 interview. “The beer tasted phenomenal. It was so flavorful. It was nothing like the beer I had had before. That made a lasting impression on me.”
It’s been more than 20 years since Bowen had that first drink of German beer. Judging by some of the beers he’s making these days, the influence is as strong as ever.