The beer scene in Oshkosh has never been better. In 2013, beer drinkers here saw a steady increase in draught lines dedicated to craft beer, wider selection on the retail side, and more beer events and festivals featuring quality beer than at any other time. Considering what a few of our local purveyors of beer have in mind, things should only get better in 2014. Here’s some of what we have to look forward to in this new year.
Barley and Hops Pub is a prime example of how craft beer has begun to permeate the Oshkosh tavern scene. Beer samplings featuring Wisconsin craft brewers have become a regular event at the Main St. bar and they already have a couple set up for the first part of the year. Barleys will showcase Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing at its February 5 sampling and on April 2, New Glarus Brewing will be featured. This summer, look for Barleys to add an authentic beer garden. With hops and other greenery in the plan, owner Nate Stiefvater is aiming for the sort of outdoor beer-drinking experience that was common in Oshkosh before Prohibition. “I’m really excited about it,” he says. “It’s going to be an amazing space.”
Gardina’s Wine Bar & Cafe may want to consider amending its name. This is more than a wine bar and restaurant. In 2013, Gardina’s added a packaged beer section to its store behind the cafe and launched Gardina’s Beer Bar series, which takes place on the third Tuesday of each month. These tastings feature rare beer, often served from firkins. Adam Carlson is the man behind the beer at Gardina’s and has no plans for letting up this year.
“We’ll have some cool firkins coming in, including one from Central Waters,” Carlson says. “And we’re going to continue growing our packaged beer section. This is still in its infancy. We’ll continue to bring in beers that other people won’t.”
At O’Marro’s Public House they’ve recently added two more draught lines bringing their total to 18. “With those two new lines we’re going to focus on small batch, one-off and specialty releases,” says publican Shawn O’Marro. “That’s my kegerator of love.” They’ve also taken up brewing at the pub. Brew Sessions at O’Marro’s was introduced at the end of 2013 to give the beer curious a chance to brew their own on premise.
And in 2014, O’Marro hopes to build on his ties to the Oshkosh homebrewing community by launching a joint venture with The Cellar Brew Shop in Fond du Lac. Their goal is to offer a full range of supplies for homebrewers in Oshkosh. Look for that to take shape early this year.
Last year was a big one for the folks at Dublin’s Irish Pub. They added yet more draught lines bringing their total to 30. And they’ve been kept on the go with the West Bend opening of their second location. But they haven’t taken their minds off Oshkosh. On January 15 at 7:00 p.m. Dublin’s will host a beer dinner featuring Rush River Brewing of River Falls. “We’ve had a lot of success with these in the past,” says Jon Cameron of Dublin’s. “Hopefully we can keep the trend going.” Later in January (date to be announced), Dublin’s will host a vertical tasting of Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Stout where they’ll pair this year’s release with the 2010 version of the highly sought-after ale.
Oblio’s Lounge is where craft beer in Oshkosh began and co-owners Mark Schultz and Todd Cummings continue to bring in some of the best beer in town. Cummings says he expects to see new offerings from Lagunitas and Founders making their way into the Oblio’s line-up early in the new year. He’s also planning on bringing in some lesser-known European imports. “There’s a whole generation here that have never tried these beers,” Cummings says. “Now that they’re accustomed to drinking American craft beer, I think this is something they might appreciate.” Oblio’s is also one of Wisconsin’s most historic taverns. This year, Cummings and Schultz will pay homage to their bar’s Schlitz Beer Hall origins by installing a permanent display of Schlitz Brewing memorabilia.
At Fratellos/Fox River Brewing Company in Oshkosh, they’re starting big with the late-January introduction of an 8 percent ABV, dry-hopped Imperial Pilsner named “2 x 4.” Not too long after, we should see the release of two highly anticipated barrel-aged brews: a Belgian Dubbel and a hybrid Belgian Tripel. Each of these beers has been aged in zinfandel barrels. Fox River Brewmaster Kevin Bowen has had them in the works for almost a year.
“You can’t exactly predict when they’ll be finished,” Bowen says. “But I’m very much hoping that this spring they’ll be coming out of the barrel and we’ll be packaging them up.”
In 2010, Bowen won a World Beer Cup award for his Brandy Barrel Abbey Normal, the first barrel-aged beer he brewed.
For homebrewers in Oshkosh, 2013 was an exceptional year. Oshkosh’s homebrewing club, The Society of Oshkosh Brewers (SOBs), held their second annual all-homebrew, charity beer festival last November. The event was a resounding success with over 300 people in attendance and $7,000 raised for local food pantries. SOB vice-president Becky Gall anticipates an even brighter 2014 for the club.
“This will be a great year for the SOBs,” Gall says. “We have a great group of members who are getting out into the community and letting people know what we’re all about.” The club has almost 80 members and is looking for more. “Now is a great time to join a homebrew club,” Gall says. “The craft beer movement is really spurring interest in making beer, wine and mead.”
And finally, there’s this: Keep an eye on Oshkosh’s Festival Foods this January. I’ve heard through the grapevine that they’ll add more coolers to the liquor department and increase their selection of craft beer. Let’s hope this vine bears fruit.
Lee Reiherzer drinks, brews and researches beer in Oshkosh. Visit his blog, Oshkosh Beer, at OshkoshBeer.Blogspot.com