By Margie Wuebker
MINSTER -- Visitors to the 32nd annual Minster Oktoberfest will have an opportunity to taste local history by the glass or jug thanks to a family venture.
Gene and Mary Lou Phlipot, along with their son, Andy, have formed Wooden Shoe Brewing Co., LLC, with the intention of resurrecting a local brew dating back to the mid-1860s.
Their version of Wooden Shoe beer, based on the original recipe and made by Barrel House Brewing Co. of Cincinnati, debuts Sept. 29-Oct. 1 during the Oktoberfest.
Andy Phlipot, a local businessman, sought the assistance of the Barrel House brewmaster in coordinating the list of ingredients with modern brewing techniques to turn out two varieties of Wooden Shoe beer -- lager, a traditional brew fermented at colder temperatures, and bock, a full-bodied dark brew.
The Phlipots approached the Oktoberfest committee months ago with a proposal to reintroduce the Wooden Shoe Brewing Company back to the community. The original company was established in 1869 and was the area's largest employer at the time. "We felt this represented another great tribute to our heritage," Andy Phlipot says.
His research indicated the brewery met the entire operating expenses of the village through tax money generated between 1933 to 1943. The premium beer also satisfied more than local folks, with regular shipments to Chicago and New York City as well as numerous states.
The presentation to the committee noted the Wooden Shoe was one of the leading brewers in the Midwest, with nearly 50 distributors. At its peak in the late 1940s, the brewery produced nearly 150,000 barrels annually and did nearly $2 million in business. It ultimately closed in 1954 and the building was razed in the 1970s. The property ultimately became home to Precision Strip.
Committee members approved the request after tasting samples provided by the Phlipots. Production began in earnest two months ago with barrels earmarked for the Oktoberfest.
"We felt the debut should take place here in Minster where the product first originated," Andy Phlipot says. "And then it will be marketed elsewhere."
The Phlipots are working with Cavalier Distributing and sales agent Aaron Spoores, formerly of Celina.
"Cavalier specializes in craft beer," Spoores says. "We're excited about being part of bringing back a part of local history."
Craft beer is produced by small independent breweries throughout the world, where artisans pay special attention to taste and quality. The field has spawned from the introduction of micro breweries in the 1980s.
Barrel House Brewing Co., like other craft beer enterprises, handcrafts products in small batches rather than employing mass production techniques.
Production of Wooden Shoe Beer began in earnest two months ago to prepare for the debut. A vat yields 40 half-barrels each containing 15.5 gallons. Lager will be produced year-round with the Phlipots planning to offer bock for special occasions.
With the beer for the Oktoberfest already in kegs, attention has turned to marketing and distribution. Spoores believes there is a strong customer base in Auglaize and Mercer counties and expects that to spread elsewhere.
Plans are under way to introduce beer in bottles at some point. Like the bottles Gene Phlipot displays in his basement rathskeller (bar room), the new longnecks will bear a colorful Wooden Shoe logo.
The updated logo still shows two men with raised beer steins and distinctive lettering of the lager offering. In keeping with tradition, the bock label features a horned goat. The declaration -- tax paid at the rate prescribed by internal revenue law -- has been deleted from the new label and the original muted colors deepened.
Andy Phlipot already is looking ahead to the future while laying plans for another ambitious goal.
"I want to see Wooden Shoe beer being made right here in Minster as it once was," he says. "Then our dream will be complete."