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The mystique of sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago and a fascination with the art of distilling drew University of Wisconsin Oshkosh history professor Karl Loewenstein to an interesting new entrepreneurial venture—one that may include a few history lessons for his students.

Loewenstein grew up in Iowa, but has lived in Oshkosh for more than two decades and has grown attached to the special characteristics of the city on the lake.

As frozen Lake Winnebago is a destination for thousands who come hoping to spear a massive lake sturgeon each February, Loewenstein hopes his Sturgeon Spirits craft distillery will be a destination at 2663 Oregon St., Oshkosh. The opening is planned later this month.

Karl Loewenstein

More than a hobby

Loewenstein started working on distilling about five years ago, and he thinks Sturgeon Spirits is a great combination of his passions at this time in his life.

“It turns out that I really enjoy the chemistry, the experimentation, the equipment and the flavors of the distilling process,” he said.

Loewenstein has been teaching at UWO for 20 years and was looking into new opportunities to explore and learn. He discovered craft distilling is a booming industry—one that Oshkosh didn’t have.

When he had the idea to create a distillery and tasting room, he knew he would incorporate the Lake Winnebago spearing tradition into his designs. Sturgeon spearing has long intrigued him—especially after learning his house was once owned by sturgeon poachers.

Sturgeon Spirits will produce distilled spirits, Loewensten said. He’ll start with those that do not need to age—vodka, gin and rum. “I will also do barrel whiskey and bourbon,” he added, “but those need to age before they are ready to be sold.”

The professor

Loewenstein is developing a college course on the history of vodka that takes a look at Russia and the role that alcohol plays in the development of that society. He thinks there are great teaching opportunities with the distillery.

“Distilling has a deep place in U.S. history, reaching back to the whiskey rebellion shortly after the revolution,” he said.

Loewenstein also is thinking about a series of public lectures as part of the UWO Learning in Retirement program and considering how students might learn the chemistry of distilling to help him run a small business.

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