Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Beer Here: A Year Later at Fifth Ward

No Oshkosh brewery has presented a tap list like the one Fifth Ward will offer for its First Anniversary Party on Saturday, November 10. Fifth Ward is marking the event by tapping 20 of their own beers. Most of those will be small-batch one-offs that show the range brewers Ian Wenger and Zach Clark have developed over the past year.

The Beer
At the core of Saturday's line-up is Two Man Job, a 10.6% ABV, double-mashed, stout that was introduced by the brewery earlier this year. Working off that base will be six variations on the Two Man theme. Foster the Banana Job (with banana, vanilla, and Ceylon cinnamon) Almond Job (with almond, coconut, and cocoa nibs); Barista Job (with Ethiopian coffee roasted by Fifth Ward, vanilla, and cocoa nibs); Maple Barrel Job (aged in a maple-syrup barrel); Inferno Job (with Carolina Reaper and Ghost peppers); and Nitro Job (the nitro-pour version of Two Man).

Other notables will be Rye and Shine, an 8.4% ABV Imperial Rye IPA; Primordial Soup, an English-style barleywine that comes in at 10.1% ABV; and Chocolate Milk Stout, which is as the name would lead you to believe.

“The goal is to fill up all of our draft lines with our beer,” says Zach Clark of Fifth Ward. “We’ve never done that before.”

The full line-up will begin pouring at noon on Saturday in the Fifth Ward Taproom.

The Backstory
Ian Wenger and Zach Clark began making beer for Fifth Ward Brewing on the Friday afternoon of October 20, 2017. But getting to that point had taken years.

Clark (left) and Wenger during Fifth Ward’s first brew.

The idea for Fifth Ward was born in 2012. At the time, Clark and Wenger were living in a rented house near the UW Oshkosh campus. Both were going to UW-O and working in the kitchen at Dublin’s Irish Pub. Clark suggested they start homebrewing. The idea quickly inflated. Even before they had made that first batch of homebrew, Clark and Wenger began planning on opening a brewery. Clark was 22. Wenger had just turned 21.

Basement Brewing in 2013. Wenger at the kettle. Clark in the foreground.

By spring 2015, things were taking shape. Clark and Wenger had written their business plan and were looking for a building that could house the brewery. They put a bid in on a property at 611 Oregon Street. But money was an issue. The deal fell through.

In the meantime, Clark and Wenger had met Maurice Berglund. Berglund also wanted to see a new brewery launched in Oshkosh. He got to know Clark and Wenger by making beer with them in the basement of the home where they continued to homebrew. “I was impressed right away,” Berglund says. “Watching and helping them brew and getting to know them better, tasting their beer, observing their work ethic… I kind of fell in love with them, so to speak. Next thing you know, we were working on business plans!”

Maurice Berglund in early 2016.

In 2016 the pieces began falling into place. Clark and Wenger had partnered with Berglund and were on the verge of acquiring the additional financing they’d need. They had also located a property at 1009 South Main. The building had formerly been occupied by Canteen Vending Services. It needed plenty of work. The better part of 2017 was spent gutting the space and remaking it into the Fifth Ward brewery and taproom.

1009 South Main, May 2016.

Demolition underway, May 2017.

The taproom, August 2017.
Installation of the brewhouse began on September 26, 2017.

Clark and Wenger in the new brewhouse, September 2017.
Less than a month later, they were making beer. The first batch was Hades Secret, a robust porter with additions of chocolate and mint. It was a recipe they had developed during their homebrew sessions. On November 8, 2017, the Fifth Ward taproom opened to the public.

For the past year, Fifth Ward’s core line-up has consisted of 842, a hop-forward pale ale; Burl Brown, a brown ale with additions of cinnamon and molasses; and their best-selling beer Comb & Crocus, a wheat ale brewed with honey and saffron. All three beers were built up from recipes Clark and Wenger wrote in their home brewery. The core beers have been supported by a host of one-offs and specialty beers including hazy IPAs and fruited sours.

Most of Fifth Ward’s beer is sold on-premise in the brewery’s taproom. But increasingly it’s finding its way into area taverns and restaurants as well. Clark and Wenger distribute the beer themselves. In addition to the Oshkosh area, the brewery’s current distribution reaches into Fond du Lac, Outagamie, and Sheboygan counties. In tandem with that, production has risen steadily. Fifth Ward’s output now averages approximately 35 barrels a month.

“I think what we’ve done in the past year puts us in a pretty good position for growth,” Wenger says. “There’s a lot more we can do, there’s a lot more we’re going to do, but I think it’s been a good start.”

 Clark and Wenger, November 2017.

Wenger and Clark, November 2018.

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