Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A First Look at Fifth Ward Brewing Company

Ian Wenger and Zach Clark have some busy months ahead of them. The two are currently in the thick of preparing a brewery and taproom they hope to open later this year at 611 Oregon St. in Oshkosh.

Clark and Wenger would like to have their Fifth Ward Brewing Company operational by December. “That’s giving us some time to get everything done,”  Clark says. “We should be able to get it turned around. The biggest thing will be finding our investors.”

They’re off to a good start. Clark and Wenger have now raised approximately half the funding they’re seeking. Last week, their bid on the Oregon St. property was accepted. Already resolved is the vision of the brewery they want to establish there.

The brewery’s taproom would be open Wednesday through Saturday. They’d like to start with 10 tap lines, at least eight of them pouring Fifth Ward beer. Clark and Wenger describe the beer they intend to brew as “culinary inspired.” Not surprising considering that both have worked as chefs in the kitchen at Dublin’s Irish Pub for several years.

“That's going to be the focus of a lot of our recipes,” says Wenger. “We’ll lean towards using some unusual and interesting ingredients.” The duo will act as co-brewmasters. Variety will be emphasized.

“A third of our beers will be one offs and specialties,” says Clark. “Every month we'll be coming out with a new beer. We're also looking at doing a continual sour line.”

The brewhouse producing that beer will be located near the rear of the Oregon St. building. Clark and Wenger intend to install a 10-barrel brewing system that will feed four 20-barrel fermenters.

Clark (left), and Wenger
Not all of Fifth Ward’s beer would be sold out of its taproom. “We’ll distribute kegged and bottled beer in the Oshkosh area ourselves,” Wenger says. “We've been going around town talking to people about our beer and asking what they would like to see from us. Right now we have about eight letters of intent to purchase.” They anticipate selling about 360 barrels of beer within the brewery’s first year of operation.

Clark, 24, and Wenger, 23, have been researching their startup for more than three years. “We’ve been doing our homework figuring out costs and poking into every little corner of what we need to do to get this up and running,” says Wenger. “We have a very clear idea of what we want this to be, our brand, and the types of beer we’ll sell.”

They’ve received guidance from other Wisconsin craft brewers including Russ Klisch, president of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery. “Russ is going to be our mentor through an accelerator program,” says Clark. “He'll be coming here Wednesday to check this place out and meet with us. We're definitely excited about that.”

If their plan comes to fruition, Clark and Wenger will be adding to a legacy that precedes them by more than 150 years. The name they’ve chosen for their brewery is a reference to both Oshkosh brewing history and their own introduction to beer making.

Oshkosh’s first Fifth Ward Brewery was launched in 1857 on land that is now part of the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh campus. When Clark and Wenger began brewing three years ago, they lived just a block from the site of the old brewery.

“It’s where we learned how to brew,” Clark says. “The name is an ode to that.”

“It's also a nod to the history of brewing in Oshkosh,” adds Wenger. “We really want to incorporate that into what we're trying to do. We want to keep that history alive.”

“We're really trying to make it happen,” Clark chimes in. “We have some work to do, but we’ll get there.”

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