Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Novel Thought at Fifth Ward

Novel Thought is a dark ale that went on tap this past weekend at Fifth Ward Brewing in Oshkosh. It’s a beer that captures the essence of the brewery.

The Beer
It's nearly black with a tan, creamy foam that hangs on the glass. The malty aroma is intense, immediately reminding me of malted milk. Behind that are notes of chocolate, tobacco and a touch of roast. Those malt flavors dominate the palate, yet the beer is quaffable with a clean, bright finish. At 5.5% ABV, it's light enough to be sessionable with just enough heft for these transitional days of spring.

The Backstory
Ian Wenger and Zach Clark, brewers at Fifth Ward, have been kicking around the idea of this beer for years. "This one goes back to our homebrew days," says Clark. "We saw this video where a brewer was doing something he was calling a dirty blonde ale and that stuck in my head for the longest time. We liked that idea of a light dark beer. Once we had the brewery going, we did a pilot batch and that became the original start for Nordheim (a Mild Ale the brewery released last April). "

But Novel Thought is not Nordheim. This is dark ale pared down to essentials. The base malt is Bairds Maris Otter from the 1823 Heritage collection, a low-protein malt that brims with character. Small additions of pale chocolate malt and carafa (a coloring malt) round out the grain bill for an ale that skirts conventional style guidelines. At Fifth Ward, they're calling it a Brunette Ale. That's not saying much. It's not a porter or stout. It's not a mild ale or brown ale. It's something onto itself. "It's those expensive European malts!" Clark says.

But it’s more than that. Over the past few of months, I've noticed a certain house flavor in several of Fifth Ward's beers. I can't describe it. It’s subtle, but I know it when I taste it, and I always like it. This beer has it in spades. It’s the mark of a brewery coming into its own and creating something unique unto itself. And that's what local beer is really all about.

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