In the summer of 2009 when we began our beer trail rides, craft breweries were just beginning to pop up. Locally, there was the Fox River Brewery and in the southern part of the state New Glarus Brewery. And it seemed to us as if the local breweries that had been around for ages, such as Kingsbury in Sheboygan, were disappearing or gone completely or were swallowed up by large breweries such as Miller and Budweiser. So it was that on our first ever trail ride we chose Oblio’s as they were serving the original Schlitz after Schlitz had made the mistake of changing the formula of its original beer and gone from #1 selling beer in America to zilch. The “real” Schlitz was back. Even now, having been on this glorious beer trail ride nearly nine years, we usually opt for the smaller, craft breweries. You will see New Glarus’ Spotted Cow mentioned frequently in our blog posts. Having said that, we were looking forward to stopping in at The Fifth Ward Brewery, Oshkosh’s newest, on November 9, which was a Thursday.
Normally we prefer a Tuesday or Wednesday but our choices were limited. Don and Judy would be headed to Florida in a week. Marv and I were headed to New Orleans the week before Thanksgiving and Elaine and Gary were headed to California’s Death Valley the same time we would be in The Big Easy.
The founders of The Fifth Ward, Zach Clark and Ian Wenger, became brewers while students at UW Oshkosh. They lived in a rental house on Prospect Avenue in Oshkosh’s real Fifth Ward. In that house’s basement they brewed their first beer. And yes, their landlord knew they were doing this. “We read every book we could find” on the art of brewing they told us. And they served “culinary apprenticeships” under Ron Kitckes at Dublin’s Irish Pub, on Oshkosh’s west side. Finally they were ready to launch their own brewery. They say they picked the name Fifth Ward even before they started brewing beer.
Their location at 1009 South Main Street, in the newly named Sawdust District, is just a block north of the new Menominee Nation Arena where the Milwaukee Bucks G-League team, the Herd, plays its basketball games. I don’t know what ward of the city this is.
The Fifth Ward serves their own beer plus many others. That November 9thnight, they had 22 beers in addition to their own. Don ordered a flight that included their three Fifth Ward beers plus New Glarus’ Snowshoe and Three Sheeps (Sheboygan) French Coast. Fifth Ward beers were Comb and Crocus, a honey saffron wheat ale, Burl Brown, a cinnamon molasses brown ale, and 842 Pale, a dry hopped American Pale Ale. We all took sips. I liked the Comb and Crocus. I’ve yet to develop a taste for brown ale. Well, since I’m a Sheboygan native, I also liked the 3 Sheeps French Coast. Then we settled in with full glasses: Judy had Outboard from the Milwaukee Brewing Company. Elaine chose the 3 Sheeps French Coast and Marv and I had the New Glarus Snowshoe. One of those 22 taps is a craft soda, Sprecher’s Root Beer.
The barroom itself is on the north end of the brewery building. It’s about twenty feet wide and 50 feet deep. Opposite the bar, seven small tables line the east wall. The taps are on the wall behind the bar, backed up to the brewery’s cooler. Therefore, no lines are needed leading from keg to tap. And they say, the beer is colder.
The bar is beautiful. Its wood is blue denim pine from North Dakota —a honey colored pine with blue veins. A fungus causes the blue coloration. For added interest, one of the bar’s boards sports a bullet hole. A man from Neenah who built the bar for the Lyon’s Den built the bar here. If you’ve been a faithful reader of our blog, you will recall our visit to the Lyon’s Den after it had been rebuilt following a fire that destroyed the old tavern. Look up our post on that place here: Lyon’s Den: A Phoenix Out of the Ashes atwww.ridingthebeertrail.wordpress.com.
We were at the Fifth Ward on their second day after their grand opening. Seated next to us at the bar were Scott and Julie, members of the investment team. I gave them one of our cards and told them how pleased we were to see this place open. And we wished them lots of luck. There were lots of people in the place that night celebrating the newly opened brewery. We munched on popcorn and drank our beer while chatting with other patrons. Popcorn is the only food available there. However, they have made a deal with Gardina’s restaurant. One can order a meal at the Fifth Ward from Gardina’s and they will deliver it to the Fifth Ward. All the other bars we have visited have some kind of juke box \ music machine. Things are much simpler here—just a 33 rpm record player. Yep, check out our photo.
As they usually do, Marvin and Elaine went on the tour of restroom. Brand new and spotless with off-white walls. And each had a baby changing station. The men’s also had a poster advertising the Fox Valley Winter beer fest on Jan. 13.
Among ourselves we talked about our upcoming travels. Don and Judy had been to New Orleans last year and told us we must have some beniets. I didn’t tell them that I had been there years ago and much preferred pralines to beniets. But really all the food in New Orleans is great. When my sister and I were in high school, our parents took us to New Orleans during March for a two-week vacation. My folks loved that city especially the French Quarter. My dad never passed up a chance to have raw oysters. I knew that Marv was looking forward to having some of those too. We think Elaine and Gary have been to nearly all the National Parks in the USA. We were curious as to what Death Valley would be like and asked them to look for the mule team loaded with Borax.
We had a serious conversation about another mass shooting. This time in Las Vegas. Don, sarcastically, commented that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (a Wisconsin Congressman) said, “Prayer works.” Really? Apparently God’s not listening to anyone praying for tighter gun laws. Now I am writing this post in February 2018 and there has been another mass shooting. This time at a high school in Florida. Time to write to my Congressman and Senator once more.
One last item since our visit at the Fifth Ward. Marv and I have been to a Milwaukee Bucks G-League Herd game at the new Menominee Arena just a block away from the Fifth Ward. We noticed Fifth Ward beer is on sale at the arena. We think things are looking good for Oshkosh’s Sawdust District. Now if only someone would buy the dilapidated Pioneer Inn property and build a hotel and marina there.
We had finished our beer and bowls of popcorn. Time to find a place for supper. We headed to West End Pizza.