This past weekend Fifth Ward Brewing in Oshkosh released its first New England-Style IPA. It’s also the first in a series of hazy IPAs Fifth Ward will produce in collaboration with McFleshman’s Brewing of Appleton.
It’s golden, opaque, and has such an intense hop aroma that you can smell the beer an arms-length away. The scent is all tropical fruit and citrus, somewhere between sweet orange and papaya. The hops are everything here with a palate of candied orange and succulent mango. Bitterness is almost non-existent – there’s just a slight aspirin-like bite at the end that vanishes quickly. This is an impressive beer, with none of the gritty, minerally texture that’s marred so many of the hazy IPAs I’ve had recently. This was a small batch and it may be gone by the time you read this, but hang in there; more is on the way.
In late May, McFleshman’s Brewing opened in Appleton. Over the past few months, the brewery has had Fifth Ward’s self-distributed beer in its line up of guest taps. This beer was born of that relationship. It was brewed in Oshkosh and will be the first in an ongoing series of hazy-IPA collaborations between the two breweries. Ian Wenger of Fifth Ward says they’ll brew a larger batch this week, which should see release in late September / early October.
This is the third New England-style IPA produced by an Oshkosh brewery. HighHolder Brewing and Fox River Brewing have previously released their takes on the style. The Fifth Ward iteration is arguably the truest to style of those that have been brewed here. Its densely cloudy appearance and exaggerated aromatics are spot on.
The approach taken was somewhat unorthodox. It’s come to be accepted that to get this style right a brewer needs to apply major adjustments to their water chemistry and ferment with yeast selected for its ability to produce an obdurate haze. But at Fifth Ward, they brewed their hazy with unadorned Oshkosh water and fermented it with a standard, American ale yeast. It worked. “I think it’s really more about the process than anything else,” Zach Clark of Fifth Ward said.
New England IPAs have been kicking around for about eight years. Until this year, though, the style hadn’t gained much traction here. That’s not surprising. We’ve been a little slow to jump on any of the hoppy bandwagons. It was at least six years into the West-Coast IPA boom before that developed a substantial following in Oshkosh.
The axiom that Oshkosh drinkers prefer beer that leans towards sweet has been a given here for at least 60 years. That’s changing, but to what degree is hard to say. This type of beer, with its low bitterness, may have an easier go of it here. Maybe we’re turning another corner. Can Brut IPA be far behind?