The final stop of the Great Lakes leg of the tour was at Fifth Ward Brewing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on a stormy Saturday. It was an interesting day in Oshkosh for a few reasons: first, there was a huge hard rock/metal music festival happening. Second, there was a big aerospace technology event going directly across the highway from the music festival. Both events were camp-onsite, with tents and R.V.s as far as the eye could see. And third, there was violent weather.... huge thunderstorms, big hail, massive rain, and tornadoes touching down just to the north.
I spent the early afternoon in a library, where I had planned to pump out a couple of blogs on the recent shows, but as soon as I got set up the first wave of storms hit, a tornado warning was issued, and the library made us all gather in the center of the building and sit in a hallway for about an hour. Luckily the tornadoes that touched down were further north, so it seemed more like a hassle at the time than it was worth, but I suppose they have procedures to follow for these sorts of things.
Fifth Ward Brewing Company - Oshkosh, WI
Beers are available at the tap room. Please check the website for any additional distribution.
My gig was in the evening, and by the time it was due to start the storms had passed and we were just left with a rather muggy evening. Oshkosh, or at least the part of town where Fifth Ward is located, had an almost rust-belt sort of feel to it. I didn't have a chance to research the town's history or what industries it was involved in, but it did have as sort of Northern Ohio/Pennsylvania feel to it (at least this part of town did... I didn't get to see much of the city due to the weather, though, so I can't really speak to the rest of the town.
Fifth Ward is on a corner lot, parking on the side and a large beer garden in the back. As it was really muggy they had me play inside, anticipating that most people would opt for the air conditioned tap room. The taproom is long and rectangular, with me setup all the way to the back, with a garage door behind me that would open up to the beer garden if we so wished. One thing that caught my eye here was the interesting artwork of local artists displayed on the walls, along with eclectic displays of knickknacks and memorabilia and such.
As I've been apt to do on these warmer days, I started off with a refreshing sour before my set. Fifth Ward has what they call their Fruitenanny Series, which uses their Hootenanny Blonde Ale as a starting canvas for various fruited kettle sours. Being a popular series in the summer, some of them were actually sold out, but I did get to drink the fabulous Pineapple Chamomile and the Blueberry Peach versions. Each were very crisp and refreshing, with the blueberry more pronounced in both the aroma and taste, with the peach being there almost more for the texture, although it did mix well with the blueberry so it wasn't too much blueberry. The Pineapple Chamomile was breathtaking. The pineapple fragrance alone was wonderful, but the fruit flavor mixed just perfectly with the blonde ale's pale malt base, and then I can't even describe what the chamomile added, but it was just perfect. I picture sitting in under a big tree in the shade drinking this one right out of a growler.
As the sun went down and I ended my first set people were getting a little more interested in the beer garden, so we actually did something kinda fun on the fly... we opened the bay door to the garden and reinforced my sound system that was setup inside with additional equipment of the venue's to pump the music outside as well. This sounded great, and was also interesting because I still played facing the inside, with the beer garden behind me, so sometimes people would approach me from the beer garden (coming up being me) and scare the bejesus out of me while I was playing my second set. I often enter an almost meditative headspace while playing, so someone unexpectedly popping up from behind me and grabbing my shoulder, etc. can really be quite jarring, in a funny way.
For my second set I switched to more traditional brews, the first being the 848 Pale Ale (6%), which is Fifth Ward's flagship American IPA, and a respectable one at that. A beer for hop lovers without being overly hopped, it is a smooth easy drinker made with Magnum, Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade hops. A little bitter, with dominant citrusy tones, it is a well balanced IPA that drinks smooth but with enough body and mostly fruity hoppy character to make it interesting.
This day marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing (or as we coined it, the 50th anniversary of the faked moon landing...), and as such I closed out the night with Bowie's Space Oddity. I hadn't played it in ages, but I remembered it just fine, and as if written in the stars my voice (which gave me a few problems earlier in the run) started getting creaky right at the end of the song, which was the end of this leg of the tour. Tragedy narrowly averted, indeed.
At the end of the night I had a few little sample sips of their two Hazes/New England IPAs, and they were both quite good. I can't really review them because I don't really think that's possible off just a sip, you need a pint to really get a feel for how a beer registers after a few sips, whether it's still enjoyable at the end of the pint or only good for a few sips, etc. Unfortunately, with this being the last stop on this leg of the tour I had a long drive home, so I needed to know when to say when.
Fifth Ward was a fun place. Their outdoor bar and beer garden looked like a lot of fun for perhaps slightly cooler temperatures, and their crowd and staff were friendly people. It was a good place to cap off this leg of the tour, and (along with many of the breweries on this upper Great Lakes swing) was yet another reminder that it is worth venturing off the path to try these smaller breweries. If you're going to Oshkosh or perhaps just passing through, it's worth the stop for a few pints.
From Oshkosh I headed back south, back through Milwaukee, and headed for home... via Chicago. August will be mostly spent hitting breweries throughout Ohio, and then the Labor Day swing through the mountains and back east for another swing up the North Carolina and Virginia coasts. I will be playing Chicago in October, so hopefully I'll make it back up to at least the southern parts of Wisconsin on that run.