Zachary Clark and Ian Wenger discovered a love for brewing beer when they started their operation in the basement of their college home, so they turned it into a career. In their second year of brewing, they came to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UW-Oshkosh for assistance in growing Fifth Ward Brewing.
Zach said of Colleen Merrill, a consultant at the SBDC, “She was good at helping us network. She helped us get our financials together and gave us direction on the next steps to take.” A key element in their growth strategy was obtaining investors. Zach and Ian went on “blind dates” for a year, pitching their idea to people; they also spent time looking at buildings and trying to obtain community backing. The business took a big step forward when Zach and Ian began working with investor Maurice Berglund, who became their third partner because he believed there was room for a progressive brewer in the area’s economy.
When their first plan to purchase property fell through and they endured six months of being declined for loans, the entrepreneurs were not discouraged. They fine-tuned their business plan and presented it again to West Point Bank. Zach said, “We are so thankful they took a second look and then took a chance on us.” They are also grateful for Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corporation who helped this small business with gap financing in 2020.
The announcement that the Menominee Nation Arena, which had been vacant for years, would re-open as the venue for the Milwaukee Bucks inspired Zach and Ian to locate their brewery in the Sawdust District in Oshkosh. They searched for a space with good bones and growth possibilities. They finally purchased a facility on South Main Street in 2016 and worked with Keller Contractors to redesign the space.
Accomplishments with UW-Oshkosh SBDC:
- Financial projections
- Growth strategies
The business is up and booming! Fifth Ward Brewing offers brews that appeal to both beer drinkers and people who traditionally do not drink beer by creating fruit beers and sours as well as margarita beers and a mouth-watering pina colada milkshake ale. Their focus currently is on distribution and the community.
Ian is very active in the local area, assisting with beer-pairing events at Dublin’s Irish Pub, creating a collaboration beer called 1869 for the Oshkosh Yacht Club and partnering with the Oshkosh Main Street Music Festival. The entrepreneurs participated in the Food Finance Institute’s accelerator program which inspired them to interview and provide beer samples to more than 50 bar owners.
They built lots of relationships, learned what these owners wanted from a beer distributer and shared their knowledge of craft beers. All this effort led to getting the right beer in the right bar. And the success was evident.
Fifth Ward Brewing added a crowler machine in 2018 and a canning line in 2020. They have already hired two employees and are hoping to add a tap room manager soon. They also have dreams of expanding. They strive to increase production from their current capacity of 1,000 barrels to about 10,000 barrels in the coming years. Keep your eyes on Fifth Ward for more brewing innovations.