The third week of the Smithsonian’s Beer Gazetteer 2008 was Capital Brewery Co. out of Middleton, WI. The Gazetteer’s synopsis says, “In copper kettles imported from Germany, brewmaster Kirby Nelson brews a wide range of German-style lagers, from a pilsner and helles to rich doppelbocks.” Their specialties are strong, malty lagers in the German style. They are more of a “traditional Wisconsin brewery than a microbrew” according to Kirby. They are big on local business, getting wheat from Washington Island (more on that at the bottom) and their tanks from Elroy, WI.
I have to admit, this one brewery is THE reason we signed up for this class. Capital brews my fiance’s favorite beer of all time, Capital Amber. The beer just doesn’t make it out to DC, and, frankly, we miss it. Before the liquid restrictions on airplanes, we used to fill up our backpacks (2 carry-ons each) and bring back cases of it on the plane. Now that’s a little more difficult. Anyway, Kirby, the head brewer, was funny and knowledgeable. We even took him out to dinner the next night! If you’re ever in Middleton, WI (a suburb Madison, home of the University of Wisconsin) head out to their beer garden. It opens yearly on the last Saturday of February to introduce the Blonde Doppelbock and is open at least through the fall. It’s definitely worth the trip!
Bavarian Lager – Helles (pale) golden
Pleasant, easy to drink flavor with a clean aroma.
The aftertaste is sweet from the malted barley.
The website says, “A golden, pleasantly smooth beer. Based on the Munich “Helles” style. Nice, mellow malt flavor and a unique and mild hop flavor.”
Special Pilsner – 4.8% ABV – Bavarian-type pilsner
Light golden color with a clean, pleasant aroma. Uses German malts, giving more flavor than US ones.
This is a dry-tasting beer and is more hoppy than other Bavarian lagers.
Fun fact: this beer took Kirby 20 years of tinkering to get right.
Munich Dark – 5.2-5.4% ABV
Drinkable, sweeter than I expected. It’s very rich and bold, but also smooth. Tasty!
It’s also pretty transparent, which was also unexpected.
Caramel, black, and Munich malts
Rustic Ale – 5% – American Amber Ale
Biscuity flavor. The flavor lingers more than the others.
25% of the grain used in this beer is from Washington Island, in Lake Michigan, off the coast of Door County. The wheat from the island is also used in Capital’s Island Wheat (one of my favorites and more about the island at the end).
Oktoberfest – 5.5% ABV
Their #1 selling beer! It has a great amber color and a wonderful taste. One of my favorites.
They use Munich malt for this, at a higher temperature for richness.
The name of the beer originally comes from the big blowout party at the end of the harvest after it has been worked on all summer. Hence Oktoberfest! Traditionally, there is a similar one in March, usually named Marzen or Martzen.
Blonde Doppelbock – 7.5-7.6% ABV – Bock = Goat in German!
Much stronger than a normal lager. The flavor is also much more emphasized. Golden in color.
This one was not my favorite, but my fiance really enjoyed drinking my portion.
The bock beer law in Germany says it needs to have 16 gravity. Technically, Capital is making it wrong, because this is only 11.8 gravity (11.8 lbs solids). Being wrong never tasted so right!
Baltic Porter – 8.2% ABV – Hybrid beer
They use Black Boss malt. I also wrote down “Amber candy sugar” for this. I’m sure Amber means the color, but I have no idea what my notes mean. It wasn’t my favorite, but I liked it better than the Special Pilsner and the Blonde Doppelbock (both my least favorites).
Limited release and sold in a 4-pack.
Autumnal Fire – Malt liquor high ABV, it was the last beer, cut me some slack
Very rich with a wonderful red color! Tied for first in my book with the Bavarian, Munich, and Octoberfest. I love it! It apparently also ages very well.
It also won the Gold at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival! (also won gold in 2004 and 2006)
Autumnal Fire has the same material as the other beers, but reduced output. They produce 8,000 bottles instead of the usual 12,000.
The name came about 10-12 years ago when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story about the brewery with a picture of Kirby holding up this beer. A brewery worker called it Autumnal Fire, because of the way the light hit it in the picture. Apparently, the government originally turned down the registered name because of the high ABV with a very strong name. Capital got a lawyer from ATF and got it pushed through.
The following are just my notes from the event. Kirby had a lot of interesting things to say. I’m a note taker.
While Island Wheat was not tasted at the event, it’s one of my favorites. I’m partial to hefeweisens and other wheat-based beers. Island Wheat was a cream ale originally, but they decided to create a wheat beer out of it instead (originally called Wisconsin Wheat). Washington Island Hotel makes bread from the locally grown grains on the island. One year, the locals grew too much. They called up Capital; Island Wheat was born! The island is a unique climate for the grain, with 20 wheat farms on a 22 square mile island! Fun fact: Washington Island Hotel makes vodka, gin, and whiskey from the extra grain.
Capital’s 1900, a pre-prohibition-style beer, has been discontinued due to poor sales. My fiance was super bummed about this, as he LOVED it. The recipe was modified from a 1911 Schlitz recipe that one of Kirby’s friends got a hold of. They changed the malt and tried white grits, then white rice.
Capital often works with Madison’s own Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company. We love that place; we’re even having our rehearsal dinner there! Anyway, Capital and Dane worked together to make Supper Club Beer, an American premium lager with “an Eisenhower mindset.” The catchphrase for the beer is “don’t pour until four,” as in 4:00 pm. Supper clubs are big in Wisconsin. The beer’s proceeds went to a fundraiser to make playgrounds accessible to disabled children.
For more of my posts on beer, including the other Beer Gazetteer breweries, please visit our beer section.