A new era is about to begin at Capital Brewery.
A small-batch pilot brewery should be cooking by midsummer, hopefully ending what has been a doldrums for the venerable Middleton brewery.
If you’re wondering why Capital hasn’t graced this column in a while, it’s because the brewery hasn’t kicked out a significant new beer in a while — dating back to Vacation Request, a rye ale released in early 2015, just after the conclusion of a string of new IPA releases.
A three-year new beer drought is an eternity in a beer landscape built on newness, one that Capital’s infrastructure just hasn’t been particularly well suited to traverse. The Middleton brewery makes beer roughly 35 barrels at a time, exclusively for draft these days. The facility has a bomber bottle filler but no other bottling or canning line. Capital beer that’s made for six- and 12-packs is brewed under contract at Stevens Point Brewery, which has an even bigger minimum batch size. Since its last major release, Capital has also pared back its annual lineup, including eliminating red, white and black IPAs introduced since 2013.
Brewmaster Ashley Kinart-Short has been hamstrung by that 35-barrel batch size — that’s quite a bit of beer for a draft- and/or bomber-only one-off, and apparently too big of a risk for the Capital brass.
Enter the small brewery, which arrived at the brewery on May 31 and on which Kinart-Short hopes to begin brewing by early to mid-July.
Along with the seven-barrel brewhouse, there’s three seven-barrel fermenting tanks and a finishing “bright beer” tank.
To say Kinart-Short is ready to get started on her new experimental playground would be an understatement.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “I’m going to be back on the brewing floor, jumping in and doing the dirty work and scrubbing the tanks.”
She’s planning to use each of the three fermenters for a different thread of brewing — one to revive dormant Capital classics; one for new, experimental beers; and one for easy, sessionable ales well suited to the brewery’s often-bustling beer garden.
At the top of Kinart-Short’s list for Capital revivals — those most requested by regulars — are Brown Ale, Kloster Weizen and Manoomator, a wild rice doppelbock that was one of my favorite beers when it came out just before longtime brewmaster Kirby Nelson’s departure in 2012 for then startup Wisconsin Brewing Co.
In describing the experimental beers she was planning, Kinart-Short dropped the magic word: hazy. She thinks a New England-style IPA, with its intense hop flavor but low bitterness, would be a hit with the beer garden crowd. She also said she’s looking forward to making a saison or “proper” farmhouse ale.
“I feel like I’m going to get back to my homebrew days,” she said. “I would do so much research on the history of this one beer style and all the ingredients.”
Much of the beer from the pilot system is destined for the beer garden and expanding indoor taproom, which is doubling its space and draft lines. Those critical on-site venues have seen their selection wane as the brewery winnowed its lineup.
“Over the last couple years we’ve really narrowed down our portfolio. Back then, you could go and have your pick of 15, 16 different beers,” Kinart-Short said. “Now we can start ramping that back up and have a whole bunch all on tap at the same time.”
Capital plans to send a few of the exclusive, small-batch kegs to loyal draft accounts around Wisconsin and Illinois, and a few bombers of the beers may ticketed for sale in the brewery gift shop, Kinart-Short said.
The pilot brewery is not the kind of expansion Capital had in mind five years ago when it announced it would build a new, state-of-the-art brewery in Sauk City — a facility that never materialized due to an increasingly competitive market, particularly for the contract brewing business that had been a key part of the new facility’s model.
But it’s a step in the right direction for a brewery that is a landmark in the local and Wisconsin brewing scene. I’m excited to see what Kinart-Short does with it.
New Glarus silver anniversary
New Glarus Brewing is ringing in a major milestone with a beast of a beer. Released exclusively at the Hilltop brewery on the outskirts of New Glarus last weekend, 25th Anniversary Ale is an 11.5 percent Belgian quadrupel ale brewed with Wisconsin maple syrup & Belgian candy sugar and aged in brandy barrels. I have really enjoyed the quad-brandy barrel combination from other brewers, so I’m looking forward to this one in Dan Carey’s capable hands.
If the pattern of recent brewery-only releases holds, it should be available at the brewery into next weekend at least. A prudent beer seeker will call ahead.
In other New Glarus news of note is the return of a beer that opened some eyes on its first release five years ago: Wild Sour Ale. It’s back in draft and four-packs in mid-July, along with a second infusion of Strawberry Rhubarb four-packs, which sold out quickly after its first release this April.
Oh yeah, Odell
Another big and well-respected craft brewer launched sales in Wisconsin last week. Colorado’s Odell Brewing ranked No. 32 in the Brewers Association’s list of the top-producing U.S. breweries, just ahead of Stevens Point Brewery and a few slots behind No. 26 New Glarus.
Wisconsin is Odell’s 18th state, and the Fort Collins brewery has grown more slowly and deliberately than many of its peers, though that pace has increased lately. Midwesterners may be familiar with Odell’s hop-forward portfolio as it has distributed to Minnesota for several years and rolled out in early 2017 in Illinois, its first state east of the Mississippi River.
Here’s a quick look at some of the beers — all in six-packs of 12-ounce cans — you’ll be seeing from Odell.
90 Shilling: In this easy-drinking Scottish take on an amber ale, caramel-toffee malts blend with delicate floral hops.
IPA: Odell calls 90 Shilling its flagship, but this is rightly the beer it’s best known for. Its classic West Coast profile features bright, citrusy hops with a cool pithy character, some resin and pine, and assertive bitterness against pale, biscuity malt.
Rupture Fresh Grind Ale: To release their delicious and aromatic oils, Odell grinds the hops used in this pale ale, which is bursting with juicy, tropical hop aroma and flavor and moderate bitterness.
Myrcenary: This big (9.3 percent) double IPA is named after myrcene, one of the key compounds in hops. Apt, because this sipper is loaded with hop flavor and aroma: dank resins and tropical fruit led by mango and tangerine.
Cigar City Brewing, a fast-growing Tampa, Florida, brewery renowned for its Jai Alai IPA, is on its way to Wisconsin. Plans call for a launch here in early to mid-July.