I admit it, I'm befuddled by the moves made by Capital Brewery. What is going on over there is, really, beyond me. I've thought about it. I've talked to others about it. I've tried to talk to them about it.
At the end of the day, I'm left with the idea that Capital is trying to change its image to fit into a more modern concept of what it thinks a craft brewery is supposed to be. But, the truly confusing part about this move is that the people involved have really been going at it so haphazardly. For example, Capital's complete abandonment and dismantling of its German lager roots to "chase the dragon" of craft ales. Capital seems intent on exploiting Washington Island wheat for all that it is worth, yet, inexplicably, has not used it to create any German lagers like a hefeweizen, weissebock, or a dunkelweisse; but have instead used it for Island Wheat, a lawnmower ale that replaces a very popular traditional wheat-based lager (kloster weizen) and the Rustic Ale that supplements a popular traditional lager (Wisconsin Amber – next on the axe list?), not to mention the replacement of the summer-time Fest with the, almost, but not-quite inadequate Prairie Gold.
Add to this fascination with ales a sudden "modernization" of the labels. But the labels have not been completely redesigned, just touched up a little to add some new flourishes. They insist on pursuing ridiculous legal action. The beer garden there has turned into complete and utter chaos most nights. I've been on three brewery tours and between tour guides not knowing what they are talking about or Kirby himself just not caring enough to bother answering questions, it's not worth the inexplicable $5 fee. What's so galling is the fact that the new beers have been so damned mediocre. Even old-schoolers seem to agree that there has been an overall decline in production consistency and quality recently.
What we are left with is a brewery that appears to care more about appearances than quality. It is particularly troubling because Capital had such a sterling reputation as a torch-bearer of the true German heritage that is so pervasive here in Wisconsin. Maybe it's jealousy. The other guys get to sit with the cool kids at the IPA lunch table, they get to sip imperial stouts after snowboarding, they get to nosh with Ingrid Synhaeve over a Belgian Tripel. American craft brewing is sexy and exciting. But it's also hyper-competitive, often juvenile, and always fickle.
Being the hot American craft brewery is sort of like being the high school quarterback; it's great for getting laid as a teenager, but the odds of long-term success are remote. On the other hand, being the best traditional brewery is more like being the SuperQuiz master on your high school academic decathalon team; all the jocks kick dirt in your face and laugh until you're the one 20 years later with the phat bankroll and marrying the jock's sister.
Appearance: a vigorous pour into a tall wheat glass forms a dense bright white three-finger head atop a crystal clear, bubbly coppery body
Aroma: malty and strangely metallic; no hop aroma; somewhat reminiscent of the aroma of the Capital Oktoberfest
Flavor: Malty? Maybe? There's a very quick flavor of caramel, then its gone leaving the idea of beer in your mouth; the metallic bitterness holds through in the finish as it warms up
Body: thin and hard-watered; somewhat vacuous
Drinkability: I'm just not feeling it, while it would sessionable if you liked it, I'd rather have Fauerbach's amber;
Summary: I like ambers and reds but this one is just not doing anything for me; it's thin with very little flavor; maybe Capital is going for the golf-cart beer drinkers who want a colored beer, but still can't let go of their tasteless macros; maybe that's the whole new strategy of Capital – they've found a market in people that want to drink local beers but don't actually want to let go of their college swill and prohibition-era lagers; this is a legitimate demographic but, it's odd, because New Glarus has managed to target this audience with the Spotted Cow without abandoning quality and flavor; it's the same audience that goes for Gray's and Fauerbach – is that really what Capital is going for?
Two last things: 1) this metallic-i-ness is very common in a lot of recent Capital beers that I've had. I have no idea what causes it, but it is definitely there, it is not pleasant, and it is pervasive across seemingly all of Capital's beers; 2) the website says that this is an "American Amber Ale" and there is no f-ing way this is an American Amber (medium to full bodied, strong caramel maltiness, with high hop flavors).