|Kirby Nelson throwing fish off the roof at Capital Brewery during Bockfest 2012.|
Of course, as has become abundantly clear to me over the years, the two are one and the same and Capital Brewery is merely the marketing device for Kirby's beer. Kirby wants to brew a doppelbock based on a Marzen recipe? Universally adored beer results. Kirby wants to brew a Blonde Doppelbock? Universal adoration. Kirby wants to brew an Imperial Dopplebock and age it in wood barrels? Geek adoration. Corn-based American Lager to go with your fish fry? The marketing machine goes into motion and it's instantly in every supper club in the area. Wheat beer made with local, Wisconsin, ingredients? The press releases flood the business wire.
Like any brewery, Capital, Kirby, has had his misses. Rustic, anyone? Prairie whatever that was? Even Island Wheat and Supper Club are, at least to me and despite what appears to be commercial success, misses.
But, really, what brewery doesn't miss on occassion? Even Craft Beer heroes Stone Brewing Company (Cali-Belique?) and Dogfish Head (Apricot Berliner Weisse?) have had their misses.
Admittedly, it is Capital's ouevre that prevents much of the knob-slobbering. They don't, haven't, played in the food area - no weird fruit beers. They haven't gone overboard on sour beer. They haven't made an undrinkably hoppy IPA. Their misses, and successes, are firmly in the everyday: Munich Dark, Maibock, Amber, Wheat, and American Lagers. Not to mention cornering the market on craft Doppelbocks.
Which is why, I think, Capital has resisted being fully embraced by the Beer Geek. The beer snob that can accurately differentiate the qualities of various Maibocks or Kolschs are few and far between. The beer cognoscenti drink Pilsner and Amber to get away from bombarding their palette with the Russian Imperial Stouts, Double IPAs, and Flanders Sours that get the hushed and whispered adoration. While we love every American Porter that tastes exactly like Edmund Fitzgerald, for some reason we can't embrace a Munich Dark or Doppelbock.
Yet, Capital's Pils and Amber are two of the best of their style. I've said before that Augustiner (one of the 5 classic Munich breweries) and Capital make the two best Doppelbocks in the world. And, quietly, if you've been paying attention, you would notice that Kirby has been getting in touch with his more adventurous side. Imperial Doppelbock aged in oak barrels. Single-hop (Tettnang) Doppelbock. Wild Rice Lager and Doppelbock. Single-hop Cream Ale (Nuggets, if you were wondering). The hugely overlooked Eternal Flame which is a process innovation and experimentation that most beer geeks can't get their head around and simply choose to ignore; if Sam Calagione had done it instead of Kirby everyone in the universe would be making beer with saved wort.
Even some of Capital's misses have been turned around. For example, US Pale Ale, after its re-imagination two years ago, remains criminally underrated and ten-times better than Moon Man could ever hope to be (sorry Dan).
So, why does Capital remain so unappreciated and actively ignored by the craft beer cellar-dwellers? Because Capital has been around since 1984? Because your grandfather drinks Capital? Because Island Wheat is on every golf course in the state? Because the graphic design and marketing are so cloyingly obvious (Supper Club? Pander much?) and disjointed (no two designs are the same)? Because Capital stubbornly resists trends?
Who knows, to be honest. Maybe we'll see a smoked dark. Maybe we'll see more single-hop doppelbocks. Maybe we'll see a whiskey-barrel-aged Imperial Pilsner drawn through a coffee-infused Randall and served on fresh hops. Maybe. But that's up to Kirby; and he doesn't really care what you, or I, think he should do.