Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Capital Brewery Looking For New Brewer

To cap off an event year (or years) for Capital Brewery, add "Head Brewer" to the list of problems. Kirby Nelson, formerly of Capital Brewery, will (re)join Carl Nolen at the new Wisconsin Brewing Co down the street in Verona.

Whether this is a good move, a good brewery, a good idea, only time will tell. I like Carl. I like Kirby. 300,000 barrels is a LOT of beer (indeed 3 times the size of New Glarus - or a little smaller than the size of Leinenkugel's). Wisconsin Brewing Co will instantly become the second largest brewer in the state and one of the 10 largest craft breweries in the country. How they will accomplish that is anyone's guess. But, if I were to guess, it will be heavy marketing of light lagers, combined with aggressive pricing. Presumably, by hiring Kirby, they are signaling that the intent is that Wisconsin Brewing Co be a craft brewery. But the sheer scale of the enterprise makes that a difficult business proposition to say the least.

Doing this without becoming (or being) Minhas, will be a challenge. Regardless of the technical competency of the folks in Monroe - all great people, I am sure - the reputation and flavor profiles of the output from Minhas leave a lot to be desired.

Meanwhile, Capital is left holding the proverbial bag. A difficult, highly custom brewing environment. A fractured and indifferent customer base. New management.

14 comments:

  1. Milwaukee needs several new brewpubsOctober 10, 2012 at 11:10 AM

    I guess they are trying to fill that gateway beer drinker niche but we don't need another brewery that makes light lagers. The market is over-saturated in Wisconsin with run-of-the-freaking-mill lagers and lagers in general.

    Capital excelled at making Dopplebocks but not much else and that's pretty much the only Capital I ever buy these days. Going forward, they might want to think about introducing a few different styles to the Capital Square Series. If they are going to stay away from using hops - they could make a Scotch Ale, a Barley Wine, an Old Ale or an Imperial Schwarzbier. Or perhaps toss something in a Brandy Barrel (the bourbon barrel seems to be overdone a bit).

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  2. So....I remember the Wisconsin Brewing Company located in Wauwatosa that was absorbed into Pioneer brewing (now sand creek brewing) in the late 1990's. The Badger Porter and Oscars Stout were from that brewery before they moved to Black River Falls. Are there any legal issues with the naming? Just curious.

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  3. "The market is over-saturated in Wisconsin with run-of-the-freaking-mill lagers and lagers in general."

    That's funny. We need more craft lagers - the craft pale ale thing is the market that's becoming saturated.

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  4. David, the primary legal issue is that it is a crappy trademark. It is horribly, horribly descriptive (i.e., it is a brewing company in Wisconsin). Not to mention prior users. It is possible that Carl purchased the trademark rights from Sand Creek (who acquired WBC in 1998); I obviously don't know what happened there. I suspect that if Carl did NOT purchase the rights, he might reasonably expect to receive a letter from an attorney advising him that he might be violating some trademarks. Or not, there's a pretty reasonable argument for "abandonment", but that's a pretty weak limb to put a 300K bbl brewery on.

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  5. Also, I should mention that this venture will not be brewing 300K bbls on day one. Obviously, they will grow into that. But to be building a facility with space for 300K bbls without having brewed ONE, is a pretty ballsy move to make with someone else's money. I hear that they will actually start "with capacity in the 35K-40K bbl range" (a quote from someone with inside knowledge). I should note that is as large as the new Ale Asylum facility, and bigger than Sprecher, Lakefront, or Capital for that matter.

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    1. I was realy excited until I heard that Kirby was going to be the brewmaster! All that guy can make is Malty messes!

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  6. I do agree that Capital seems to be really good at bock styles, and the rest of their line up is pretty average. Going to be interesting how this all works out. If Capital keeps their current styles, or if whoever they bring in will put their own stamp on things. Capital could use some variety for sure.
    As for the new company, they really are gong to have to sell a lot of beer right away even if they're going to start "small" at 40k barrels. That's still a lot of beer. Are they counting on name recognition from Kirby and Carl to move that much? Do most people even know who they are?

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  7. I think it could be a great thing if they do some interesting beers. Wet hop, black IPA, bourbon stout,smoked porters,High gravity series.They need to be consistant and not over priced. Adding some type of tasting room/beer garden/small menu of food. If they do like earlier post stated, run of the mill wisconsin beer(minhaus, linnes, grays, point,Capitol,and to a point New Glairus I don't see it going. They need to be like Founders,Surly,Stone. Wisconsin doesn't seem to have a brewery like these where people lineup for their beers(including me!). I don't know if Kirby is that kind of brewer. He can brew a good bock, but anything with hops, Yikes!! Best of luck!

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  8. I love how all the beer geeks want a brewery that'll get their panties wet but this mostly ignores the reality of the market. There's a reason Stone and Dogfish couldn't cut it here.

    I think Capital will be fine. They've really worked themselves into their own niche in the market and while the hopheads don't love them their lawnmower/golf course beers sell well amongst the general public. I'd argue that the "fractured and indifferent" descriptor only applies to the small segment of beer geeks that follow things like this. The people buying pitchers of Supper Club don't give a shit about the brewmaster or the lack of a wet-hopped black IPA. As for me I'll keep drinking their lagers so long as they keep the quality the same.

    As for this new operation I don't see it ever coming close to 300K barrels. I'd think it'll be relatively successful given the experience and contacts Nolen will be able to tap but I'd imagine they are going to have to contract out a good amount of their capacity to cover overhead.

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    1. Dogfishhead left because of their limited brewing capacity.

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    1. While it is nice as consumers to see more choices, I worry that a new large brewery will either a) drive up demand for raw materials, thus driving up costs for the entire craft brewery industry, and b) if unsuccessful in getting sell through, need to cut pricing to compete on price...particularly if too similar to other brands out there.

      That said, if they could buy the Augsburger mark from Point and resurrect those beers, that might give them a leg up from the get go, at least with brand recognition; also, if they could resurrect the Chief Oskosh brand, that would help them in the Fox Valley.

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    2. Just more of the run of the mill boring WI beers.

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