Friday, July 25, 2008

Capital Rustic Ale

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.

Capital Rustic AleCapital Rustic Ale

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).


  1. Great article.
    I have felt that something was happening to the place too, as
    I have also noticed the chaotic beer garden and the strange metallic after taste.

  2. I rarely comment, but have to weigh in on Capital's decline. I moved to Madison about 3 years ago and reveled in all of its excellent craft/microbrew options, Capital being one of them. As of late, I have avoided all Capital beers, mostly due to this awful metallic note you mentioned, which as you pointed out seems to be pervasive across all of their beers. I've never been to the brewery itself so I can't speak to that, but I'm a little sad that I don't enjoy any of the Capital beers anymore being that it's right down the road...
    Luckily Furthermore is pretty much stellar no matter what-- New Glarus and Lake Louie as well.

  3. I gave up on Capital when I went on a tour there. Someone asked, "What's this?" to a fairly large piece of equipment that the tour guide had put her hand on. It was literally in the middle of the way so everyone had to step over or duck under it. The answer: "I don't know. I can ask and tell you later if you want." If you give tours at a brewery and have to step over and around it, you should know what a grain auger is. I thought it was very indicative of their "I don't care what you think of us as long as we already have your money" approach.

    And Capital was my go-to in college (well, besides the champagne of beer, that is).

  4. This is really spot-on and the problem is not just with Capital - although I'm quite dismayed by the product quality and choices of late (I also miss the Kloster and the superlative dark dopplebock, which was like a revelation when it first came out some years ago). What we're in the middle of is a crisis in the world of craft brewing. Good consistent drinkable quality beer is being shunted aside for mango pale ales and "XTREME HOPS UP YOUR ASS!!!" types. I thank you for articulating something that has been disturbing me for a while and is even starting to turn me off to beer (*sudder*).

  5. Good call on the article, thought the same thing. Rustic Ale? Come on. I just hope New Glarus keeps it together, or I may cry.

  6. I can't agree with this more. I did not like this beer and especially didn't like the Gold Digger. I felt the same way about Sprecher's mediocre Tripel. Why are so many lager breweries trying to make Belgian ales? Stick to what you do well guys...

  7. Boy, I can't disagree more...I had Rustic Ale at a benefit back in October, and thought it was one of Capital's best to date.


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