Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Capital Brewery
Middleton, WI

Style: Lager

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Let me begin my latest entry by announcing to the world that I, Sir Nigel, enjoy being different (I’m sure this comes as a huge shock to everyone). Some of the best things in life are those that go against the norm, those that stick it to “the man.” Different is good, and it certainly makes life much more interesting and enjoyable. Those who dare to be different often achieve far more things than those that follow the proverbial herd, and even if one should come up short, at least it was a fun ride.

So what the Hell does being different have to do with Capital’s Fest Beer, a summer seasonal from this German-inspired brewery in Middleton, Wisconsin? Well, for one, it’s a seasonal selection that falls into the marzen/Oktoberfest category that is released in … May. That’s not normal. Perhaps the folks at Capital are using a Celtic calendar, or perhaps they just like the marzen style so much, they thought they’d release it for two straight seasonals. You know that old rhyme: “a style so nice, they released it twice … in a row.” The aptly named Oktoberfest follows Fest Beer (not to be confused with Beerfest) with a late August release on the Capital calendar.

The somewhat odd timing is not ultimately what makes this beer so different, however. What is most unusual is the fact that this is in no way a typical marzen-style brew, but rather a hybrid brew that is part pilsner, part marzen/Oktoberfest, and all too German. It’s undoubtedly the lightest marzen anyone will find anywhere, and the numerous pilsner characteristics help explain why it qualifies as Capital’s summer release. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had a brew that incorporated two distinct styles so intricately as this particular one, and I’d probably rate it higher if it wasn’t for the fact that the styles incorporated are two of the most boring ones out there.

Personally, I believe that there are three major beer categories that are nearly impossible to screw up: brown ales, marzens, and pilsners. These are styles that are either “pretty good” or “not that great,” thus leading to three mug ratings for the former, and two mug ratings for the latter. Show me a five mug pilsner, and I’ll show you a Sasquatch with three nipples and shaved scrotum. Marzen/Oktoberfest brews are usually quite good, but never great. For example Capital’s Oktoberfest is one of the better selections out there, along with New Glarus’ Staghorn. While these are certainly very enjoyable brews, perfect for the late summer/early autumn season, they nonetheless have serious limits. There isn’t much you can do with a marzen to make it a “bold, ballsy beer” without changing the parameters of the style. It is what it is, and that’s essentially the lame middle child in the craft beer family: always there, never standing out, never having anything unique to offer.

Capital’s Fest pours with a thick foamy head that settles quickly, leaving a nice creamy lace at the top of the glass throughout the drink. The first indication that this may be an unusual take on the style is the color. This is far, far too light for a typical marzen; it reminded me of a nice craft pilsner in the glass. A medium golden brown, this lacks the dark amber hue that characterizes a marzen. The aroma backs this up. My first thought after taking a big whiff was “pilsner with a bit more malt.” Then I thought, “No, it’s a weak-smelling marzen that is heavier on the hops.” Oh, I’m so confused. The overall aroma is a bit tame, with sweet caramel maltiness balanced well with a fruity hop tinge.

The taste did little to clear up my style quandary. It’s too bold and malty to be a full-fledged pilsner, too weak and fruity to be a full-fledged marzen. This truly is a beer concocted by evil scientists out to destroy the whole idea of placing brews into nice, neatly defined categories. How dare they try and be different. Malt dominates, but it’s a lighter, sweeter malt, more sugary than you would typically find in a marzen, which tend to be heavier on the roasted malt. While hops are not overwhelming, they are far more present than you normally find in a traditional marzen, once again pushing this towards the pilsner category. What the hell? Here’s the deal: if you tell yourself you’re drinking a marzen/Oktoberfest, then you’re drinking a marzen/Oktoberfest. If you tell yourself you’re drinking a pilsner, then you’re drinking a pilsner. It truly is the best of both worlds. This beer goes both ways, much like Eddie Glick after drinking a bottle of schnapps.

To Capital’s credit, this unique hybrid of beers is perfect for the summer months: lighter in body than a marzen, but more flavor than you would expect from a pilsner. It goes down smooth, is not too powerful at 5.5% ABV, and has a mild aftertaste. While this may not be the perfect brew for a 90° day, it nonetheless would be welcome while sitting by the campfire on a mild summer evening, or while sitting inside on a rainy summer night. Kudos to Capital for creating a truly unique brew; let’s hope the next time they combine two different beer styles, they use more dynamic choices.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on August 1, 2007.
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