Eternal Flame, a new anniversary brew from Capital Brewery and one of the most anticipated new local beers of the year, should be on store shelves beginning Monday, October 3. It's a bold and assertive version of the brewery's fall seasonal Autumnal Fire, and its release could well generate a firestorm of interest.
It was brewed back in April as part of the celebrations marking Capital's 25th anniversary. Those who attended the brewery's birthday party could sign up for the right to purchase the first four-packs directly from Capital, two weeks ahead of the release in local liquor stores. The price should be around $14 for four 12-ounce bottles. (Just so it's clear, no free media privileges for me.) I'm not complaining about the money, though, because how can you put a price on the first taste of Eternal Flame? It's a sipping beer that could go on, as the name indicates, forever.
What is it? Eternal Flame by Capital Brewery of Middleton, Wisconsin.
Style: Eternal Flame is a variation on the Doppelbock style. This is a full-bodied, deep amber to dark brown lager. The flavor features a malty sweetness, especially lightly toasted caramel. Fruity esters can be common but not overwhelming. Hop bitterness is evident but not excessive. A doppelbock will have a strong alcoholic strength ranging from 6.5% to 8% ABV.
Background: Eternal Flame is a vertically brewed beer -- a portion of one year's batch becomes a component in the following year's version. The 2011 vintage is the seed beer for all other batches to come. Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson started with his very popular and very robust Autumnal Fire (itself a limited-release brew), and then made a second beer, designed as an Imperial Dopplebock, with an even maltier body and higher alcohol content. These two beers were then blended to produce Eternal Flame. Nelson plans to hold back a portion of this fall's vintage, which will then be added to a new release next year, in a process that will be repeated year after year.
Nelson says he got the idea about 25 years ago while at a master brewer's meeting in Milwaukee, where he met an employee of New Jersey's Ballantine Brewery. He mentioned that the brewery had a holding tank that had been used from the 1930s until the 1960s without ever being cleaned. The result? When the beer was drawn out of the tank there was always some small amount left that would mix into subsequent batches. Nelson says he found it to be an interesting idea -- that one beer could be used to seed another batch, continuously. So when he started making plans in advance of Capital's silver anniversary, he designed a beer that would stand the test of time.
Nelson calls this fall's release the "mother" batch. Making it involved several batches of beer over several days. However, the first batch was made during Capital's 25th anniversary party this past April 17. The plan is for the process to be repeated every April for an anticipated October release of a new annual vintage.
Eternal Flame 2011 finishes at 9.1 % ABV, and it sells in four-packs for around $14.
- Aroma: Malty.
- Appearance: Clear, deep copper with a ruby hue. A medium and soft tan head.
- Texture: Full bodied, round, some softness with warmth from high ABV.
- Taste: Caramel maltiness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: An alcoholic warmth with complex spicy quality.
Glassware: Eternal Flame is a beer to be sipped. For that reason it is best enjoyed from a snifter to encourage one to slowly savor the flavor and appreciate its strength.
Pairs well with: This is a beer that does well on its own as an after-dinner drink or nightcap.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Okay, I am one of those who watches every year for the limited release of Autumnal Fire so I can stash away a few bottles. These become some of my favorite winter warmer beers. However, I see Eternal Flame as an early entry into this year's big beers, perfect for cooler weather. It's a strong beer with aggressive malty character.
I suggest trying both Autumnal Fire and Eternal Flame side-by-side, and pick your own favorite. Eternal Flame has all the sweet and robust maltiness of Autumnal Fire, only augmented. However, it could stand a few more months of aging to mellow its flavor and round out some of the sharpness and spicy qualities from all the malt and high alcohol. But don't let that stop you from picking up a four-pack now. Better get in line early because this year's 700 cases won't last long. I'm planning to put a couple of bottles back in my fridge -- not for eternity, but at least for the heart of winter when I'm looking for a beer that'll warm me up like a good (autumnal) fire.