The Fourth of July is that point in the summer when celebrations, family gatherings, parties, and the impromptu backyard barbeque create a wonderful festive atmosphere. So what better beer to mark the occasion that with a beer from Capital Brewery simply and appropriately named Fest!
What is it? Fest by Capital Brewery of Middleton.
Style: Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson doesn't like to put this beer in a box. Rather, he calls it a "German party beer," because it has a solid malty flavor but is light in body and alcohol, making it easier to enjoy more than one in a sitting. It falls between the two classic German beer styles, the Oktoberfest and the Vienna lager. Both are medium-bodied, with a nice balance of hop-bitterness and malty-sweetness. They also range in color from golden-copper to reddish-bronze.
The Oktoberfest, or Märzen, dates back to 1810 and was the celebratory beer honoring the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The very similar Vienna style originated near Vienna in the mid-1800s, and historically the malt used to make it was more highly kilned, leaving it with more light-roasted qualities. Oktoberfests commonly range from 5% to 6% ABV, while the Vienna is slightly lower in strength. While Fest has the golden copper color of the modern Oktoberfest, it has the firm maltiness, biscuit notes and lower alcohol of the Vienna.
Background: Nelson first made Fest in 1996 for Capital Brewery's 10th anniversary. It was originally released in large 22-ounce bottles, but didn't sell well in that format. Since then, it has appeard in six-packs. When it was first released, the brewery dedicated the beer to the memory of Joe Kuehn and Toby Reynolds, who played special roles in helping establish the Middleton-based brewery. Reynolds, a local attorney, was an early chairman of the board for it. Kuehn, a tireless supporter of Capital, provided much needed investment capital at several points as the brewery struggled to get off the ground. Both men died unexpectedly just before the brewery turned ten.
Capital Fest usually makes an annual appearance beginning in May and it stays around until August, when the brewery releases its Oktoberfest. Fest is made primarily with German Pilsner and Vienna malts, and Tettnanger hops. It is fermented at around 32? for three to four weeks, and finishes at about 3.8% ABV. It has won several awards, including gold medals at the Beverage Testing Institute's World beer Championships in 1996 and 2005. The beer sells for around $7.50/six pack.
Capital fans might also want to stop by the brewery's bier garten or the Capital Tap Haus to sample Nelson's latest small-batch brew that he calls Hop Cream A, just released in the last week. Nelson made only one trial batch of this brew. It's based on a cream ale style, only more assertively bitter from additions of Northern Brewer hops. It's a beautiful copper-colored beer with hops that turn up early in the flavor, followed by a biscuit-like maltiness in the finish. Nelson calls it "batch A" because he's still tweaking the hops to get the bitterness where he wants it.
- Aroma: A very light toffee nose.
- Appearance: Deep, clear golden-copper color and a medium-thick, soft, tan head.
- Texture: Light- to medium-bodied with a round mouthfeel.
- Taste: Clean, with just enough bitterness for balance amidst the biscuit-like maltiness.
- Finish/Aftertaste: There is a light emphasis on the caramel tones of the malt, but overall very clean ending.
Glassware: Fest is a wonderful summer session beer. Grab a heavy glass mug with a thick handle and head to the patio. The mug will insulate and keep it cool, while highlighting the copper color.
Pairs well with: This is great beer for foods hot off the backyard grill.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: Capital Fest is a clean and pleasant beer. It's very drinkable, light enough that most can enjoy more than one in a sitting. The beer is well balanced in its bitter and sweet tones, so it blends with a variety of grilled entrees to make it versatile for summer meals. While I personally would like just a little more in the hints of biscuit and caramel from the Vienna malt, Nelson has found a happy medium with a firm yet light malitness. Too much malt and it would just seem sticky and heavy, which isn't what one wants on a hot day. The color and robust flavor give Fest an air of confidence among the long list of light and fizzy summer showoff brews.