Keith Potter of Sheboygan was driving home listening to the radio one day back in 1984 when he heard a story about a new brewery being launched in Middleton. The report caught his attention when it mentioned that the brewery was selling shares in the company. So he borrowed $500 from his brother, and bought 200 shares in what became Capital Brewery. Potter was one of the first to invest in the fledgling business that released its first beer in 1986.
Capital Brewery marked the 25th anniversary of this first batch of beer released on April 17, 1986 with a celebration this past Sunday. Potter was on hand at the Middleton brewery with his family, a visit similar to the annual treks they make to Madison each August for the annual gatherings of shareholders, which he says are more of a party than a business meeting. And this weekend's anniversary bash most surely didn't disappoint.
There was plenty of beer and food for the several hundred people who turned out, and the brewery itself was open so visitors could explore on their own, throughout the facility.
Brewmaster Kirby Nelson was present, not just to greet fans of his beers, but to work. Throughout the day, he could be found standing over a brew kettle, making a very special batch of beer to mark the occasion. Every year, one of Nelson's most anticipated creations is a fall seasonal called Autumnal Fire, a hearty doppelbock with a robust maltiness and fire all its own from an 8% ABV.
Nelson came up with the idea of brewing a special version of Autumnal Fire for the brewery's anniversary that he's calling "Eternal Flame." He stared a 50-barrel batch during the party, amidst music and libations. Later this week, he'll start a similar brew that he's calling "Imperial Fire." This will be added to the first batch of Autumnal Fire, and together this blend will be the "Eternal Flame." Every year hence, Nelson will hold back a portion of the previous batch, and blend it with a new vintage. Through this process, the beer will live up to its name.
Adding even more symbolism to the this beer is the legacy of Capital Brewery preseident Carl Nolen, whoses father Pierce once owned the Congress Bar and Grill in downtown Madison. That establishment was destroyed by fire on January 13, 1966, but a stone from the building's wall was rescued from the rubble. Dubbed the "Congress Stone," it was placed into the brewery's grant tank and the boiling wort was allowed to wash over it.
The legend of the Congress Stone says it has special healing powers. "There's so much magic around here at the brewery that it just seemed natural to work it into the brew," said Nolen.
Eternal Flame is expected to be released in four-packs come autumn. Nelson isn't sure just how the flavor will compare to his legendary Autumnal Fire, but he's expecting even more maltiness and alcohol.
While Nelson continued to brew away on Sunday, back in the brewery's Bier Garten the beers of choice for during the party seemed to be Capital Pilsner and Capital Dark. These two lagers were the very first beers made by Nelson and bottled by the brewery back in 1986.
When asked about those early brews, shareholder Keith Potter admitted he wasn't too excited about the way that first beer tasted when he attended Capital's first shareholders' party 25 years ago. However, over the years, he says, the beer has become really good. He's paid back his brother, and purchased more Capital Brewery shares in 1998 and then again for his son's 21st birthday in 2003.
As for the return on his investment, Potter said, "Have I ever received a dividend? Well, I'm holding it in my hand," as he pointed to his beer glass.