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Beer Reviews

U.S. Pale Ale

Capital Brewery
Middleton, WI

Style: American Pale Ale

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

It’s time for another hop-dominated review by Sir Nigel, who was recently sworn in as a government-certified hopologist (hopologists work the Department of Homeland Security, as it is far too important a role to be handled by the freaks at the FDA). I also take my duties as the resident hophead at quite seriously and will defend that title to the death should Eddie Glick, a true hop lover himself, ever try to usurp me. Thus, as a federal hopologist and hophead extraordinaire, I explode with glee every time I see a new APA, IPA, D/IIPA, or ORHB (other random hoppy brew) hit the store shelves, which often causes quite a mess.

I had been alerted by Eddie that Capital Brewery, the Middleton, Wisconsin-based maker of German-style ales, had recently released an American pale ale. I found this hard to believe for a few reasons. First of all, Capital has been around for over 20 years and had thus far stayed true to their basic brewing philosophy of making quality, German-inspired beer. Year-round releases include Munich Dark, Special Pilsner, Capital 1900, Bavarian Lager, and, until recently, Kloster Weizen, all of which are very, very German. The seasonal releases are heavy on the bocks, as well as summer and fall Oktoberfests. The only slight deviations were the Brown Ale and Wisconsin Amber. A couple of years ago Capital came out with the unfortunately popular Island Wheat, which was marketed differently (read: en masse) from their other brews, but was still close to their German roots. Hell, I didn’t figure Capital would know what a Cascade hop was if it hit them in the face. Their hoppiest brew had been Autumnal Fire, which is a dopplebock, for god’s sake! Also, Capital isn’t a brewery that comes out with new offerings very often. Island Wheat was the last new creation outside of the very-limited release Vintage Ale, and that was nearly two years ago (Island Wheat also marked the unfortunate end of Kloster Weizen, which was a far, FAR superior wheat ale). Finally, Eddie once told me that nut brown ales are brewed with squirrel testicles, so it’s not like he hadn’t made shit up before.

So, with all this evidence, there’s no way in Hell Capital would come out with an APA, right? Wrong. The day after hearing about U.S. Pale Ale from Eddie, I found it, much to my surprise, at a local retailer near my hometown. Perhaps the limited release last year of Vintage Ale, an English-style strong ale (also reviewed by yours truly), should have served notice that Capital was finally willing to stray from their all-German theme. Vintage Ale was a decent attempt at a non-German brew, though its release was very small, leading me to believe at the time that it was a brief side project (also, English strong ales really aren’t too different from bocks—they just tend to be hoppier). Perhaps Capital has finally come to their senses and realized that English beers are superior to their German counterparts.

U.S. Pale Ale (way to name it, guys—a dyslexic iguana could have come up with a better title) is heavy on the Cascade hops, at least according to the poorly-written description on the side of the package. To the best of my knowledge, this would be Capital’s first venture into the wonderful world of Cascade, as the hops used in their previous brews were likely European (exceptions perhaps being Island Wheat and Wisconsin Amber, which are not hop-dominated and thus hard to distinguish as to origin). It would take a minor miracle for a brewery with virtually no hop experience to create a four or five mug APA, but I guess anything’s possible.

U.S. Pale Ale pours like an APA should, with a frothy white head bubbling up and quickly dissipating, leaving a bit of creamy white trace. The color is extremely light for an APA—a clear, pale golden brown hue with lots of bubbles and no sedimentation. The aroma is average in strength, though atypical for an APA. There's a hint of Cascade aroma here, but it’s much sweeter than I was expecting. Strong aromas of honey, light grain, and citrus placate the typically piney scent of Cascade hops. It doesn’t really look or smell like a good APA, but ultimately it’s the flavor that counts.

As for that flavor, it’s, well … pretty blah. I’m comparing this somewhat to New Glarus’ recent “APA” release, Organic Revolution, which was a HUGE disappointment, especially from a quality brewery that has been successful in the past with hops. Since this is Capital’s first real attempt, they get a bit of a pass. USPA is too light in body to make it a good APA and not heavy enough on the Cascade characteristics, but it isn’t awful … they could've done worse. Equal parts hoppy, earthy, and sweet, USPA is well balanced, but too light and flavorless. As with the aroma, I taste some honey in this, which isn’t what I’m looking for in an APA. Hops are present, but not to the degree that I was hoping for or to the extent they should be in an APA. A slight piney, grapefruit zip is tempered by a strong grainy flavor of two-row barley. Sweet, light malt should be present in an APA, but not nearly to the level that it is here. Fairly light in body, USPA goes down smooth and could make a session beer, as long as you’re willing to drink a tame APA. No ABV is listed, but I’d be shocked if it was much more than 5.5%. I’m guessing the IBUs are also far too low for a typical APA.

All in all, a fair first attempt by Capital at a style they’ve never before experimented with. If they’re willing to spend some time and tweak the recipes, I hope they continue to create more non-German styles. After all, they certainly seem to have the brewing knowledge and capabilities to make quality brews. However, if this is the best they can do, I’d stick with the German ales. U.S. Pale Ale is dangerously close to a below-average two mugger, but Nigel is giving Capital the benefit of the doubt and hoping for much better in the future.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on December 2, 2007.
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