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Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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Beer Here: U.S. Pale Ale from Capital Brewery
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Capital Brewery and its brewmaster, Kirby Nelson, are well known among fans of German lagers, especially those who like the smooth, malty styles of Oktoberfest, doppelbocks and maibocks. Fans of the brewery also know that Nelson makes a handful of ale beers with brews like Rustic Ale and U.S. Pale Ale. Both are both clean tasting and very drinkable, but the pale ale caught my attention on a beer-buying excursion over the recent Fourth of July weekend.

What is it? U.S. Pale Ale from Capital Brewery of Middleton.

Style: U.S. Pale Ale is an American pale ale, a style that reflects firm hoppy bitterness from the primary use of American varieties of hops. The pale ale is commonly pale golden or light copper with a moderate to strong hop aroma that comes from dry hopping, where hops are added late to the brew kettle. Its flavor profile can have a citrus character, and the maltiness is subdued to toasty or biscuity tones.

Background: U.S. Pale Ale has been in the Capital Brewery portfolio for only a couple of years. Kirby Nelson initially brewed this beer as a special treat for a retailer appreciation party. It was so well accepted he decided to offer it in bottles.

Since that first edition, Nelson's approach to making the beer has been "evolving," especially in how and when he adds hops. It's made with all-Cascade hops, which are added into the post-boil of the wort, with a light amount of dry hopping to give it enough bitterness for the style, but not an extreme hoppiness. "What I want to achieve with this beer is a nice example of the style," says Nelson. He's looking for "excellent drinkability."

U.S. Pale Ale finishes at 5% ABV. It is a year-round beer for Capital and sells for about $7/six pack. It is also available in cans. Nelson says despite what one might think, cans have advantages like keeping light and oxygen out, both of which are bad for beer.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: A light hoppiness.
  • Appearance: Clear, rich, golden body with a marbled or rocky tan head.
  • Texture: Medium-bodied and bubbly.
  • Taste: A light malty or biscuit beginning that quickly gives way to a firm bitter flavor.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: A sharp, dry, bitterness that builds. Some hoppy aroma lingers well into the flavor.

Glassware: U.S. Pale Ale is a fine beer for the standard bar pint, but if you can let go of the American patriotic imagery, the slight lip taper of the Nonik pint (a Guinness-like glass) will focus the beer's aroma and bring out its hop character even more.

Pairs well with: This pale ale makes for a wonderful food companion, with just the right bitterness to blend with spicy foods ranging from Cajun red beans and rice to a char-grilled ribeye steak.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: B- (worthy) from Beer Advocate and 63 from Rate Beer.

The Verdict: U.S. Pale Ale might seem a little tame in bitterness for hopheads, but I found it a beer to appreciate for its complex blend of malt and hops. It's a beer that says there's more to the pale ale style than hop resin in a glass. In my fridge, it ranks as one of the best pale ales for pairing with food because its modest yet firm hoppiness is sharp and crisp -- it complements food without taking over the meal.

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