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Wisconsin beer and breweries: News and reviews
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Beer Here: The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari from Vintage Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Vintage Brewing just made its 500th batch of beer on July 1. "We're just over four years old, and I think it's great that we're humming along with over 100 batches a year," says Scott Manning, brewmaster and co-owner of Vintage.

Since opening in 2010, Manning estimates that he has made at least 60 different styles of beer. Local beer enthusiasts have come to know the brewer for his diversity of approaches to the craft, his creations ranging from the best-selling Woodshed IPA to the popular Hibiscus Saison to a ginger-laced witbier called Jinja Ninja. Manning also producers more straightforward offerings that have garnered him critical acclaim, like McLovin Irish Red, which recently captured (PDF) a silver medal in the 2014 World Beer Cup.

The beer Manning made for his quincentennial batch will become a barley wine. That won't be available for at least a couple of months, and even then most will be held back for a mid-winter release. In his newest brew just hitting the taps, Manning focuses directly on bridging the beer and wine worlds. The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari is a Belgian dubbel aged in French wine barrels, a new taste of how creative he can be.


What is it? The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari from Vintage Brewing Company of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: The Belgian dubbel is a medium- to full-bodied, red to dark brown ale. It's known for hints of chocolate and caramel aroma, with rich malty and spicy sweetness. Dubbels have low bitterness, but have distinctive yeasty qualities characterized by fruity esters evocative of banana, raisin and plum. Originating in medieval monasteries, Belgian dubbels are moderately strong, ranging from 6% to 8% ABV.

Background: "It's been interesting to come on the scene as the weird brewer," says Scott Manning. "I think the perception has been that we brew kind-of strange beers with funny attitudes. But now we're no longer the weird ones -- there are other brewers here who are pushing the envelope and pushing us toward the center."

The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari is a characteristically complex Vintage brew, though. Manning's approach to making it with the west-side brewpub's popular Belgian dubbel named Dedication. That beer was one of the first he made upon opening Vintage. Its name reflects the commitment that so many of his partners, family members and friends showed in helping launch the brewery.

"We put our Dedication abbey dubbel into all manner of barrels, and it's pretty fun to see what turns out," says Manning. Over the years Vintage has aged Dedication in brandy, apple brandy and rum barrels. Earlier this summer, another a sour version called Brett Dedication was released. For this latest creation, the dubbel is aged in French Cabernet oak barrels for over a year. "That beer changes in almost any kind of barrel," he explains. "It takes a lot from the wood."

Manning picked up the wine barrels from a barrel broker in Milwaukee. He's also been known to locally purchase barrels from Wollersheim Winery in Sauk City and Yahara Bay Distillers in Madison.

Dedication is itself a strong version of the Belgian Dubbel style. "It's jumbo-sized at 9.2% ABV," says Manning. With the barrel-aging, Dr. Caligari finishes at 10% ABV.

Before going into the French oak barrels, the beer already has a lot of residual sweetness and complexity from the five-plus malts that make up its recipe. It's a brew known for the flavors of stone fruits with hints of cherry and plum. The hops, Hallertau and Magnum, add spiciness in the background but provide little overall bitterness.

The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari is offered by Vintage Brewing in a tulip glass for $6.25 and in a growler for $35 per refill. This beer is only available at the west-side brewpub.

Scott Manning named this beer as a tribute to the German silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which was made in 1920. In the mid-1990s, he was a film student at UW-Madison, and German classic was required viewing. The silent movie is often cited for its influence on film noir and was a model for directors for many decades. Roger Ebert, the late film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, called it "the first true horror film."

"I think the movie left me a little haunted," says Manning. The film poses deep questions about whether we really control our own morality, destiny and how we see reality. "Cast in a brewers light," he asks, "who controls the mysterious life cycle of our favorite microbes?"

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light, wine-like aroma, with just a hint of oak from the barrel.
  • Appearance: A brownish, dark bronze color. Medium, soft and bubbly, with an off-white head.
  • Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, and soft and round.
  • Taste: Malty sweet, spicy with a firm dark fruit background and hints of wine-grape and plum.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Smooth with dark fruit sweetness. The barrel's dry-oaky and vanilla lightly linger.

Glassware: The curved body of a stemmed tulip glass will show off the deep bronze to black color of Dr. Caligari. The flared lip supports the soft head and allows the aromas of dark stone fruits and oak to gather under your nose.

Pairs well with: The malty sweet and spicy tones of the dubbel go well with sausages, stews and sweeter meats like lamb and duck. From the Vintage appetizer menu, try it alongside the duck confit crostini topped with chestnut puree and cherry compote.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: The Cabernet of Dr. Caligari should be on the list of adventuresome wine aficionados interested in crossing over into the complementary flavors of American craft beers. The aging in the French oak barrel provides deep woody and vanilla flavors, while smooth, sweet hints of residual Cabernet blends with the dark-fruitiness of the Belgian dubbel. This can be a surprising treat for both wine drinkers and fans of dubbels. While it's a little strong at 10% ABV for a hot sunny day, it's a wonderful dessert beer or night cap.

Dr. Caligari also gave me reason to rethink what I look for in barrel-aged beers. While I like bourbon-barrel beers aged over long periods, this one made me realize that a beer aged in wine barrels can be just as good, and maybe even better.

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