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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 79.0° F  Overcast
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Beer Here: Hop Bock from Capital Brewery
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Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson: "I wanted a touch of bitterness and I got that, along with a big creamy soft beer."
Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson: "I wanted a touch of bitterness and I got that, along with a big creamy soft beer."
Credit:Robin Shepard

Capital Brewery quietly marked a milestone this month, firing up its brew kettles twenty-three years ago, at 6:30 p.m. on April 17, 1986. Unsurprisingly, brewmaster Kirby Nelson says he celebrated the anniversary with a beer, and it's safe to assume that the cap on a Blonde Doppelbock was indeed popped.

The Middleton brewery has really come of age lately with a string of small-batch experimental brews that provide even more reason to celebrate. Last fall, Nelson released Barbara Imperial Doppelbock, a limited release named after his wife. His latest creation is Hop Bock, based on the big malty German lagers for which Capital is renowned, only this beer offers a subtle, yet firm, kiss of hops in its aroma and finish.


What is it? Hop Bock by Capital Brewery of Middleton.

Style: Hop Bock is based on the doppelbock style, a brew known for its full-body mouthfeel, and deep amber to dark brown color. Doppelbocks feature a malty sweetness, particularly in their fresh and lightly toasted caramel malt flavor. This style has a strong alcohol component, ranging from 6.5-8% ABV.

Background: Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson made about 35 half-barrels of Hop Bock, which is currently available on tap at the brewery and in a handful of local bars. While Nelson is waiting to see how his latest creation is received, he's cautiously making plans to release it in four-packs by early fall. "We don't want to get too far into planning a new brand for the brewery with this just yet, but I like it a lot," he says.

This particular doppolebock is made with caramel and Munich malts, the latter essential to its deep bronze color and roasted nutty taste. After six weeks of fermentation, it is infused with hot water and Tettnanger hops, and then lagered for another two weeks. Hop Bock finishes with some kick at 7.2% ABV.

"Seems like hoppy beers are the rage right now, but I wasn't after some bitter freak show of hops in your mouth," says Nelson. "I wanted a touch of bitterness and I got that, along with a big creamy soft beer." It is currently on tap in a handful of local bars, including Alchemy and Dexter's Pub. It's also available in the Bier Stube at Capital, where it sells for $28/growler (plus growler) and $7.50/pint.

Hop Bock isn't the only new addition to the Capital lineup. Next up in the small batch brewing queue is Kirby's Supper Club, a beer Nelson designed last summer with the Great Dane brewmaster Rob LoBregilo. This should be available at the brewery and on local taps (not bottles) in May.

Capital fans might also want to watch for the return of Wild Rice Lager, which the brewery hasn't made since 2005. Nelson is gearing up to release about 800 barrels of the brew beginning in late May just before the Memorial Day. The beer "makes the brewhouse smell so great," he says, "it's malty and roasted, and there's nothing like the aroma of wild rice in the brew kettle."

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Light but firm floral hoppiness.
  • Appearance: Clear deep bronze, with a thick soft tan head.
  • Texture: Full bodied, distinctively soft and smooth mouthfeel.
  • Taste: Solid malty body with a resin-like hoppiness in the background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Malty, warm and a lingering mild yet firm piney hoppiness.

Glassware: Hop Bock has enough body and flavor, especially from its malty warmth, that it will stand up well in the basic bar pint glass. But if you're looking for presentation, try a clear becher glass, one with a large body and subtle taper near the lip that is just enough to focus the floral aroma.

Pairs well with: This beer has the dominant maltiness of the dopplebock style, and for that reason it matches best with a dishes that compliment the caramel flavors. Soups that feature veggies like sweet potatoes, squash, and even pumpkin are great companions. Wild game is another excellent choice.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: This beer has not received enough ratings to be evaluated by Beer Advocate nor Rate Beer.

The Verdict: I enjoyed Hop Bock for what it represents -- a creative experimentation that results in a new twist on the dopplebock style. This is a beer for those who enjoy big malty brews with a hoppy accent. Compare that to a hop head's bitter beer that gives secondary attention to malty body and finish. In this brew, there is no explosion of bitterness, as the malt comes first, while the hops are firmly embedded. Those who really appreciate Blond Dopplebock will notice the difference and hopefully appreciate this subtle distinction. Hop Bock is a beer that respects Capital's ability to brew great bocks, while showing some creativity in creating something different.

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