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Beer Here: Ghost Ship White IPA from Capital Brewery
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Capital Brewery just turned 30, and many local craft beer enthusiasts see it as coming of age. The Middleton-based brewery was founded in 1984 and is considered a leader in Wisconsin's craft beer movement. It was long renowned for making quality German-style lagers, but the that portfolio has expanded dramatically since the autumn of 2012, when the brewery hired Brian Destree as its brewmaster.

Destree is making his mark at Capital, coming up with new labels, developing one-off brews, and even experimenting with barrel-aging, blending and infusing beers for special tapping events. Yet nowhere has his spirit been as evident as in the introduction of India Pale Ale-style beers to the brewery's portfolio.

"When we hired him, the first thing he wanted to do was brew an IPA," says Scott Wiener, president of Capital. "He did his homework, came up with a flavor matrix, went out and did samplings, created profiles, and said this is where I really think we should go."

Barely a year later, Capital now boasts four IPAs. The first three in the line up were Mutiny IPA, Capsized (a double IPA) and Dark Voyage Black IPA. Its fourth hop-forward brew is being rolled out this week: Ghost Ship White IPA.

"We realized that the fastest-growing segment in craft brewing is the IPA, and now Mutiny and Dark Voyage are becoming two of our biggest sellers," says Wiener. Destree describes it as a light and sessionable hybrid with the crispness of the Belgian witbier and a light IPA.


What is it? Ghost Ship White IPA from Capital Brewery of Middleton, Wisconsin.

Style: Ghost Ship is labeled as a white IPA. It's an emerging style that offers the hoppy bitterness of an India Pale Ale and the body, color, spices and citrus qualities of a Belgian witbier (pronounced "vit"), or white beer. The witbier itself is a style that dates back more than 400 years. In the U.S. they have become especially popular in summertime. Witbiers are commonly unfiltered, and because they are made with a high percentage of wheat, are a cloudy pale straw color. The witbier customarily offers low hoppy bitterness and an alcohol content ranging from 4.2% to 5.0% ABV.

Background: Brian Destree says his intention was to make a beer that fell between a bitter IPA and a light and spicy Belgian wit. His recipe has wheat making up nearly 40% of the malt bill, and he does not filter the beer, so it remains fairly hazy golden. Destree also adds a touch of coriander, a spice commonly used in witbiers. However, his use of citrus peels for added flavor provides a zesty take on the style.

For this unique twist, Destree adds about 10 pounds of dried and ground sweet orange, bitter orange, lemon and grapefruit peels late in the boil stage of brewing. This timing is important because the citrus oils are volatile and boil off if added too early. "All of the lemon and orange peel, and even the coriander, had to be hand-ground -- so I bought a heavy-duty food processor to do the grinding," says Destree.

Ghost Ship White IPA also has a distinctive hop bill. Destree uses four different U.S. grown hops: Warrior, Bravo, Chinook and Amarillo. The citrus blends with and accentuates the bitterness of the hops, which have similar orange and grapefruit tones of their own, though the fruit peels are lighter, sharper, and crisper in the bitterness they provide. "There is a fine line with all that citrus, and going too far you can get it too fruity -- almost like Froot Loops," explains Destree.

The resulting beer does end up being assertive, but there's a citrus fruit freshness that different from standard IPA bitterness. Those who like Ghost Ship's approach might want to try Tryanena Scurvy IPA. But this beer takes it to another level.

At over 5% ABV, Ghost Ship is a little strong to be a true session beer. However, the crisp orange, lemon and grapefruit make it easy to drink and enticing to the palate, so there are certainly some sessionable qualities. "It has significantly more orange flavor than is associated with a Belgian wit, which makes it light and especially nice for summer," says Destree.

To get the recipe right, Destree started working on Ghost Ship last December. He did trials on the brewery's pilot brewing system in January and then scaled it up to full-sized batches in February, looking for qualities that would make it drinkable in terms of a session beer. Destree even jokes that the citrus flavors could make it a beer for breakfast!

Ghost Ship White IPA finishes at 5.6%% ABV and 55 IBUs. It's available in six-packs for $8-$9, and sells for $4 per glass and $12 per growler (refill) at the Capital Bier Stube.

Capital is stepping up its canning production. Twelve-ounce cans of Ghost Ship will be released by May, and come summer, the beer will also be part of a variety eight-pack showcasing the brewery's hoppy creations. Called "Block Party," this will also include cans of U.S. Pale Ale, Mutiny and Dark Voyage.

Also this summer, the Capital's seasonal Lake House will be offered in both 12- and 16-ounce cans. The large cans ar the result of a surprise request from the Milwaukee Brewers. "The people at Miller Park said that if you put this in 16-ounce cans, we'll buy it," Wiener explains.

Capital is also making progress on its new production brewery in Sauk City. After delays due to weather, the major groundbreaking and construction will begin in mid-May. The new $12 million production facility will handle the bulk of the brewing, with the Middleton brew house focusing on smaller batches of specialty beer on its 35-barrel system and hosting events in its popular Bier Garten. For its new facility, Capital has purchased a canning and bottling line that is being refurbished in California. This will remain there until the building is ready for its installation.

Wiener expects most equipment for the 100-barrel system to arrive by September or early October. The first brews out of Sauk City are anticipated in December, and a full-fledged operation could be up and running as early as January 2015. "It's exciting, and the capacity will be terrific," says Wiener.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Lots of citrus, especially grapefruit.
  • Appearance: It is unfiltered, with a hazy, yellow-golden color. A thick, soft, light tan, almost white, head.
  • Texture: It's on the light side of medium-bodied. Bubbly and crisp, which is accentuated by sharp citrus tones.
  • Taste: The citrus is strongest up front, but it never really leaves. Grapefruit seems to be first, followed by the orange and hints of lemon, and then grapefruit returns. Just a very light, faint breadiness of the wheat initially, until the citrus takes over.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: A light dryness. There is a lingering grapefruit-citrus dryness that seems clean at first; however, it does build on the palate.

Glassware: The Willi Becher is great for this beer because it will focus the citrus notes, especially the aromas of grapefruit and orange.

Pairs well with: With all the citrus tones, Ghost Ship will be great with chicken and pork on the grill. The citrus is also a nice match with Chinese cuisine.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Ghost Ship has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at BeerAdvocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: The citrus aromas and flavor from the orange, lemon and grapefruit are great complements to the blend of assertive hops at Ghost Ship's core. I especially like the way the grapefruit peel accentuates the similar aromatic qualities of the Amarillo hops. The white IPA style can often come off as just a weak India Pale Ale with some wheat thrown in for body and texture. Yet Ghost Ship succeeds where others fail. It's a beer that is distinctive and memorable, and will stand apart from the sea of other white IPAs. It's sharp, crisp and very citrusy, but still is clearly an IPA style.

Ghost Ship White IPA is a beer with a different approach to bitterness, and that's why I'm so enthusiastic about it. Unlike the lingering resiny hoppiness of many IPAs, the aggressive use of citrus peel gives the beer a lighter and more refreshing taste. And the wheat-based Belgian wit that's behind it all makes this brew all the more drinkable. Just a whiff of its aroma and that first sensation of grapefruit, orange and lemon will explain why Destree calls it a breakfast beer.

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