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Saturday, October 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Beer Here: Autumnal Fire from Capital Brewery
A stack of Capital's Autumnal Fire sits ready for shipping at the Middleton brewery.
Credit:Robin Shepard

Capital Brewery of Middleton has been brewing for more than 20 years, and it has just completed a major expansion of its brewhaus. The bier garten there is one of the best in the city, with a festival ambiance that features live music, occasional movies and, overall, the feel of a community picnic grounds. Capital offers eight standard beers, with four regular seasonals and four limited releases. One of these latter brews is now back on tap.

What is it? Autumnal Fire from Capital Brewery

Style: Brewmaster Kirby Nelson calls this a doppelbock based on an Oktoberfest personality. The doppelbock is full-bodied, deep amber to bronze in color, and known for its malty sweetness, sometimes with light toasted or toffee tones in the background.

This beer, with its big malt body and high alcohol content, will age very well. Local beer aficionados often cellar this beer for one to three years to allow its soft caramel tones to become as smooth as brandy. But you don't have to store this beer. It's great now, just in time for the colors of autumn.

Background: Few beers mark the arrival of fall in Wisconsin like Capital's Autumnal Fire. This is one of the biggest, most flavorful local brews of the season. Its history traces back to the late 1990s, when Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson was featured in a newspaper article that carried a sunset photo of him looking deeply into a glass of his fall Oktoberfest beer. The caption read, "Nelson in the glow of his annual Autumnal Fire!" Well, he liked the imagery so much that he held onto the name, and ten years later the recipe hasn't changed.

Autumnal Fire is now one of the most watched-for seasonal release beers in Madison. It's made with just three base malts, but a lot of each, which accounts for the beer's 7.8% alcohol content. This beer has received numerous awards, including five gold medals from the Beverage Testing Institute's prestigious World Beer Championship. Autumnal Fire comes out in early September and is usually available until mid-November.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Caramel maltiness.
  • Appearance: Hazy, deep bronze color with a thick bubbly tan head.
  • Texture: Full bodied and round.
  • Taste: Lots of sweet caramel maltiness.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Warm and malty.

Glassware: This is the perfect beer for a mug in front of a fire. But the ideal glassware is a brandy snifter, with the beer served at cellar temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees. That will bring out its smooth, sweet caramel character and accentuate the warm finish.

Pairs well with: The malty tones in this beer work well with ribs and heavy, sweet barbeque sauces. It also serves as a nice after-dinner dessert, or as a nightcap on its own.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers.

(I am using a one to four bottle opener scale: four is a great beer, distinctive, you'll have this over others; three is a beer you enjoy, reliable, close to its described style; two is problematic, lacks distinction, but worth having again; one is a beer that isn't true to its style, you would not recommend it to a friend.)

The Consensus: 89 (recommended) from Beer Advocate and a 94 from Rate Beer.

The Verdict: Fall wouldn't be fall without this special treat. I really enjoy the sweet, smooth, caramel warmth of Autumnal Fire. With its high alcohol content, this is not the type of beer you should drinking a six-pack of in one sitting. A single bottle will do nicely on a chilly fall evening.

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