Change is afoot at Capital Brewery. In early November, the Middleton brewer, best known for traditional German lagers, released its first-ever pumpkin beer. Next month, the brewery will roll out a new line of specialty beers packaged in 22-ounce bomber bottles.
"We'll stay true to our core lager styles, but we're going to push the boundaries," says Brian Destree, now in charge of brewing at Capital. He was hired in September to manage brewery production. This was the same month that longtime Capital brewmaster Kirby Nelson announced he would be leaving (on good terms) to help launch a new brewery in Verona, led by former Capital president Carl Nolen.
Destree, 34, is originally from Green Bay. He has degrees from UW-Madison in biochemistry and chemical engineering, and he's a graduate of the brewing program at University of California-Davis. "I love beer, and I love science, so it's a perfect marriage," he says.
Destree got his professional start in Milwaukee at Leinenkugel's Tenth Street Brewery, where he was involved in making their limited-release Big Eddy series of beers. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company is partially owned by MillerCoors, so Destree was able to advance in the organization, eventually becoming the assistant brewer at the main Milwaukee facility.
"It sounds glamorous, but there was a lot of sitting in meetings, and I felt too far removed from the process of making beer. So when the opportunity at Capital came, I jumped at it," he says.
When interviewing with Capital, Destree came to Madison and brewed with the staff there for several days. "That was part of why I wanted the job," he explains. "The quality of beer reflects those out on floor."
Destree is essentially taking over for Nelson, who worked at Capital since the brewery opened in 1986. While the brewery has posted a position for a brewmaster that will be supervised by Destree, no one has yet been interviewed for the job.
Destree describes his personal approach to brewing as old school with an appreciation for lagers. He doesn't plan to make any dramatic changes in the brewery's well-known lineup of beers, especially brews like its popular Supper Club. "I appreciate what it takes to make them, but we are also going to step outside those boundaries," he says.
So is Destree willing to cross those traditional lager lines and expand what the brewery may offer in the future? "I'd like to make a beer that puts the hops forward, and that may shock the Capital faithful," he says with a smile.
The first Capital beer that he's overseen from recipe development to release is Pumpkinataur Wrex. As the name indicates, it's a pumpkin beer, a lager, with sweet flavors and lots of alcohol at 7.5% ABV. It's currently offered as a tap-only beer, and can be found at the brewery's Bier Stube, as well as at a handful of other bars and restaurants around Madison and Milwaukee. The beer is a distinctive specialty brew that will appeal to enthusiasts of fall seasonal beers. It also sends a clear signal to the local market that times are changing for Capital.
As more evidence, Capital also recently updated its six-pack cartons with new artwork. And in December, the brewery will be releasing the second annual installment of Eternal Flame, a blend of three different lagers, one of which is always from the previous year, hence the name. At 9% ABV, it is strong, and rich in malty flavor. The beer will also be released in single 22-ounce bomber bottles, marking the beginning of a commitment by the brewery to this packaging.
Beginning in 2013, the brewery will offer about a half-dozen styles in bomber bottles. Next up in January will be Jacked Maibock, with others to follow about every other month. Destree says the big bottles will be branded as the "Capital Square Bomber Series." The only beers that will remain in the four-packs (for now) will be Autumnal Fire and Blonde Doppelbock.
Destree is likely to become the face of Capital Brewery, a role that his predecessor made famous at popular brewery events like the annual Bockfest that is held on the last Saturday in February. No matter how cold or snowy, a lederhosen-wearing Nelson would stand on the brewery's roof and throw frozen chubs to Bier Garten visitors.
Destree says that Bockfest will continue as it has in the past -- mostly. You might, however, watch out for new traditions instead of those flying fish: "Our motto has become 'Beer is good, and so is change.'"