Capital Brewery – Hosted Home Beer & Cheese Tasting

Cover Story By Matt Schumann –

The Driftless Area is home to dozens of microbreweries that have flourished from the mid-’90s to the present. One outfit that got in early (as early as 1988, in fact) and rose to prominence – the proverbial cream of the crop – is Capital Brewery headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin. The “Good Neighbor City” west of Madison proper, Middleton, like other townships bordering Madison (such as Verona and Fitchburg) has grown into and beside her big sister so that the neighborhoods between one and the other are indistinguishable. Thus, a Middleton brewery is able to claim Wisconsin’s Capital Building as its namesake and logo. The two cities share hospitals, they share infrastructure, they share snowplows, and they share pizza delivery drivers.

They share grocery store and convenience store shelf space as well. Residents of the Driftless Region and beyond will note that if your local Kwik Trip grocery-stop has two refrigerated shelves dedicated to local breweries, Capital Brewery reliably has a spot. And furthermore, elbowing a spot on a cooler shelf for a faced six-pack in a market as brew-crazy as Wisconsin is a tall order, and tough territory to defend. But Capital Brewery is there. Capital Amber, Capital Maibock, and Capital Supper Club are among the top sellers. Amber is the top dog. I love the taste of their Maibock, Winter Skal, and Oktoberfest. I also love the distinctive Supper Club label. Just look at it! I want it on a t-shirt.

With competition literally encroaching from within every other Wisconsin city on the map; with each of these cities being home to an upscale restaurant with a big interior window that overlooks a tall home-brew tank; and with five or six other microbreweries inside Madison itself, staying ahead of the pack calls for constant creativity, reinvention, and the testing of new recipes.

Enter into the equation Capital Brewery’s Virtual Beer Tasting. Pre-Pandemic some Beer Tasting events were held at the brewery itself. They have an on-site cozy walnut colored wood decorated bar and café. They also sponsor an active outdoor bier garten – normally the spot in spring, summer, and fall for the weekly live band and celebratory event. The online beer tastings were in the mix back then too. It’s just that these days, (March 2020 to March 2021) beer tastings are held exclusively online while the in-person café and bier garten events are on hold. (Stay tuned though, maybe June… maybe July these venues will reawaken. In the meantime, I should add that these monthly virtual beer events are also cheese tastings: “Beer and Cheese Tastings” are the program most of the time, although I was lucky as the one I attended was a Valentine’s Day themed Beer, Cheese, and Chocolate tasting.

Technically, I sampled the Beer and Cheese from two events: a Winter Beer tasting event on January 14th and then the Valentine’s event on February 11th. With apologies to Capital Brewery, I screwed up my first attempt at attending a virtual Beer and Cheese tasting. There’s a company that runs a certain software on my laptop computer. I won’t name names, but they rhyme with “Ike low-coughed.” On the afternoon of the first tasting, when I tried to download the program to run the event, my laptop and the above-mentioned company decided this would be the perfect time for my yearly update. The “Blue Screen of Death” appeared along with a message that said: “Please don’t turn off your computer until the update is complete.” Ahem. Twenty-four hours and 653 swear words later I was left with no choice but to turn off my computer. I turned it back on and lo and behold, everything was fine. Thank you Ike Low-Coughed, thanks a bunch. I’m so glad I subscribe to your service that I have no choice not to subscribe to. But I digress.

Missing the Beer and Cheese Tasting flight left me with a kit that contained three beers (Cap Brew Pilsner, Maibock, and King George – two cans and a bottle) two six-ounce beer flight glasses of heavy good quality, souvenir fridge magnets, two souvenir Cap Brewery coasters, two copies of the hour’s itinerary, and three gourmet kinds of cheese: E. Roth Butterkase, Marieke Foenegreek Gouda, and Hook’s 3-year aged Cheddar. These were zipped into a smart little red nylon bag that could easily be reused as a lunchbox or something of equal size. It would hold a six-pack perfectly. I picked it up from the brewery itself on the morning of the tasting. On the way home, I decided to take pictures of it with the actual Capital in the background. 

But I missed the virtual event, so the case of beer, cheese, and swag stayed in my fridge sad and lonely. I felt I couldn’t touch them. I missed the window. “Maybe I should return them to the Brewery?” I thought. However, a few days later the Hook’s 3-year aged Cheddar began calling to me with her siren song. The Triscuits were right there on top of the fridge after all.

After many apologies and three weeks had passed, I picked up a new kit a few days before Valentine’s and was intrigued to see it contained two chocolate treats from Clausen’s (Old School European) Bakery (also in Middleton) instead of two kinds of cheese. By this time the Hook’s Cheddar, Marieke Gouda, and Roth Butterkase were at 1/3 their original sizes, because c’mon. Cheese. Anyway, the new Beer and Cheese flight took off, I was on time, and all the equipment worked great. I didn’t have a date for the Valentine’s Day-themed computer get-together, but I figured after three beers and some cheese and chocolate, I probably wouldn’t care.

The new kit included three cans: Capital Dunkelweizen, Brown Ale, and Witbier. The edible pairings included Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona (a wedge of cheese with a rind of powdered cocoa – it rimmed the back and the top edge. ‘Kind of a gimmick, but the cheese was DEVINE – all caps Devine) Clausen’s Rum Chocolate Truffles and Clausen’s Butterfly Wings. The truffles were also magical, they were like the Lindor Balls you get at Walgreens – only a step up: rum chocolate filled with crystal sugar lightly coating the chocolate shells. And the Butterfly Wings were large flakey (yes, buttery) shortbread cookies with the tips dunked in chocolate.   

It turns out this would be a great thing to do on a date. Ashley, our host, explained that the three beers are meant to be split into the two glasses included in the kit… and shared between two people. The event lasted an hour. Ashley appeared within her box on the screen and she had chosen the Capital Brewery hospitality café and bar as her background image. Of the other twenty or so guests on-screen in their little windows, most were of older middle age. Some were chatty, asking questions. A few were regulars – as in they really enjoy these get-togethers and have done many. Most were sitting in their kitchens with the kits and their contents before them or within reach off-screen. I sat on my bed, with my laptop on its stand in front of me with the kit, a knife, and cutting board on a TV tray nearby. 

The first 25 minutes of the event are a mini-history of Capital Brewery presented by Ashley in a docu-power-point style format. She detailed how the Brewery came to its place of prominence in the region: equipment and ingredients imported from Germany. She described how she came to her position in the company. At this point in her career, she has gone through brewmaster training and has been certified as such. She contributes her own created combinations of flavors and brewed batches from time to time as do many in upper management at Capital Brewery. For every different way you could bake and frost a cake, there are just as many ways to brew a beer. If you take a hop flower off the stalk, there’s a beer flavor out there for every day it goes from fresh and green to old and crumbly; there’s a beer flavor that expresses where in the world it’s grown, and every malt it gets married to.

The Dunkelweizen was bright and golden but also cloudy as these tend to be. It had a banana and citrus smell. I wrote in my notes that it smelled a little like salami, but maybe that was my cutting board. Or my hand (?!) Anyway, there’s no wrong answer here. This paired with the Carr Valley Cocoa Cardona. I gotta say this was my favorite cheese out of either kit. It’s a goat’s milk base. The cocoa powder is barely noticeable. As for the Dunkel, I believe this one was one that had a batch number and was something the brewery was tweaking. It was good and interesting (I like cloudy wheat just fine) but that cheese was TDF. Ashley informed us that people shouldn’t be afraid to drink the hops at the bottom of cloudy Weiss beers. Drink it all up. There are vitamins in there. It’s good for you. It’s good stuff for your gut.

The Brown Ale was solid. I feel like I’ve had Cap Brown Ale on tap at some point in my youth. The chocolate truffle balls brought out the beer’s roasted flavor. Very tasty.

My notes say that Ashley is good at finding the right adjectives to describe flavors. The Witbier had notes of coriander. I wrote down that it was “awesome smooth.” The butter in the Butterfly Wing cookies complimented the beer really well.

The tasting period lasted twenty-five minutes or so, and then Ashley let the hour run out with a Q & A session. Someone asked, “What is Capital working on next?” Ashley said that the folks who run Tyrol Basin Ski Resort had commissioned a beer flavor in their name. 

“Oh,” I asked. “This is something Capital does on the regular?” Ashley assured me that they do. “Al-fun-Brau” at Big Al’s Pizza Parlor in La Crosse was one such creation. (Another memory from my youth – though the ‘90s are starting to get fuzzy.) After a communal “Prost!” from everyone online, the virtual Beer, Chocolate, and Cheese Flight came to an end. 

Since I had the template fresh in my mind as to how these things work, I got the first kit out of the fridge and continued on into the night. I still had enough of the original three cheeses to do the pairings as originally intended. (Each kit came with a printed page, explaining the flight’s basic itinerary. In the case of the original kit: Roth Butterkase with the Pilsner; Gouda with Maibock; and Hook’s Cheddar with King George.) 

From here on, my handwriting gets difficult to read. The Pilsner was “really good, not harsh at all” and “hard not to pound this one!” The Maibock is a dark old friend. The Gouda “will go great in an omelet tomorrow.” The King George I wrote was “Joyful” and “Playful” and I circled the descriptions on the page that described it as having notes of Cherrywood and Smoked Caramel. I must have been really happy about things after drinking this one. I do remember that it reminded me of Newcastle and John Courage – beers of that variety. It was tasty. Of the Hook’s 3-year Aged Cheddar I wrote that the flavor “walks into your mouth on little legs and says ‘Hello! I’m a great cheddar!’ Then it waves goodbye and leaves politely.” With all six beers downed, and my pandemic-caused tolerance at an all-time low, I think I remember singing “Come on Eileen” to my cat, replacing all the English lyrics with “meow.”

In summary: Ashley Kinart-Short was a wonderful host. She informed me in a follow-up email that the brewery was in the process of shipping 350 of these virtual tasting kits for the upcoming sessions (both live and automated). The kits – and thus admission to the online events – cost $45 each plus shipping. But it’s a good, solid price for what you get – consider that retail each beer would cost $3 and each cheese package would go for at least $4. She’s been doing 3 to 4 Beer Tastings like this per month that include private virtual work parties and corporate events. Crunch the numbers up there and it’s a good source of revenue for a business in pandemic times with its café and Biergarten shut down. Plus, I bet online events like this keep going even as the world opens up.

Thanks for Reading

Check out for future Beer and Cheese Tastings hosted by Ashley.