Then and Now: Capital Eisphyre 2006 vs. 2009

17 Nov

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Capital Brewery is world-renowned for it’s spot-on reproduction of German-style lager beers. Brewmaster Kirby Nelson has particularly nailed the robust doppelbock style with a number of impeccable variations including Dark Doppelbock, Weizenbock, and local favorites Blonde Doppelbock and Autumnal Fire.  The later is a rich fall seasonal built on an Oktoberfest base and can be found warming spirits this time of year all across the greater Madison area.  A few years ago, Kirby went one better by further enriching the Autumnal Fire through the eisbock method – that is chilling the fermented beer below freezing in order to skim off the ice that forms, thus concentrating the alcohol and malt flavors.  The result was an impressive beer with an impressive, if Dungeons and Dragons-esque name: EisPhyre.

EisPhyre was made in extremely-limited quantities as what appeared to be a one-time offering.  As such it disappeared quickly as people stocked their cellars for a beer that seemed suited to laying down.  To our surprise, the phoenix was reborn this month as EisPhyre returned to the shelves for an encore performance.  Luckily, I showed the patience and foresight to hold on to two bottles in hopes of just such an occasion.  Eisphyre showed promise for laying down over its first year-plus, but how has it held up after over three and a half years?  Let’s take a look at my review of the original, circa June 2006

Following the name, pours a fiery orange-red-amber with streams of carbonation and a short, foamy tan head in my vintage Schlitz goblet that vaporizes in mere seconds. Nose is subdued – bready malts with a metallic undertone, backed by some light fruit and alcoholic vapors. Taste jumps out from behind that meek nose with loads of doughy malt, sweet caramel, tropical fruits and an alcoholic kick that boxes you right on the temples. To know that Autumnaldave drank two 44oz mugs of this in succession at the brewery boggles my mind; a bottle under my belt and I am surely feeling the effects – though the drinability remains deceptively high and the mouthfeel is velvety and luxurious. Predictably, this is Autumnal Fire on steroids – but only the most refined and dignified prescription. A truly Wisconsin-made lager here, enough to make a Madison-born boy proud.

After a year or so, the booziness was definitely mellowed, and the malty complexity really came to shine.  Over three years later, the original batch has coalesced into a viscous malt concentrate.  Completely gone is any discernable hops presence to balance out the intense sweetness.  Coupled with a diminished carbonation level means this has become a kind of sippable malt liqueur.  The depth of malt is still there for sure, with rich caramels, brown sugar and gooey figs and dates.  While it may have lost some of the balance that made it a dangerously drinkable eisbock in the past, it has managed to stay defect free and avoided taking on any metallic or vegetal off-flavors that is common in beers of this age.  I’m glad I drank most of what I had every few months as it aged so I could track its maturation.   It’s safe to day it’s not getting any better at this point, but it has been a fun ride.  On to the fresh stuff.

Ahhhh, there it is.  A brisk, minty hops flourish to stand up to the sticky malts.  This is a case where I appreciate the rougher edges and crisp carbonation of the fresh beer that keep it from resembling a pancake topping.  The Autmnal Fire base is obvious here, with the main differences being a richer mouthfeel and warming alcohol presence.  Tasting the fresh next to the aged really accentuates the hops and their vital importance to making this a balanced and drinkable beer for its size.  If you’re a fan of big, malty German bockbier, EisPhyre embodies the style with a bit of American swagger for good measure.  Get it while you can, which won’t be long.  Somewhere in the area of 250 cases were produced for the area.

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