Capital Brewery was founded in 1984 in the former Mazo Egg Factory by local businessmen who wanted to bring German-style beer to Middleton. It’s been a fixture in the community since 1986 when it brewed its very first beers, Special Pilsner and Munich Dark.
More than three decades and 240 awards and accolades later, you can still find Capital brewing those same two beers, plus a dozen more canned and bottled and a dozen-plus on tap. The cans and bottles are produced in Stevens Point so the Middleton facility can focus exclusively on draft beer and its new seven-barrel system, which allows them to brew a large variety with some beers being sold exclusively at the brewery.
“We noticed everyone else was trying to play big ball and expand their facilities and expand their distribution and, in our mind, it’s a race to the bottom,” said Kevin Bagstad, general manager of Capital Brewery for the past five years. “We decided to go the other way and play small ball, focusing on our customers here and doing events and selling more beer out of this facility.”
But when the pandemic struck, the brewery made the tough choice to close its bar and indoor spaces for nearly a year, only opening its Bier Garten to a limited capacity (weather permitting) with patrons socially distanced at picnic tables spread out over the facility.
They focused on maintenance projects, direct beer sales, online beer and cheese tasting events, and hiring a new brewmaster, Tanner Brethorst. Brethorst is formerly of Port Huron Brewing Company in Wisconsin Dells, and a staff brewer at Capital Brewery from 2008-2010.
“He’s known as the nicest brewer in Wisconsin. He’s excited to get on the seven-barrel system and try all sorts of new things,” Bagstad said. “When you do small batch stuff, it’s endless what you can do. We make small batch seltzers on it now, and we only sell them here. And with the IPA craze, you can try all kinds of crazy stuff.”
When it was time to reopen the Bier Garten in the late spring of 2021, to say the Middleton community was ready is an understatement.
“They were excited. Really excited … we had brewed a bunch of new beers, so we had 25 beers on tap and seltzers. People were just so excited,” he said. “There’s probably a group of 20-25 that are here on a pretty regular basis, all really good friends. We have a lot of support from the locals. The Middleton community is great.”
Capital’s Bier Garten was a lifesaver for the brewery, allowing people to mix and mingle together again safely outdoors. The summer booked quickly with weddings, rehearsal dinners, and corporate events. It’s a beautiful spot to take in the bands on Friday night or enjoy a beer with friends on a warm Saturday afternoon, but according to Bagstad, the Bier Garten had humble beginnings.
“It used to just be a grass patch out there, with a cooler up against a wall and a tent,” he said. “Next door was a farmhouse, there wasn’t much to downtown back then.”
Now, as they continue sprucing up the building, creating a new, more interactive tour and converting the gift shop into a brand new museum to showcase the brewery’s history, the future is looking brighter than ever for Capital.
“We want it to be the gem of Middleton,” Bagstad said.
They’ll continue to partner with local bars and restaurants to provide their draft beers and in turn, encourage customers to bring in food from those same spots to enjoy in the brewery alongside a cold Capital favorite. They’re also working with local hotels to offer packages that include Capital beer and merch along with an overnight stay.
The Bier Garten is open through October. Capital hopes to unveil its new museum and resume tours then too.
***Banner photo was taken in Capital Brewery’s Bier Garten in 2019.