Santa Barbara, California is easily one of the growing drink destinations in the country -- and we're not even talking about the wine. While Santa Barbara benefits from a rich wine-growing and culinar history, its beer scene is also making headwaves among Californian beer lovers, with Telegraph Brewing Company leading the way.
Brewer Brian Thompson started on Wall Street and made the switch to beer in 2006, after quitting his job in New York City and moving to California. After making beer at home for more than 20 years, Thompson put the brewery together while the recession surged on. The result: California-centric beers that easily fit into the region's style and traditions. Telegraph Brewing Company's brews are uniquely West Coast, while still following in the traditions of European brewers before them. You won't find overly hoppy brews from Telegraph, but you will taste inventive, modern takes on Belgian, British, and Czech beer styles.
We tried three of Telegraph's brews, most limited release, to get a taste of California -- the sour "wild ales" are unlike anything we've tried in recent history.
The beer pours a mildly hazy marigold color, with fine carbonation. On the first smell, you get an interesting carbonation of citrus (reminiscent of a shaken margarita -- is it summer yet?) and Sour Patch Kids, thanks to the use of lemon verbana herb, wild brettanomyces yeast and lactobacillus yeast. Despite a gummy bear taste, you'll find none of the sugars of candy; the taste immediately brings to mind the sourness of a lemon rind or pineapple core. What you really come away with is a dry, mouth-watering aftertaste that just doesn't disappear. Telegraph is right -- this beer isn't for the faint of heart.
The Gypsy Ale is made with unmalted wheat, and locally grown plums -- which explains the very strong plum aroma that immediately flooded our noses. But in both appearance and aroma, apples overwhelms the senses; it looks similar to an apple cider and has a bit of an apple juice smell. Yet the beer also gave off a sweet and sour sauce aroma, begging of a familiar Chinese food takeout aroma. The plum and sour cherry comes back with a vengeance upon first sip, nearly like a sweet (but not medicinal) cough drop. The finish brings a slight sense of Parmesan cheese as well, adding to a sweet yet very, very sour overall drinking experience.
Obscura Cacao is, well, obscure -- you won't find much on the beer, as it's only the second batch to be released by Telegraph. For this batch, Telegraph paired with Santa Barbara's Twenty-Four Blackbirds Chocolate to brew and age the beer on cocoa beans and nibs. That subtle, fruity character from using beans and nibs (as opposed to full-on chocolate) lends itself well to the beer, giving it a pastry, sweet aroma. The beer (which could be mistaken for a dark rum or black tea by color) really gives off a peanut butter and jelly aroma, and only increased when tasted. (Yes, we were singing "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" while tasting.) Imagine an all-organic, raw, unsalted peanut butter with a homemade peach jelly, and that's what the Obscura Cacao tasted like -- with all of the astrigency of cacoa nibs but the round, full, sweetness of chocolate. Although lighter-bodied than the first two brews we tried, it still had a bit of a chalky aftertaste to it.