27 October 2011
Telegraph Brewing Company (Santa Barbara, California) – Winter Ale
Brian Thompson’s passion for beer developed as an undergrad in the Bay Area during the early 90s. Like many brewers before him, he had picked up a dangerous habit: homebrewing. Which eventually led to him abandoning his original career as a publisher and financial analyst, to commit to even more hardcore behavior: professional brewing. He eventually opened Telegraph Brewing in Santa Barbara, whose beers combine the best of the Belgian, English, and American brewing traditions. As Brian puts it, “We like to think that all of our beers exemplify everything that is great about life in Santa Barbara and on the Central Coast.”
Winter Ale has very limited distribution; in fact, we picked up just about all of the bottles for this year’s vintage—being at one of the limited California pubs that will have a keg, or stopping by the brewery for a taste, are just about the only other ways to get this beer other than being a member of the Rare Beer Club. Part of the inspiration for this beer is Mexican-style hot chocolate. You’ll get that in the chocolate malt notes, but also from the whole cinnamon sticks and ground ancho chili peppers in the recipe. Allspice and cloves are also in the mix, as well as another spice or two being kept secret by the brewery. The brew pours a very dark burgundy brown color, with a well-proportioned tan head that laces nicely. The nose is full of rich winter ale spice notes. Only one type of hop is used in this brew, Northern Brewer, and a lot of the wood-oil aromatics seem to be coming from the hops. Also look for notes of melon, plums, and a spiced, almost gingery edge. The palate is equally complex, offering up flavors like plums, ginger, cocoa, licorice, cinnamon, and cloves. Eucalyptus and suggestions of camphor develop, along with some cannabis-like notes in the middle and into the finish. The beer wraps up with a rise in toasted malts and pepper as the beer comes up in temperature. This one has a very lengthy finish, with the chilies making their presence known in a subtle fashion, as a lingering but very gentle sweet pepper spice. Happy Holidays!
Brasserie Fantôme (Soy, Belgium) – Magic Ghost
Brasserie Fantôme has come to represent unabashed creative freedom of expression and earned itself a reputation for being, well, borderline insane. Between the ghost stories, the wild variation from beer to beer, being exceptionally guarded about what spices have been used in the recipes, or experimenting to the point of acute eccentricity, you can maybe understand why some people think there may be a madman involved. Well that madman is brewer Dany Prignon, who uses local ingredients and herbs, spicing his numerous farmhouse ale variants with such skill and panache that people have been taking notice since the brewery was founded in 1988.
Magic Ghost is brewed with green tea and who knows how many other herbs, and – we’re just going to come out and say it – it’s green. Yes, you read that right, it’s green in color. On the nose, we got notes of raspberries, nectarines, lemon, and lime, with a delicate spiciness as well. As it warms, notes of green tea really take hold and suggestions of ginger ale develop. Aside from prominent fruit notes, expect a sturdy backdrop of “saison-ness”. The flavor starts with a malty, citrusy sweetness that almost instantly is supplanted by a balancing tartness, and finishes refreshingly dry. When melded with the acidity, the fruity character helps to give distinct notes of granny smith apples. In the finish, expect a nice, clean wheaty twang and dryness, with almost no alcohol detected. Check out the PDF newsletter for the full scoop as this is a very complex beer with quite a lot going on. Cheers!