Telegraph Brewing Announces Dia de las Obscuras Rare Beer Festival

Note: The following is a press release from Telegraph Brewing Company. Tickets go on sale March 21


Santa Barbara craft brewery to host two-session sour-beer/wild-ale event on May 3

Santa Barbara, CA—Telegraph Brewing Company announced details today for their Dia de las Obscuras Rare Beer Festival, showcasing its barrel-aged and wild-fermented Obscura Line of experimental beers, to be held on Sunday, May 3, 2015, at the Telegraph tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara. The award-winning Santa Barbara brewery will celebrate in grand fashion with ten Obscura beers on tap, shining a spotlight on Telegraph’s renowned experimental brewing program.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity for craft beer lovers to explore our most highly sought-after and difficult-to-find beers,” said Telegraph Brewing founder Brian Thompson. “To have ten taps dedicated to these rare beers is a testament to the flexibility and increased capacity of our new brewery space; that we have as much capacity to dedicate to the Obscura Line of beers as we do, allows us to put events like this together.” At Telegraph’s first Obscura event, Noche de las Obscuras, held as a part of Santa Barbara Beer Week 2014, the brewery poured eight different wild ales.

Dia de Las Obscuras will delight craft beer connoisseurs in two separate Sunday sessions (12 pm to 3pm, and 4pm to 7pm) hosted at Telegraph’s tasting room. Tickets and additional details about specific beers are available at

“The Latin word ‘Obscura’ means dark or shadowy, obscure, from unknown origins,” explained Trevor Scoggins, Telegraph’s sales manager. “And each of our Obscura beers displays that element of the unknown and the mysterious; that makes seeking out them out lots of fun for the drinker.”

Telegraph’s Obscura Line of experimental beers includes both award-winning favorites like Gypsy Ale and Reserve Wheat Ale, but also includes many one-off projects that will never exist again. Dia de las Obscuras attendees will have an opportunity to try beers from both sides of the project. Barrel master Paul Rey said, “We make a variety of elegant, complex beers that deserve a day of their own.”

Telegraph Brewing, an award-winning craft brewery located  on downtown Santa Barbara’s Salsipuedes Street, specializes in brewing uniquely American and Belgian-inspired beers using 100% domestic ingredients and as many local ingredients as possible. The brewery strives to capture in its beers the unique culinary and agricultural traditions of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast.

For more information, including descriptions of beers brewed by Telegraph, visit


Feral Me, Feral You; Feral One, Feral Two?

Feral One batches 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks.

Feral One batches 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks.

By now, Santa Barbara beer fans have likely already heard of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks liberation of Feral One, batch 2, on Valentine’s Day. About a year after the release of Feral One, Barrelworks’ first bottled beer, this liberation is something of an Anniversary beer and party for the boys at Barrelworks.

I recently sat down with barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson and blendmaster Jim Crooks with a bottle each of batch one and two to talk about the beer, the liberation and a few other things. A few issues were raised and addressed.

First of all, there’s the name. Originally, I believed that if there was ever a sequel to Feral One, a beer that Richardson describes as “a cuvee or blend of our best efforts,” that it would be called Feral Two. But Richardson and Crooks explained that the name is sort of a play on words — and while “one” was appropriate for the first beer released from Barrelworks, it also worked to describe it as The One that is Feral. In other words, the beer serves as a representation of everything that Richardson, Crooks and Barrelworks stand for.

So call it what you want — Feral One vintage 2015, Feral Two, Feral One 2.0 — just know that the official name is Feral One, batch 2.

My next concern was the price. The cheapest tickets for the liberation are $104 plus eventbrite fees. It’s a big barrier to entry for most of us, but it’s a good value. At $15.99 per bottle, the tickets get you six bottles ($95.94) and the other eight dollars and eventbrite fees go toward the other goodies available at the liberation and the chance to be able to say you tasted it before anybody else. Like previous liberations, there will be “feral foods” and rare beer tastings that more than make up for the eight dollar cost beyond the beer. Rumor had it that there might be a keg of the first batch of Feral One, now a year old, but that was not confirmed. In any case, it’s always fascinating to see what comes out of the barrels at Barrelworks.

Specifically, this new batch of Feral One picks up right where the first left off.

Feral One batch 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks. Notice the slightly darker shade to batch 2.

Feral One batch 1 (left) and 2 side-by-side at Barrelworks. Notice the slightly darker shade to batch 2.

Richardson and Crooks sampled upwards of 80 barrels to find the right blend, and 23 ended up making the final blend. Like batch 1, the final beer has a pleasant tartness and lemon notes that accentuate a good, somewhat sweet background. It’s hard to recall exactly what Feral One tasted like a year ago, but this is reminiscent for sure — and that’s by design.

“This truly was a hedonistic approach,” Richardson said. “We didn’t have to recreate batch 1. We could create something else, but we really like batch 1.”

Perhaps the biggest difference is the color, which Crooks hypothesized came from the presence of Sour Solace, a beer that has aged in barrels at Barrelworks now for 48 months. After all that time in barrels, the relatively pale beer picked up color from the oak and oxygen. It also seemed to add a slightly more noticeable presence of vanilla and toffee, but it was faint enough that it could have been my mind affecting my palate, as those flavors tend to express themselves more in darker beers.

With any beer inoculated with lactobacillus, Feral One batch 2 certainly has a strong acidic character to it. But Crooks and Richardson argue that simply referring to the beer as a “sour” negates so much of what the beer has to offer.

“Acidity is the first thing people jump on,” Richardson said. “But they miss out on so much more if they’re doing that. What we’re trying to do, and the word we always use to describe it is ‘layers.’ We’re trying to make a beer with layers to it.”

Those layers come through in the sweetness of the malt, the wide array of slightly floral aromas underneath a slight yeast and sulfur note in the nose — and yes — in the tartness. Unlike some beers fermented with lacto though, Feral One batch 2, like the original, isn’t lip-puckeringly sour. It’s fizzy and tart enough to be refreshing, but not uninviting.

“A lot of people have gotten into beer because of (Pliny the Elder) and beers like that and ‘oh my gosh this is what hops are,'” Crooks said. “At Firestone, we’ve never been like that. Firestone and (brewmaster Matt Brynildson) have always been about balance and what’s drinkable.”

Batch 2 is certainly drinkable, but the real treat of the tasting session was a side-by-side comparison with a one-year-old version of Feral One batch 1. Batch 2 was slightly darker, and the edges of the flavors were somewhat sharper, so to speak, but there were more similarities than differences. And while batch 2 was a truly nice beer, there was no doubt that batch 1 provided a more enjoyable experience.

With that in mind, I asked Richardson and Crooks what the best way to age or cellar these beers was, since I’ll be coming home with 12 bottles on Valentine’s Day. Their recommendation was to store the bottles at room temperature, or cooler, but to avoid refrigerating them until you wanted to drink it. The reason was that the wide array of microflora that add to the complexity and character of Feral One go dormant at temperatures below 50 degrees, but continue to interact with the beer at cellar and room temperature. Storing the beer in warm (above 75 degrees or so) areas was not recommended, and the worst that could happen to a beer left in the refrigerator is that it would preserve it and its flavors as is — not a terrible outcome at all.

We also tasted a bottled version of Reginald Brett, which is essentially Double DBA given the Barrelworks treatment, and looked at plans for a future remodel of the Barrelworks facility to transform it from its current look into something more like an old-world abbey. Both that remodel and a possible release of Reginald Brett are little more than possibilities at the moment though.

Firestone Walker to release XVIII on Saturday

Note: the following is a press release from Firestone-Walker. I believe the Paso Robles event is all sold out, but I plan on stopping by Barrelworks after the Real Ale Invitational to get my bottles and taste the previous versions. See you there, everyone.

XVIII, the ninth blend in our Anniversary series, will be released October 25, 2014. 


Join us for the release of our XVIII Anniversary Ale! Purchase 3 or more bottles and get access to our XVIII Anniversary Party from 11am – 2pm.  Access includes beer tasting, food samples, live music, tours, games and more. As always, it will be a three bottle minimum per person to join us and we will be selling bottle tickets starting Monday, August 25th. 

Due to space limitations because of construction, we are hosting this year’s party in our new canning hall. This area is still under construction, so appropriate footwear is recommended.

Tickets on sale now!

For more information see our FAQ page or visit our Eventbrite page.

Liquamentum Preview at Fig Mountain


The rapid growth and quickly expanding popularity of Figueroa Mountain aren’t enough for brewmaster A.J. Stoll. It seems he has to have a little something on the side.

Stoll and Fig Mountain are officially unveiling the brewery’s new label, Liquamentum, this weekend. But those at the Sept. 27 Figtoberfest in Buellton have already had a peak at those beers.

The side project will feature barrel-aged and innovative beers that might not work well for Fig Mountain’s normal line. Right now that’s because the beers are aged for a long time in barrels, but Stoll did not rule out the possibility of brewing sour beers or experimenting with other yeast strains. Beers that have already been on tap at Fig’s tap rooms like Petite Syrah Porter and The Grendel are examples of the kind of beer one can expect from Liquamentum.

I was invited, along with a few other members of the media, to a lunch and tasting of the new line earlier this week. We were fed well by Beto Huizar, the chef of Beto’s Place, which is opening in a space above the brewery as soon as the permits all go through (more on Beto’s place later).


The first beer on the menu was a familiar one for Whole Foods customer — Biere de Menage.

The beer is a saison aged in Sauvignon Blanc barrels and is comprised of a whopping 6% Sauvignon Blanc wine. Stoll and Fig Mountain brought in winemakers to help craft the blend, and Stoll had to make sure that the beer stayed well within the “beer” realm.

“We had some of these blends that were just ‘wow,’ way out there,” Stoll said. “I had to dial it back a bit because I wanted to make sure that these beers are still beer.”

The end result is really lovely and refreshing and the wine elements certainly peak their head out to play with your palate. It’s the lightest in the series, but has a nice body to it and tons of nuances in the nose and flavor.

Next up was Double Down Davy Brown — a double-mashed imperial brown ale aged in bourbon barrels from Cutler’s Distillery in the Funk Zone. Basically, Stoll took the first runnings from two mashes and made one beer — a very strong beer at over 11% ABV.

It’s a deep, dark brown with the slightest whiff of bourbon on the nose. There’s also lots of dark fruit with cherries, plum and raisins coming through. The taste is similar. It’s sweet for a beer, and the high alcohol is hidden very well. The fruit elements add a layer of complexity behind the malt-forward beer.

Finally, we got to Hell’s Half-Acre — a wine barrel-aged barleywine that was bottled more than a year after going into pinot noir barrels from Seasmoke. The beer is dark and strong like Double Davy Brown (stronger in fact at closer to 13% ABV), but when held to the light it shines a brilliant ruby. There are not many hops present in the nose anymore, but the bitterness still exists.

Once again, notes of fruit and oak play behind a complex foreground, but the nuances are different. This beer has more bitterness for balance, and the pinot barrels express themselves differently than the whisky barrels.

But, with all respect to Stoll, the star of the afternoon was Huizar and his food. The former Firestone Walker head chef prepared tri-tip sliders with accouterments, spent-grain pretzel bites with Davy Brown mustard and beer-brined hot wings alongside homemade ranch dressing and fresh carrots and jicama.

It was the perfect base for an afternoon of sipping strong ales, and I’ll be looking forward to the restaurant’s opening in the near future.

Velvet Merkin returns for Firestone

Firestone-Walker Velvet Merkin

Velvet Merkin is the type of beer that sets Firestone-Walker apart from the majority of the other breweries out there. It’s a master stroke from brewer Matt Brynildson and the team there in Paso Robles. It’s scheduled for release on Sept. 15, and seems like the perfect beer to sip while reading a new beer book, say, We Make Beer, coming Sept. 23.

The following is a press release from Firestone-Walker:


Paso Robles, CA: Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Velvet Merkin barrel-aged oatmeal stout is set to make a curtain call with the release of the 2014 vintage starting on September 15.

“We let our hair down with the 2014 Velvet Merkin and changed up the barrel mix a bit compared to previous vintages,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “Velvet Merkin has always had this signature milk chocolate character, but now the vanilla notes are more pronounced as well. We’re pretty stoked on this vintage.”

The 2014 Velvet Merkin was primarily aged in bourbon barrels from Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve, along with a selection of Rittenhouse Rye whiskey barrels. The Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve barrels imparted fine bourbon qualities, while the younger Rittenhouse Rye whiskey barrels provided subtle spiciness with an elevated vanilla character.

The 2014 Velvet Merkin is a blend chosen from five separate batches brewed and barreled down at different times, with an average of one year spent in the barrel.

“We had more Velvet Merkin barrels to choose from than ever before, so we were able to really fine tune the blend with complementary lots,” Brynildson said. “We moved into our new barrel cellar earlier this year, and our barrel-aged program is maturing. It’s helping us get the most out of each beer, and the 2014 Velvet Merkin is an example of that.”

A total of 3,500 cases (22-ounce bottles; $16.99) were produced, with availability in select markets across the United States.

Last Call on Double DBA


2014 Vintage Makes Way for Beers to Come

Paso Robles, CA: The third and final bottled release of Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s barrel-aged Double DBA begins on July 12, setting the stage for an as-yet-unchosen replacement next year.

“The 2014 Double DBA is a big and complex beer that still offers the balance and drinkability that are the hallmarks of DBA,” said Brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “This vintage is outstanding, so Double DBA is leaving us on a high note.”

He added, “This beer has served us well, but there’s a finite amount of space and brewing capacity dedicated to our barrel-aged beers. In order to brew and share new barrel-aged beers, we need to rotate some out, starting with Double DBA. So get it while you can.”

Other beers in the brewery’s barrel-aged program include Bravo, Helldorado, Parabajava, PNC, Saucerful of Secrets and Brownie Wine—but it remains to be seen which will replace Double DBA in 2015.

As with previous vintages, the 2014 Double DBA imperial special bitter is Firestone Walker’s flagship DBA brewed at double strength, using twice the amount of malts and hops. As with the regular DBA, the 2014 Double DBA was partially fermented in a union of new American oak barrels. After fermentation, the beer was racked and returned to the union barrels as well as bourbon barrels, where it aged for one year. The barrel mix for the 2014 Double DBA included vessels from Woodford Reserve, Elijah Craig and Four Roses.

The 2014 Double DBA is limited to 3,500 cases of 22-ounce bottles. It will be available in select markets across the United States starting this month. The suggested retail is $16.99.

While Double DBA may not see the bottle again, it lives on in mysterious ways. Double DBA is the base beer for Reginald Brett, a bretted barrel-aged ale to be released later this year from Barrelworks, Firestone Walker’s dedicated wild (a.k.a. sour) yeast facility.

And in a new collaborative twist, the bourbon barrels used to mature the 2014 Double DBA are being shipped to Scotland, where Tullibardine distillery will use them for aging single malt scotch whisky.


VIP tasting at Island Brewing Company for Craft Beer Week

The Following is a press release from Island Brewing Company. Expect to read more about this in my June 5 column in the Santa Barbara News Press.


CARPINTERIA, CA – Island Brewing Company will be celebrating American Craft Beer Week in a big way and one of the events deserving a special mention is the Archived and Vertical Beer Tasting on Friday May 16th.  This is a once in a lifetime tasting featuring a selection of our most prized beers with Island Brewing’s Paul Wright.  There will be two tasting selections to choose from:

Flight 1 – $15 Flight 2 – $15
2011 Bourbon Barrel-aged Big Island 2012 Bourbon Barrel-aged IPA
2012 Bourbon Barrel-aged Big Island 2013 Bourbon Barrel-aged IPA
2013 Bourbon Barrel-aged Big Island 2012 Barrel-aged Kriek

First, we’ll be hosting a vertical flight tasting format.  We’ll be opening the 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions of our Barrel-aged Big Island.  Big hops, big alcohol and the subtle aging process ensure a unique flavor profile for those lucky enough to sign up for this limited event.

Second, we’ll be hosting a tasting of our Bourbon Barrel-aged IPA from two consecutive years, 2012 and 2013.  We will also be opening  a few of the 2012 Barrel-aged Kriek, a blend of two different ales aged in bourbon barrels for two and three years, with sour cherries added.

First come, first serve!  Limited space. Contact paul@islandbrewingcompany or call (805)745-8272 to learn more or sign up for this event.

Four new beers from Fig Mountain


We are lucky enough here in Santa Barbara to be part of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s tasting ground. Brewmaster A.J. Stoll and his team can use the facilities at the Funk Zone location to test new recipes and gauge the public’s reaction.

Good news for everyone outside of Santa Barbara and Buellton, some of those beers are making their way to bottles and distribution.

Over the next eight weeks, Figueroa Mountain will be releasing four new beers:

• Lizard’s Mouth IPA, a strong Imperial IPA with a pronounced bitterness and hop profile, in 22 oz bottles

• Big Cone IPA, a potent IPA with a huge hop aroma, in 22 oz bottles

• A yet-to-be-named Kolsch… in Cans!

• A yet-to-be-named saison brewed in collaboration with Whole Foods and Margerum Wine Company. that incorporates Sauvignon Blanc.

Of the four, I’m most excited about the latter two. For starters, a Kolsch in cans sounds like something I’d like to take to the beach or on a camping trip. I tasted the saison, and while it is still very young it is already brilliantly clear. The wine comes through and plays with the sulfur and pepper of the saison.

With that saison, as well as a handful of other barrel-aging projects that Stoll previewed this weekend, Stoll is beginning to emerge as a real player in the experimental beer realm. It’s very hard to compare what he’s doing to Barrelworks or Firestone-Walker’s barrel aging for several reasons, even though it’s tempting (not only are the breweries close in proximity, they’re both making fascinating beers out of barrels). The first difference is that Stoll and Figueroa Mountain don’t quite have the resources at their disposal that F-W does. They may one day, but they’re still the little brother in Buellton and the Central Coast in that regard. The other reason why it’s hard to compare Stoll’s work with that of Jeffers Richardson and Jim Crooks at Barrelworks is because they’re taking very different approaches.

Crooks and Richardson are taking a mad-scientist approach to classic and traditional beer styles — even if you aren’t familiar with a geuze or berliner weisse, they are. Stoll, on the other hand, is embracing his position in the heart of California wine country. Many of his barrel projects are a blend of beer and wine, not just wine grapes added to beer. It’s unique, and I get the distinct feeling that we the general public are just beginning to see what Stoll is capable of when he’s given the resources and freedom to experiment.