FYI — Telegraph has an IPA

Note: This column originally appeared in the Dec. 4 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press. Telegraph’s IPA is still on tap and they have recently released an old favorite, Rhinoceros, as well.

For a Thursday night in mid-November, Telegraph Brewing Co. was unusually busy. The local taprooms are always a common gathering place for Santa Barbara’s beer drinkers, but the crowd at Telegraph was in for something specific.

For the first time in its nearly nine-year existence, Telegraph brewed an IPA.

And while the style is ubiquitous at just about every other brewery in the country, Telegraph had built a reputation for making more esoteric styles.

“Most of our beers are, if not yeast-centric, (of a) yeast character,” Telegraph brewmaster Paul Rey said. “Cipher Key Session Ale, 1927 and the Ravena Stout are all brewed with an English strain that we really like. The two lagers are Czech Pilsner yeasts, but most of the other beers are with our house Belgian strain.”

Telegraph founder Brian Thompson stressed that this was not a matter of caving to peer pressure or doing something they didn’t want to do. According to him, this IPA was long overdue.

“The reason we haven’t brewed an IPA until now is not because we don’t like IPAs,” he said. “Every one of us really appreciates a good IPA. But Telegraph has always been about doing things differently. Looking back over the last five or six years, as the popularity of IPA grew, it felt like every brewery in the country was making multiple IPAs, and a lot of them were very mediocre, and it felt like a lot of brewers were just chasing a trend.

“Now, though, it feels very different; there is a big percentage of craft beer drinkers who only drink IPA, especially younger drinkers and new craft beer drinkers. IPA isn’t a trend anymore; IPA just is. And the style isn’t waning in popularity anytime soon.”

Telegraph’s American IPA was fermented with a neutral yeast. The strain, made popular first by Sierra Nevada up in Chico, leaves few traces that it was ever there apart from a bright, crisp ale — thus the other ingredients in beer, such as hops, are allowed to shine.

In the case of Telegraph’s IPA, that means plenty of pine and a little bit of melon notes come through in the aroma. The flavor profile is well-balanced, and there is a suitable bitterness that helps even out the sweetness from the malt.

It might not be the best IPA in town, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable beer. Most importantly for Telegraph, it gives local drinkers another reason not to go anywhere else. Each of Santa Barbara’s breweries have their own pros and cons, and a big con at Telegraph was a lack of a real IPA — the most popular style of craft beer in America.

The recent American IPA is just the first in a series of beers for the brewery before Thompson and his team can finally settle on one brew that will become “Telegraph IPA.”

According to Rey, the ultimate goal will be to put that beer into cans — a project that will require continued growth of Telegraph’s infrastructure and is at least a year away, likely more.

In the meantime, the brewery that never made an IPA will be coming out with a few more iterations of the style — beginning with a Belgian IPA and an English IPA in early 2015.

Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and the author of “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” (St. Martin’s Press). His column appears the first Thursday of the month. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_M_Lewis.