Winter Ales run the gamut in terms of flavors, aromas, colors, etc.; it can be difficult to know what you’re getting. Still, despite the disparate options out there, there’s something familiar that calls us to them each year. Telegraph’s Winter Ale is one of our favorites, and it too makes us feel a sense of the familiar—like coming home for the holidays. That’s because the folks at Telegraph set out once each year to “put the holidays in a glass” when they brew this limited quantity brew. Owner and Founder Brian Thompson tells us that “the guys at the brewery feel like the holidays have arrived when we get around to making this beer.” We’d love to be there on brew day when the aromas from this beer and all 6 of its malts and 5+ spices fill the air. Part of the inspiration for this beer is Mexican-style hot chocolate (as a co-nod to local culture and the season). 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 that the brewery is keeping to themselves. Telegraph’s Winter Ale pours a very dark burgundy brown color, with an attractive, well-proportioned pale tan head that laces nicely. Quite an attractive brew. The nose on this beer is alluring, full of rich winter ale spice notes, but supplemented by an herbal, nearly mentholated edge that conjures up images of cloves, mint and even cedar. Another interesting thing about this beer is that it uses only one type of hop, Northern Brewer, and a lot of the wood-oil aromatics seem to be coming from the hops. Also look for notes of melon (think cantaloupe or honeydew), plums, and a spiced, almost gingery edge. Allspice—check. Chocolate—check. Prominent notes of cinnamon sticks (not the sugary powdered version, but the raw sticks) are present too, as is an intriguing smokiness as well, like what you might get off burning highly aromatic woods like eucalyptus or cedar. We picked up some wisps of porter-like chalkiness too, along with some alcohol as it warms. What a complex nose—it just goes on and on. The palate is equally complex, offering up a slew of flavors. We got plums, ginger, cocoa, licorice, cinnamon and cloves, to name a few. The big malt bill owns the flavor profile, being nice and perfectly chewy for the style, but Telegraph’s use of a Belgian yeast strain has put a very distinctive color on things, working in tandem with the spices. Eucalyptus and suggestions of camphor develop, with a real Christmas Potpourri thing going on (think evergreen wreaths dressed in cinnamon sticks), along with some cannabis-like notes in the middle and into the finish. The beer wraps up with all of the flavor elements gently fading out, 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 even after minutes between sips. The smoky phenolics from the Belgian yeast work very well with the chilies, as does a slight smokiness in the roasted malts, especially in these final moments of the beer. Overall, this is Winter Ale of distinction, with a deep yet cohesive complexity, and one we look forward to nipping on to sustain us during the upcoming winter months. According to the brewery, while this beer will hold up nicely for at least 9-months, it’s meant to be consumed within 3-4 months or so. If you hang on to it, expect the ancho chili flavors to swell over time as the yeast continue to chew up the residual sugars in the brew. But this is a great beer to have on hand at various holiday activities, so order up to ensure you have plenty on hand for upcoming gatherings with family and friends. One final note here: this beer 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. Happy Holidays!