Telegraph Brewing Company - Winter Ale

Telegraph Brewing Company - Winter Ale

Beer Club featured in Rare Beer Club


Spiced Strong Porter


United States

Alcohol by Volume:


Telegraph Brewing Company - Winter Ale

  • ABV:

  • Serving Temperature:

    45-50° F
  • Suggested Glassware:

    Pint Glass or Tulip
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!
Telegraph Brewing Company founder Brian Thompson developed his passion for beer as an undergrad in the Bay Area during the early 90s as the country’s first microbrewing renaissance took hold. Like many brewers before him, he had picked up a dangerous habit: homebrewing. The practice has been known to incite abandonment of practicality and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. In some, this “gateway” practice has even been known to lead to a selloff of personal possessions or mortgaging of homes to support a jump to more hardcore behavior: professional brewing. Brian holds an M.B.A. from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley—both major scholastic accolades, for sure. Yet his homebrewing hobby ultimately grew into such an obsession that after a career in publishing and another career as a financial analyst, he couldn’t resist the urge to start a craft brewery of his own. So after an experience-garnering stint as a keg washer at Greenpoint Beerworks in Brooklyn, NY, he moved back to California and started Telegraph Brewing in Santa Barbara, along California’s gorgeous Central Coast. And he did it in 2006, just before the full unfurling of the global financial crisis. Sound scary? We’re sure it was, but not enough so to ‘rehabilitate’ the man. He remains profoundly obsessed with the brewing of beer. And, that M.B.A. from Cornell appears to have helped him develop a crafty enough business plan for Telegraph B.C. to grow in this difficult economy—even in an area that had little native market established for high-end, craft-brewed beer. But beer is an affordable luxury, as we’re so fond of pointing out, and the economic downturn has seen many people trading up for that luxury-added value. Brian has even witnessed plenty of locals side-stepping expensive wines in order to sample new, ‘native’ beer. While the brewery remains pretty small, they’ve been quite satisfied to mainly limit distribution to their local area. This is key to the principles behind their founding. As Brian puts it “Telegraph Brewing Company was born from the idea that a local brewery should reflect in its beers the culinary and agricultural traditions of its region. Our small team of brewers handcrafts unique American and Belgian-inspired beers that embrace the heritage of California's early brewing pioneers, using as many locally grown ingredients as possible… Here at Telegraph we are proud to be a small part of California's rich brewing heritage and we hope that with each pint you can taste the perfect blend of the past and the future.” Since their founding five years ago, Telegraph's award-winning beers have been imbued with a spirit of invention and creativity, but always with a nod toward history. Their beers combine the best of the Belgian, English, and American brewing traditions. Brewed with 100% domestic ingredients, but with the creative spirit Belgian brewers have long brought to their art, their brewers strive to make beers in styles often neglected in today’s craft-beer world, which is largely dominated by the pursuit of ever more hops and ever higher alcohol. “Balanced” is a word that can be used to describe almost all of Telegraph’s beers, from their delicate and citrusy White Ale, to their flagship California Ale with the perfect blend of hops and malt, to their “wild” ales that are distinctly sour and rustic without straying into mouth-puckering territory. According to Brian “we like to think that all of our beers exemplify everything that is great about life in Santa Barbara and on the Central Coast.” We’ve had the good fortune to work our way through a few of their beers, and we think they’ve nailed it. This just in! Congratulations are in order to Brian and Telegraph’s Head Brewer Scott Baer—the brewery just took home a Gold and a Silver medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival—a Gold for their flagship “California Ale”, and a Silver for their sour-mash, wild ale “Petit Obscura.” Cheers gentlemen. For more information about the Telegraph Brewing Company, check out their website at: