Telegraph Brewing Co. recently held their 2017 3rdAnnual Dia de las Obscuras Rare Beer Festival, a sessioned event where they showcase their most groundbreaking sours and barrel-aged beers. Obscura is Latin for “shadowy, indistinct” and the brews produced in this line are just that. Each one is thought-driven, not trend-driven, and plays with different concepts that blurs the lines between styles and techniques. Every year Dia de las Obscuras has impressed beer drinkers with unique flavors and creative blends. This event continues to cement Telegraph as local leaders in the barrel-aged and sour beer movement with a long-standing barrel program that exhibits the care and consideration they put into each brew.
Many of the beers featured at the event contain their house souring culture, which began as a strain of Lactobacillus delbrueckii that was contaminated with a type of Brettanomyces. Over the years, the brewers would pour the dredges from their favorite wild beers, culturing the microorganisms from the bottle and creating a collective soup of inspiration. Each year Dia de las Obscuras features vintages of Telegraph’s classic sours like the elegant yet bold Obscura Vulpine and the bracing Obscura Peche alongside a slew of new concoctions, many of which are made only for the event. This year took a slightly different format than years past with the brewery hosting three smaller sessions rather than two larger ones. The result was an event that had a much more relaxed ambiance and felt like a regular night at the tasting room rather than a crowded event. This gave people more room to sit and chat with friends, and of course, a better opportunity to focus on the beers.
Some new brews
Past Dia de las Obscuras have featured a tea-based sour and this year was no different. Across the Arabian Sea was a golden ale aged for about fifteen months in red wine barrels from Telegraph’s neighbor, Carr Winery. It was “dry-hopped” with Chinese jasmine tea and Madagascar vanilla beans. The grape character of the barrel was prominent and the jasmine tea and vanilla added a smoothness with elements of powdered sugar and a distinct candied note. Also similar to past years, there was two beers that were not sour but still incorporate barrels or wild microorganisms. The Last Tycoon was produced for Healthy Spirits out of the Bay Area and will be released for their membership club later this year. It was inspired by the Manhattan cocktail and aged Telegraph’s Abbey Ale for eight months in a Smooth Ambler bourbon barrel with cherries. The Last Tycoon lived up to the flavors that inspired it.
The Absolute(ly Not) Zero IPA was the brewers poking fun at the concept of a new trend of “Zero IBU” IPAs. It is basically impossible to produce zero IBUs (the unit of measurement for bitterness) in a beer so this trend in the beer industry has been met with skepticism and a touch of ridicule. The Absolute(ly Not) Zero IPA contained Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic, and Idaho 7 hops and was placed in a stainless steel fermenter rather than a wooden barrel, but had some Brettanomyces (Bretts for short) cultures added in to dry out their beer. Bretts cultures are known for their funky flavors but they are also popular for their ability to eat every sugar they come near, producing a beer that is extra dry. The beer had a lush aroma of mango, marmalade, and passion fruit with a lime peel bitterness and a grassy note from the extra dose of dry-hopping.
A batch of Sanguis
A little over a year ago Telegraph received an allotment of barrels from the local Sanguis Wines. They produced a single brew, batch 198 to be exact, of a blonde ale to fill these various barrels. A gyle is an old school UK brewing term to describe a batch of beer as it moves through the brewing process. At Dia de las Obscuras, Gyle 198 was the most direct example of the wort destined for the Sanguis barrels. The base beer was added to a red wine barrel and aged with their house sour culture. The result was a brew with some blackberry and cherry flavors that finished with a nice cidery tang.
Hemingway Never Did This references a Charles Bukowski poem and was produced from a single red wine hogshead barrel (50% more volume than a standard wine barrel) and aged on apple wood chips that they toasted in-house and a dash of fresh spearmint. The wood chips took main stage with a warming quality that blended with a soothing acidity while the spearmint added a breath of fresh air in the background. The One Who Knocks was constructed from 50% of the batch 198 base and 50% of their White Ale that was placed into a single barrel of Sanguis’ viognier with forty pounds of apricot puree added in six weeks before the event. The apricot character was graceful and the barrel shined through, lacing notes of kiwi, gooseberry, and limoncello, throughout the brew.
Kettle souring is a technique where a brewer halts the brewing process midway by letting the mash sit in the boiling kettle for an extended amount of time (usually overnight and up to two days) on a culture of Lactobacillus (Lacto for short). The brew is then resumed as normal where it is then boiled, sterilizing the liquid. This is a quick, effective means of producing acidity in beer. While elements of this technique are not new (bourbon uses a “sour mashing” process of a similar ilk), kettle sours have reached peak popularity over the past year or two and many craft brewers are incorporating these brews into their lineup. Of course Telegraph, always ahead of the curve, has been using this technique for years in some of their beers like the Reserve Wheat. There were two kettle sours at the event that were produced in small batches on their pilot system. Both used a wheat base that consisted of 60% pilsner malt and 40% wheat malt. Flower Crown was inspired by rosé wine and was fermented with cherries and pomegranate. The fruit added a smoothness to the acidity with the wheat adding a touch of bread dough. Telegraph Mule was inspired by the Moscow Mule cocktail and was brewed with a ginger-lemon juice that brewer Patrick Ceriale got from a friend’s juice company. He added a dash of lime zest to up the citrus game and the ginger came in strong but was not overtly hot.
Coming to a bottle near you
If you missed Dia de las Obscurars this year, do not fret, some of the beers may be getting bottled later this year. And fortunately for us, two of the most notable brews at the event will definitely be getting bottled later this year. Obscura Alba was a wild ale aged in Silver Wines white wine barrels with their house sour culture. This bright brew had notes of hyssop and green lemon peel with a tinge of pine resin balancing its acidity. Obscura Magnifique was aged in red wine barrels with their house sour culture and blended with raspberry and cherry purees. The raspberries had a distinct freshness to the character that were place elegantly alongside the wine tannins and followed by a crisp tang. Keep an eye out for these bottle releases later this year and while you are looking at your calendar make sure to plan ahead for next year’s Dia de las Obscuras as this is one event that you do not want to miss.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel, May 16, 2017