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Telegraph Obscura Aurantium

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When you live in Pennsylvania, it feels like out-of-state liquor stores are magical. I'm not going to turn this into a rant about the PCLB; suffice to say, it sucks. Then I read about places like K&L Wine Merchants in California, and my brain explodes. They appear to have an excellent selection of wine, spirits, and beer (for the uninitiated, in PA, you can't sell Wine and Spirits in the same building as Beer, unless you're a bar), and what's more, they actually commission bottlings of various spirits and beers (I can't speak to wine, but I assume it goes on there too). And we're not talking piddly bottom-shelf blended Scotch (you know, the ones that taste like gasoline) either. One of their recent releases: a 1997 Laphroaig 16 Year Old K&L Exclusive Signatory Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (the other one was a 21 year old Cambus, which is also an impressive get). Some readers of Kaedrin are drooling right now.

These K&L folks know their stuff, is what I'm saying. So it makes sense that they tapped Telegraph brewing for a special K&L exclusive beer. "I really gave Brian and the guys at Telegraph free run to do whatever it was that they thought would be interesting and delicious." See? Smart people. And the result was certainly interesting. Telegraph's Rhinoceros is a barleywine brewed with a hefty dose of rye (you might call it a "rye wine"), and for this bottling, they took that base beer, added Seville orange peels, and aged the whole concoction in a bourbon barrel. It's a single barrel bottling, so only 21 cases were produced (so we'll say somewhere on the order of 250 bottles). Special thanks to Jay from the (sadly now defunct) Beer Samizdat blog for snatching this up and slinging it cross-country to my liquor-store-challenged commonwealth.

Telegraph Obscura Aurantium

Telegraph Obscura Aurantium - Insert joke about Adamantium here (Aurantium is actually the scientific name for the Seville orange). Pours a very pretty Orange hued brown color with a couple fingers of bubbly, fizzy head that nevertheless manages to stick around for a while. Smells of rich, boozy bourbon, oak, vanilla, and yes, those oranges too. Taste is all spicy rye and bourbon, Belgian yeast spiciness hits in the middle too, followed by yet more booze. Mouth feel is highly carbonated and as a result this doesn't feel as heavy as a lot of big barrel aged beers. On the other hand, there's nothing to restrain the booze either, and it hits pretty hard here. A little burn and some definite warming in the belly. Not unapproachable and I rather enjoyed it, but yeah, it's boozy. I'm usually a little leery of non-wild Belgian styles aged in bourbon barrels. The highly attenuating yeast sometimes doesn't leave enough residual sugars to stand up to the bourbon barrel treatment (like this). Fortunately, this beer clears the bar. Yes, it's very boozy, but it's got enough going on that it works well. Overall a solid, interesting, complex brew. It grew on me as I drank it, too, but maybe that's the booze talking... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 10/11/13. Batch No. 124.

After the interesting failure of Obscura Cacao, I'm happy to get back on the Telegraph wagon and will happily seek out more of their stuff.

Eric at Focus on Beer recently posted an excellent rambling exploration of the utility and prevalence of beer reviews in blogs and whatnot. It seems to have inspired a lot of responses, so I figured that I'd throw my had in the ring... but then I read Ed's reasoning, which absolutely nails it:

...a lot of that focus is turned to you as a reader and why in general, beer reviews probably aren't truly useful to you. But I'd like to take a moment and focus on someone that I think beer reviews are greatly useful to, and that's us bloggers ourselves.
I've been blogging since the turn of the century (though this beer blog is only a few years old at this point), and my number one reason for blogging has always been selfish. I want to learn about something, so I write about it. I like learning about stuff and of course I want to share it with everyone, and I would't maintain public blogs if I didn't hope for some sort of audience, but that's all secondary. In the case of this blog, I was in the midst of exploring the vast world of beer and getting a little lost in the process. So I started blogging about every beer I drank. Learning has always been the goal, and if you don't believe me, go and read my first post.

Of course, I didn't want this blog to be purely reviews, but it sorta evolved into that. I try to spice things up with notes about the brewery, pedantic style debates, historical digressions, and even more off the wall stuff like Screenplays or Choose Your Own Adventure Beer Reviews. I'll be the first to admit that my tasting notes are a little on the dry side, but it's the stuff surrounding them that's most important. I'd hope that I'm somewhat successful on that score, though I have noticed recently that it's getting a little harder. I've already written about a lot of interesting breweries and styles, and I don't want to keep repeating myself, so I have to come up with something else.

As for whether or not reviews can be useful, I think they can, but it still requires you to have a fair amount of baseline knowledge. It's funny, but I find reviews much more useful now than I did when I first started trolling BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. Part of that is that my BS meter has been calibrated to tune out blowhards who use absurd descriptors and whatnot, and part of it is that I've learned enough about my tastes to pick up on certain aspects of a beer that I know will turn me on/off (whether it's a highly rated review or not).

Ultimately, it's all a bit of a wank. Everyone is different, and while my approach is to compulsively write about what I'm drinking, it's not like you have to do anything special to enjoy beer. You don't need any specialized knowledge, you just need to drink it, which is good enough for me.

Anywho, here's a beer from a brewery I really like that I found a bit disappointing. I actually think these tasting notes might even be useful if this is a beer you're thinking of purchasing, because it's a really weird beer. Not Calagione-level weird, but still. Might be worth knowing what you're in for with this one...

Telegraph Obscura Cacao

Telegraph Obscura Cacao - Pours a pale golden brown color, not what you'd expect from something brewed with chocolate, with a finger of bubbly off white head. Smells of spicy, musty Belgian yeast. As it warms, that cacao comes through loud and clear. Taste also features that spicy Belgian yeast character, with chocolate flavors coming through strong late in the taste and lingering into the finish. As it warms, the cacao becomes even more pronounced. There's a dry bitterness in the finish as well. Unfortunately, these flavor elements don't really come together in a completely harmonious way. It's like the cacao is fighting the Belgian yeast instead of meshing. It's not horrible, but it was a little disappointing. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated and spicy, medium bodied, but easy enough to drink. Overall, this isn't a spectacular beer, a little muddled and unfocused, but it's not the abomination that the ratings seem to indicate either. Spicy Belgian style with some chocolate notes that aren't particularly well matched. Not bad, but again, it's not a harmonious combo. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 5/25/13. Batch No. 99.

I still want to explore more of Telegraph's offerings, particularly Gypsy ale, and I'm sure you'll be seeing more of them on the blog at some point.

Telegraph California Ale

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Discussions of styles can be pedantic and pointless, especially when it comes to something like this beer. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer both classify it as a California Common (typified by Anchor Steam), but the defining characteristic of that style is that it's brewed with Lager yeast at Ale temperatures, and according to Telegraph, they use their house yeast for this beer (which is descended from a Belgian ale strain). I'm guessing it gets classified that way because Telegraph also says it's an "interpretation of the unique ales that were commonly brewed up and down the West Coast in the 19th century", but that doesn't necessarily mean anything when it comes to style. I've also seen folks call this a Belgian Pale Ale, a Belgian Amber (both of which would work, I guess), and of course, a saison (because what beer can't be classified as a saison?) Well, whatever. Styles can give you a good idea what you're in for, but in cases like this, the lack of agreement on styles seems to tell you something too.

Telegraph has only recently begun distributing out here (in the past year or so), though at this point, I've had all three beers I've seen available. Telegraph Reserve Wheat was a total eye opener, a Berliner Weisse that's tart but very well balanced. Los Padres Ale was a spot-on saison style beer (inasmuch as a saison can be). And now this... difficult to categorize beer, Telegraph's flagship brew:

Telegraph California Ale

Telegraph California Ale - Pours a golden amber color with tons (let's say 3 fingers) of big bubbled, foamy white head. Smells of earthy, musty Belgian yeast, a hint of spice, and maybe even some citrus fruitiness. The taste is sweet, a little bit of earthy hops, perhaps some nuttiness and again with the light citrus fruit character. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, almost effervescent, but really well balanced. Goes down pretty easy. Overall, I'm really enjoying this beer. Not a face melter, but a well crafted, balanced, complex, all around good beer! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 6/23/12. Batch No. 85.

I will most certainly be keeping an eye out for more Telegraph brews and I'm especially hoping to get me some of that Gypsy Ale that everyone raves about (apparently a fall seasonal)...

Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale

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One of the great and yet simultaneously frustrating parts of reading a lot of beer blogs is when people go on and on about fantastic beers that are only available locally (I'm as guilty of this as anyone, of course). It's great because everyone loves their local breweries and it makes for a nice communal experience with other folks in the area. But sucks when you're on the outside looking in because you'll have these situations where seemingly everywhere you look, people are raving about this or that small brewery... and they don't distribute anywhere near you.

As I've become more of a beer dork, my beer hunting prowess has certainly increased, but there are always things that are uber-local. Think Surly or The Alchemist, both of whom don't distribute outside their state, and yet it feels like everyone's drank some of that stuff. I've not yet tipped my toes into the illicit realm of beer trading, but that's certainly one way to get a hold of the stuff. Or you can just patiently wait for the beer to be distributed to your area, which has somewhat recently happened with California's own Telegraph Brewing.

Of course, I've been hearing raves about these beers from everyone. For instance, The Beer Rover has covered tons of their beer. Jay also loves them, and I found out about their plans to distribute to PA from an interview he did with the founder and brewer. So when I saw a bottle on a recent beer run, I immediately snapped it up without even really looking too closely at it... I immediately squirreled it away in my fridge, hoping to get to it quickly. Then I went and looked it up and... oh noes! Jay lists it as "unrateable". When I dug into his original review, it appears that this may have just been a reaction to the Berliner Weisse style... but then, my only real experience with that style was Dogfish Head's Festina Pêche, which is a beer I hated. Seriously, C- maybe even D range beer for me. Fortunately, my fears were mostly unfounded. I still wouldn't call this a style I prefer, but I can't imagine it being better executed:

Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale

Telegraph Reserve Wheat Ale - Pours a clear, bright straw yellow color with a finger of quickly disappearing white head. Smells of lemon and funk, with lots of wheat beer character too. Really nice nose, actually. Taste starts off a little sweet, with a pleasant lemony tart character emerging quickly, followed by a slightly more intense sourness in the finish. Not a lot of wheat in the taste, but it does have that sorta mouthfeel. Effervescent, well carbonated (but not overly so), and very lightly bodied. The sourness prevents gulping this down, but it's not a slow sipper either. Overall, this is well balanced, tart, but not overpowering. I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying this given how little I enjoyed the Dogfish Head take on the sytle. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 3/24/12.

So my first experience wasn't the bust I was dreading, and I will certainly be on the lookout for their more celebrated brews, like the California Ale or Gypsy Ale. I actually saw the California Ale recently, but it was in PA, so I would have needed to buy a full case of the stuff. I'm sure it's great and all, but I've got way too much beer sitting around here to justify that!

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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