The drive from San Diego to Seattle covers 1,500 miles of ridiculously gorgeous Pacific coastline along Highway 101 (or sometimes Highway 1 in California). It could technically be tackled in two 15 hour driving shifts but I don’t recommend that. In fact, it took me nearly 40 years to have tackled the entire shoreline. So I reflected back on some favorite breweries along the way and wrote up this epic 15-brewery drive along the Pacific Coast.
All About Beer has a feature called “flights,” which, obviously is a look at a flight of beer offered at various breweries across the country. Never has Santa Barbara been featured, and since I live here now, I get to help shine a little light on the scene; specifically SB’s oldest packaging brewery, Telegraph, recently acquired by Utah’s Epic Brewing.
Of course, Telegraph isn’t SB’s only packaging brewery. You can find the errant bottled offering from Third Window (about two blocks away). This review of Walkabout Stout, a delectable treat made with local cocoa nibs, backyard oranges, and vanilla beans, is the subject of my first review for the Santa Barbara Independent alt-weekly.
The last story I’d written for CraftBeer.com narrowly focused on beers made with sage. So to zoom in even deeper, I didn’t just write about beers made with strawberries (not a broad category) but zoomed in on strawberry beers made in Louisiana, where they take their strawberry beers very seriously. In fact, the North American Strawberry Growers Association represents commercial farmers in 40 states, but none of them seem to take up the mantle of celebrating this crop in their craft beers more than the Pelican State. Yeah you right
Usually for my FSR column, there’s an actual column and it’s accompanied by 8 beer reviews. This issue, they only had room for the reviews.C’est la vie. In December of 2017, I suggested these to warm up with.
I remember when AB-InBev bought Goose Island, but that wasn’t terribly shocking since Goose was already part of the Craft Brew Alliance family, which itself was minority-owned by ABI. I remember when the house of Budweiser bought 10 Barrel out of tiny Bend, Oregon and THAT felt like a big deal. I was surprised that such a behemoth in the beer world was interested in an upstart crafty company in a remote pocket of Oregon. As the wheel keeps turning, we’ve seen major acquisitions (Lagunitas, Ballast Point) and some less earth-shattering ones (like when Heineken-owned Lagunitas bought minuscule but mighty Moonlight Brewing or Green Flash bought infinitesimal but incredible Alpine Brewing). So it is with today’s breaking news that Utah’s Epic Brewing, which already has a satellite brewing in Denver’s booming River North District, has agreed to purchase Telegraph Brewing based right here in Santa Barbara.
When I went to school here at UCSB in the mid-nineties, Santa Barbara Brew Co. opened during my senior year. The Brewhouse was a couple years from opening when I graduated. Heck, even Firestone Walker, which in 2015 was folded into the Belgian-owned Duvel-Moortgat, hadn’t started slinging its pale ales (to say nothing of its 805 blonde ale juggernaut). In other words, the last time I lived in this tropical oasis, it was a beer desert. As the Prodigal Gaucho returns, I have found a quaint little brewing scene (keep in mind I moved here via Portland a.k.a. Beervana). SB is home to six breweries (Telegraph, founded in 2006, being the third oldest and arguably the best). North a bit in Goleta there are four good breweries. Down in fire-ravaged Ventura there’s a mini boom going on where the eighth, Leashless, just opened. This reminds me, I hope the unfortunately-named Smoke Mountain Brewery is okay!
Having said that, it’s not exactly like California’s Central Coast is even a burgeoning beer Mecca. The Golden State’s already got San Diego and the Bay Area. Russian River put Sonoma County on the map while even late-to-the-table Los Angeles is now charging ahead as a boomtown. Heck, even East Coast centric BeerAdvocate is hosting its first Extreme Beer Fest-LA this weekend (that I hope to attend but those aforementioned wildfires will likely keep me from being able to make it). So one of the things I’ll be diving into in upcoming coverage is how, exactly, Utah’s four-time GABF winning brewery that produces 27,000 barrels a year singled out Santa Barbara’s six-time GABF winning tiny brewery. From a recent phone conversation with founder Brian Thompson—who I first met when I ambled unannounced into his fledgling brewery in 2006—I gathered he was feeling the heat of today’s beer industry logistics. But when faced with a rumor that his was the brewery listed on an industry board as being for sale, he shot down that notion! Perhaps hearing his name in the rumors got his own wheels turning. Stay tuned for more. And if you’ve never tried any Telegraph Beer, go out and buy some and see what Epic is already hip to.
Here’s the release sent out today:
Epic Brewing Completes Purchase of Santa Barbara’s Telegraph Brewing Co.
Salt Lake City, UT— On December 6 th Epic Brewing purchased Telegraph Brewing Company, Santa Barbara’s first and original craft brewery, and has announced investment plans to expand Telegraph and broaden the brewery’s reach as an additional brand in the Epic family.
Telegraph Brewing has been operating in Santa Barbara since 2006 when Founder Brian Thompson opened his dream brewery, focused on high-quality, Belgian-inspired, uniquely-Californian beers produced with local ingredients.
“So much has changed in the craft beer world since I started Telegraph, back when hazy beers were just called unfiltered and there were fewer than 1,500 brewers nationwide,” Thompson said. “Today, with the number of breweries approaching 6,000, the craft brewing landscape is radically different. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, but the increased competition from the likes of AB-INBEV’s “crafty beers” as well as new startups is requiring everyone in the industry to recalibrate their plans for the future. Earlier this year I began looking for ways to strengthen our legacy, and entering into a transaction with Epic was the right fit, both strategically and culturally. This partnership will allow us to nurture our deep California roots, retain and expand our amazing staff, and continue to develop our brand in new and innovative ways. My team and I are excited that Telegraph Brewing will remain a small, independent craft brewery and at the same time have the support and drive provided by one of the nation’s most creative, fearless, and fastest-growing brewery.”
With Epic’s investment, Telegraph will not only continue brewing its well-respected beer, but will begin expanding its brewing operations. There are immediate plans to increase the production capacity and offer new packaging options, including several new 12-ounce cans under the Telegraph brand. Epic will also move seven of their foeders—large wooden vessels for aging sour beer—from their Denver brewery to Santa Barbara, enabling Telegraph to produce more of its award-winning sour beers. California locals can also look forward to a new series of modern IPAs including some juicy and hazy styles, which will be sold fresh from Telegraph’s brewery.
“It’s a long-term dream come true” says Dave Cole, Co-founder of Epic Brewing. “I fell in love with craft beer living in California and that love didn’t diminish when I moved to Utah despite the beer scene at the time. I feel like I’ve come full circle. We have been actively looking for great breweries to purchase for the past 18 months and bringing Telegraph Brewing into the Epic family is exciting. We are investing in the future of Santa Barbara and are thrilled to have a direct and local connection to the amazing California craft beer community, where we share so much history. To be part of such a well-regarded brewery like Telegraph is something I’ve always hoped to do and now it’s finally a reality. It provides us an avenue to combine our teams and build on Telegraph’s portfolio with our innovative vision. This couldn’t be a better fit – including some advantageous distribution overlaps that create opportunities to expand both brands across California and beyond.”
Epic Brewing Company, LLC was opened in May of 2010 in Salt Lake City and expanded to Colorado in 2013. Epic is 100% independent and family owned and is known for its innovation of style and wood aged beers, currently producing over 27,000 Barrels a year. Epic is distributed in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia & Washington D.C., Washington, Wisconsin, & Wyoming.
Telegraph Brewing, Santa Barbara’s original craft brewery, sold its first kegs in 2006 and specializes in brewing uniquely American and Belgian-inspired beers. Telegraph uses 100% domestic ingredients and as many local ingredients as possible, capturing in each sip the unique culinary and agricultural traditions of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast. Since 2011, Telegraph has won six Great American Beer Festival medals and two World Beer Cup awards.
Well this is fun. Writing my own entry for The Session that I’m hosting/foisting on my fellow beer bloggers. The self-imposed assignment is to write about how (I) would design (my) dream beer festival. Conceptually, I tried to take all the major facets into account: theme, beer style(s), location, attendance, ticket pricing, and my overarching-ampersand that affects the way I think about enjoying beer, writing about beer, and celebrating beer, “and,” as in “beer and.” In other words, this is a festival for beer and what-else?
The level of self-interest in this ain’t veiled. I actually throw a few beer festivals back in Portland where I got to live from 2010 to the summer of 2017. And I may take a stab at one here in SoCal (since beerfests and sun go snifter-in-hand). My first baby is Baker’s Dozen in which I invite a baker’s dozen worth of breweries to make a coffee beer using 13 roasters’ beans and attendees also get samples from 13 doughnuteries (the 4th annual fest will be March 11, 2018). There’s Kriekfest, a celebration of Belgian Kriek-inspired beers or imports from Belgium that takes place in the Columbia River Gorge surrounded by Oregon cherry orchards (mark your calendars for July 21, 2018). For a couple years I had a hoot doing The Rural Brewer, inspired both by visiting all the tiny Oregon breweries in tiny towns far from the greater beer map as well as the running gag in 30 Rock about an off-broadway musical, The Rural Juror. And, what started as and really should’ve remained just a fun what-if exercise in beerfest tomfoolery, City of Goses. (Because beer puns.)
What these tell me is that I clearly love niche beer festivals. And that, both by design in the fact that sales are capped and never would’ve sold far beyond that cap (500), I prefer settings that are cozier. It’s what the Dutch call gezellig. That was my pitch to Portland’s moribund Bazi Bierbrasserie in launching Gluhbier Night—an intimate affair of warm, mulled beers that are a way of life at European Christmas markets (along with the infinitely more popular gluhwein). Beer fests, to me, are like the perfect concerts. It’s not that I’ve never attended stadium concerts (Rolling Stones. Eric Clapton. Even Michael Jackson at Dodger Stadium supporting Thriller!). And it’s not that I don’t love OBF and GABF with their thousands and thousands of revelers. But when you’re at a smaller venue, you feel a sense of camaraderie and anyone there might become your new beer drinking buddy. I’m still friends with someone I met a decade ago at a blues and brews fest, highlighting the power of both beer and music. So for me, when the number of attendees stretches out into the triple digits but not the fours, I think you’re really mashing with steam.
Style-wise, there’s absolutely something to be said for a fest where you get to enjoy as wide a range of styles as brewers can conceive. My palate doesn’t mind bouncing around from bitter IPA to boozy BBA behemoth to puckering lambic-style and then mellow out with an approachable Continental lager. But my dream beer fest doesn’t peddle in that kind of cerveza schizophrenia. I do relish IPAs, stouts, and barrel-aged beers, but there’s no shortage of IPA fests (and IIPA and IIIPA) or dark beer fests or wood-aged ones. I’m not interested in recreating an event that’s been done before. Clearly, I really love coffee beers. And my favorite fruited beers really are cherry ones (sorry Framboise-o-philes, I rarely share your raspberry romance). One beer fest I loved conceptually was Mighty Mites, conceived and curated by session beer statesman Jeff Alworth. Nothing over 4% ABV! Imagine a fest where you can truly sample every beer and walk out on your own accord. It occurred once and then Bazi continued a watered down (I see what I did there) version of it as part of the Hawthorn Street Fair. I also was enamored with Portland Mercury’s Malt Ball, wherein Portland brewers and bands truly sat down and created a beer designed to pair with the band’s sound. They never pulled it off perfectly, but the concept was divine. So for this imaginary fest I’m scheming up, one thing I’m currently crushing on is herbal beers. (Sage beers, anyone?!) Saisons infused with Basil or thyme supplement my love of hops. This is very much in the domain of Beers Made By Walking.
As for my “beer and” thoughts above, since every festival is essentially a giant beer garden, naturally this one would have a giant herb garden. Picture a farmer’s market meets cooking demonstration where you get to learn about ways to use these various herbs: homemade tinctures, remedies, growing tips, and more. Keep in mind I can hardly grow a bed of mint so this is something I could really use.
As for the twin elements of festival location and region the participating breweries hail from, which I cushioned as “locavore vs. globetrotter,” I’m torn on this. Much like the best beer is, theoretically, the one in my hands, the best beer fest is the one closest to me. But in reality, neither is always or frequently true. I’ve seen some beer events championing smoked beers, and I have no clue if this is a thing, but if someone held a Rauchbierfest in Bamberg, I’d be part of that zeitgeist. Still, I’d like to see the best of smoke from breweries in and beyond Franconia. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to Night of Great Thirst, Belgium’s lambicfest, when we lived in neighboring Holland. And even that now includes great representations from breweries as far afield as the USA. So my mythical Herbal Beer Fest for anywhere from 500-999 beer fans is to be held in a gnome’s garden or a færie’s forest. And I want creatures from all around to fly or burrow their way in.
Incidentally, one of the items I put forward to participants for this exercise is to come up with the price of admission. This is something I completely struggle with IRL. As the events organizer, I confess I’d like to make money off of them. As someone who attends way more beer fests than I put on, I like to not spend a ton. I’m convinced that my events are a great value, based on how little I’ve ever made off of them. Maybe I should bring in sponsors. Maybe I should charge more. One thing I’ll never do is offer a VIP session. Unlike, say, flying somewhere where the passengers have nothing in common except a destination, concert goers and festival attendees are in it together. They should be communal and therefore egalitarian. (By way of confession, when I accept media passes to a beerfest, they sometimes include the perks of VIP admission. Perhaps that’s hypocritical, but I’d never pay extra to feel entitled to MORE of the beerfest than my anyone else. Also, I never use all my media tokens and end up sharing them with strangers.) So I don’t like to give anyone special privileges just because they could pay more than the hoi polloi. Maybe that’s just me and maybe I’m leaving money on the table as a result.
Now, am I really going to put on this beerfest? No. Well, never say never. Like I said, I do want to create something here in SoCal that we don’t already have. And despite the bi-annual release of the Stone Brewing collab saison featuring parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, I don’t believe there’s any event just for herbal beers. If anyone reading this wants to partner, you know where to find me. But first, gut check: would you buy a ticket?
I love herbal beers but I particularly think sage works wonders in the right beer. But good luck pitching a story about the so-narrow-it’s-nearly-two-dimensional field of sage beers. Unless there’s a hook, a peg, an angle. Hence, I waited months until I figured CraftBeer.com would want something on Thanksgiving beers, especially ones to suggest that aren’t flavored like pumpkin pie! And since a good stuffing mix and turkey brine includes sage, well, here’s a round-up of beers so sagey, they’re sagacious.