Photos by Tosh Clements
We value nice things because we are principled enough to know the difference and desire the difference. We are looking for authenticity in a world that is so full of content that it’s hard to be authentic. --Telegraph Brewing's Marketing Director, Trevor Scoggins.
It’s strange, that craft beer has been labeled a movement. Brewing beer, in fact, particularly in barrels, has been around for thousands of years. Today's brewers will be the first to express such sentiment, many of whom pay respects to their brewing forefathers via their work and naming schemes.
But, there were dark, dark times when the concept of beer, at least for many, was something that was brewed in bulk with machines in massive production plants, producing a familiar yellow beverage reminiscent of something….else. Now, there's nothing wrong with the innovation that led to mass production. But certain things are deserving of special consideration. At some point, people realized beer was one of those things. Like bikes, beer requires patience (quite a bit more), there are theories of making that are rooted in tradition from which the maker shall not deviate. But there is also flexibility, principles of the maker.
Craft beer is where art, science, patience, ingredients, and materials are just a few of the elements that might influence a brewer’s choice. This is another form of making but equally crafty. This is making to break free from big industry where big industry is inadequate. Brewing is a way to manipulate the physical world, a maker can at least operate in a genre of choice on the maker's own terms. Craft brewers look to break free from the notion that a “working class” beverage can’t be described as craft.
Meet Telegraph Brewing Company’s barrel program director and lead brewer, Patrick Ceriale as well as marketing head, Trevor Scoggins. Both are Santa Barbara locals, called by craft to continue to build a local Santa Barbara company.
Like many makers, Patrick didn’t get started by working at a big company. He started by brewing beer in his dorm room. Then he moved to Ballast Point, where he brewed in a 24-hour-a-day operation that produced several million gallons of beer, primarily brewing the famed IPA called Sculpin.
Telegraph is also something of a Stinner favorite, and we certainly appreciate their craft.
Patrick walked us through the brewing and fermentation process and provided a bit of insight into answering “why?”
Danny: So, where do we start?
Patrick: Well, we’ll give you the tour every brewery in the world gives, but it’ll help explain the process a bit.
Brewers do not make beer, they make sugar water, we’ll take grain, hops, water, and yeast and put it all together.
What I’m showing you in the fermentation tank now is actually our White Ale. For this particular beer we add in a little bit of coriander, orange peel and some chamomile. Then we add our yeast, and the yeast will consume those sugars, turn it into alcohol, and carbon dioxide.
What you see is fermentation, producing gas, and blowing it out the top. That’s great news for us [ed.- Patrick was being a bit humorous, it's how the process should work]. The first thing we check when we come in is to ensure the the beer we brewed yesterday is bubbling, that means we did it right, the yeast is healthy.
Danny: You’re in charge of barreling and particularly handle the sour beers here. What’s the mystique around sour beer, how’s it made?
Patrick: Basically the whole deal with the sour beer, they’re blowing up, everybody loves them, nobody understands how they’re made. Basically we’ll take "clean beer," we’ll call it clean beer (which is a general term most beer folks are familiar with which is any beer that does not have wild microorganisms for instance, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, Pediococcus - the big ones). Brettanomyces will give it a really funky flavor, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus will make it that tart, mouth puckering flavor.
What we’ll be doing, is fill up these barrels with our clean white ale, and once it’s settled, probably tomorrow, I’ll inoculate it with our house culture. Really,we take completed beer and fill the oak barrels to inoculate with those otherwise undesirable wild organisms. Hopefully, in about a year or so, these guys will be ready to go. Brettanomyces will give it a really funky or fruity flavor, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus will give it that tart, mouth puckering flavor.
Danny: That’s the heart of making, though, it seems. It’s making mistakes, watching those mistakes turn into something cool.
Patrick: Certainly, It’s really nice having a reproducible product, and being able to recreate something. There are a lot of yeast companies (we get our yeast from White Labs), that'll grow cultures of commercial yeast for you, and you know they’re going to be the exact same for every batch. All your IPAs are going to be fermented with one strain of yeast. Our own house sour culture will give it that unique flavor that makes the Telegraph sour beer possible. Nobody else has that sour culture, it’s here and we’ve got it and you can try to recreate it, but it changes. It works for what we’re doing.
Danny: There’s a local influence, too, yeah? For instance, wine is big in Santa Barbara and these barrels are from around the corner.
Yeah, definitely, we got the batch of barrels I'm working on today from Carr winery next store. And they just emptied these guys out. We are reaping the benefits. One of these barrels is a 2003, it’s had many years of wine going through it. The wood is really good, just the right amount of oxygen to let the brett grow, also we have the added benefit of getting that awesome wine flavor and a little oak. Most of our sours are fermented in barrels, but we have two stainless steel fermenters down at the other end that have sour beers, but we can’t use them for anything else now. They are used only for wild beers to prevent cross-contamination with the "clean" beer we make.
It’s strange, because we’re purposely contaminating our beer with microorganisms with what brewers really try to avoid, and rightfully so. Wineries too. When we got these barrels from next door he was stoked, but he was also not altogether comfortable with it, because we’re going to have so many more of these bugs floating in the air and it's in the neighborhood. We’ve done a good job keeping it under control.
Basically our cultures are very small, extremely dense, full of bacteria. We are going at it with the home-brew route, these little glass carboys, you’ll see this exact set up in a lot of people’s garages. Instead of making our beer in them, we’re just propagating our cultures, I’m actually in the process of transitioning them out these glass ones, because they just let a little bit of light in, and they’re easy to break.
Danny: Did you start brewing at home?
Patrick: Pretty much, I started brewing in college and I actually moved down to SD, then got a job with Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits. Kind of worked my way up there and worked as a cellarman, all the while doing home brewing, kind of doing my own little sour projects. And now I’m doing it on a production scale.
Danny: Speaking of time, how do you decide when a beer is ready?
Patrick: Decision for these types of projects is made based mostly on flavor. From this point on, we’re going off how samples from this barrel tastes to decide when we are happy with it. We may use a specific barrel we like to propagate the house culture, in fact. We want to control what we contaminate it with and the way we introduce these organisms into the barrels. Oxygen is one huge issue with this process because it's a fine line between getting the desirable qualities of this yeast verse ending up with the unpleasant flavors that can come out of wild fermentation.
One of the biggest changes with the house culture is the amount, basically, cell density. If we have a barrel with its 5th or 6th go around we basically have so much bacteria and yeast in the wood that it’ll sour quicker but if it has Brett it may be more on the funky side as opposed to the fruity side. It gets to the point where you let it go, it might develop into something awesome. I’m more into the fruity side than the funky side. It changes and at some point and you have to invest in new material.
We’re trying to use Bacteria that isn’t super aggressive to create a more subtle layered, complex beer. Some Breweries are into the extremely tart beers. Not saying I’m not, I just can’t drink them all the time. So basically we want more of that softer acidity. That’s one reason we use lactobacillus as our souring organism. We prefer time. We’re putting the time and effort into doing this so why not wait for the best product we possibly can.
Beer in a nutshell is hurry up to wait. Brew day, is three of us running around scrambling to do everything. Then we have to wait for two weeks for the yeast to do its thing. But then we’re doing everything else, cleaning, scrubbing floors. People think that being a brewer is really awesome. We’re glorified plumbers, we get really good at that stuff. Whatever. Electricians…It happens in every brewery.
We could call this the epilogue. This is where Trevor stepped in. Trevor is passionate about the brand. He knows beer and he knows Santa Barbara. Trevor is called by the notion of production in Santa Barbara. Working in Trevor’s position is something that’s labor intensive, perhaps thankless. It’s a belief in the product. He’s not exactly getting rich, but Trevor asks all those questions we all ask. Why is “Craft” better? What are we pursuing? How do we let people know that what we’re doing is something different and not just for money or branding, but because we really like what we do? How do describe a different kind of wealth?
Trevor: There was a time when all beer was flat and all beer was sour. Before we had commercial sanitation, they boiled water, but that’s why farmhouse beer is called farmhouse beer. Whatever was growing around the particular farmhouse is what went into the beer, what flavored it. So, we’re picking and choosing the ones we want to play with. What would have been spontaneous before is now calculated.
At the end of the day, we’re not doing anything significantly differently than people have been doing since medieval times. Not just for the sake of beer but for the sake of art. The only thing we’re doing differently is we’re able to control a lot of factors. Invariable temperature, ingredients, pressure, to angle for the flavor we want, it’s not just an experiment. We know what pieces need to go into it, it’s not just following a recipe to get elements of the desired flavor each time.
You have this style of beer that went, even in California that was totally fringe. There were a lot of folks who knew it and understood the complexity of flavors but most people were so unable to deal with that, either because they’re drinking shitty beer, or they’re just not there yet. They don’t understand that beer can have a wide range of flavors and complexities. Now we’re in a place in beer it’s becoming progressively more mainstream. We’re only selling it in major markets. It’s becoming kind of commercial. What happens when you have craft become commercial, what gives? Exclusivity gives, which is often good. The other side of the spectrum are folks who don’t have an appreciation for detail. Now we’re refining what is and isn’t desirable.
A lot of that is subjective, a lot of it is conjecture. Some people who are authorities in the area are finding that not everything that is labeled as quality is quality. It’s very difficult to set yourself apart as a small company, to say why there’s value waiting on a beer for a year. And at the end of the day it costs more as well.
There’s the love, there’s the art, the pursuit of a perfection, but we need to do it in such a way where people understand what they’re getting. There’s a certain level of consistency to our beer. We’re getting more organized and consistent, but it’s hard to be commercial on this scale. A lot of people can’t tell the difference, we want to bring people in who give a shit.