Scott Baer of Telegraph Brewing Company

Going Pro by | Apr 2013 | Issue #75

Photo by Tad Wagner

Scott Baer began his brewing career in the tasting room, pouring pints at Santa Barbara, California’s Telegraph Brewing Company. He hustled his way into Telegraph’s brewhouse, and then into the brewery’s top spot, by never being content with what he knew. “One of the things I love about brewing is, there really is an endless number of combinations of ingredients and flavors to explore,” he says. “As soon as I started brewing, I realized it was the kind of thing I could never be satisfied with. There’s always something you can be doing better. That kind of challenge is important.”

1. Reverse-engineer it
Engineering drew Scott Baer into brewing. Baer had drank craft beers from the likes of Sierra Nevada while he was in college, but it wasn’t until he was out of school and working as a mechanical engineer that craft beers really took hold of him. That change happened when Baer started homebrewing, and beer became a product to be created, not just consumed. “Even with a 5-gallon batch of extract brew, the thirst for an expanded knowledge of what I was doing was more inspiring than anything I’d done in my job or at school. It was a really insatiable desire to learn more. That’s what I had been looking for, in a professional sense, for years.”

2. Work an inside game
Baer took a job in the Telegraph Brewing Company’s tasting room with an eye toward working his way up the brewery’s ladder. The pairing made sense on both ends: Baer was a brewing hobbyist who wanted to learn how to make beer on a commercial scale, and Telegraph was a tiny operation that needed help with grunt work. The brewery was close to home, and it was small enough that Baer could get his hands on the brewhouse. From Telegraph’s tasting room, Baer worked his way to the cellar, and then to assistant brewer, and finally head brewer.

3. Embrace the challenge
Telegraph’s beers don’t tread on familiar ground. Baer inherited three flagship brews—a California Ale, a Porter and a White—that put creative spins on established styles, and his crew continues to stray off well-beaten paths. Telegraph doesn’t brew an IPA, Baer says, because there are plenty of them to enjoy as it is; his brewers “take it as a personal challenge” to give their customers recipes they haven’t tasted before. Instead of a straight IPA, Baer brews Rye XPA, a hoppy session ale, and Prime Meridian, a Belgian Brown packed with tropical Meridian hops. Baer welcomes hopheads. He just wants them to branch out a bit.

4. Spin convention
California Ale, one of Telegraph’s flagships, exemplifies the unexpected tilt the brewery puts on its beers. The name sets up drinkers to expect a California Common. Instead, the beer is a mashup of Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Orval; a Belgian ale made with California Cascade hops. The brewery’s Stock Porter pulls a similar trick: It’s dark and chocolaty like an English Porter, but Telegraph’s Belgian yeast adds unexpected fruity and earthy notes, while also drying the beer’s finish and lightening its body. This playfulness has paid off, as Baer can’t make enough of either beer to satisfy demand.

5. Sweat the small stuff
Baer calls Telegraph’s house yeast the brewery’s “secret sauce.” It’s a Belgian strain that Baer works hot—in the 80-degree range. He likes the strain because it throws off big esters and dries out Telegraph’s beers. He also likes it because it’s a bear to work with. “It’s pretty temperamental,” he says. “It behaves differently from generation to generation. If it’s not filters getting clogged up, it’s hazy filters or a one-day fermentation, or a 36-hour lag. That challenge is part of why we all do this. Sometimes we’re pulling our hair out, but it’s what keeps us coming back.”

6. Go to lengths
Flagship beers currently consume much of Telegraph’s brewing capacity, so when Baer and his crew stray from the established playbook, they want to wander as far as possible. Petit Obscura, the brewery’s most decorated experimental beer, is a wild session ale made with the second runnings of Telegraph’s mammoth Rye Barleywine. Baer runs the beer through a sour mash, then finishes it off with Brettanomyces. The Brett, Belgian house yeast, wild bacteria and rye combine to make a funky, spicy, complex and less than 4-percent-ABV beer. “We go to lengths,” Baer says, “to combine different techniques and ingredients to make something different than what we’ve seen before.”

7. Send styles running
Rhinoceros, the heavyweight recipe that spawned Petit Obscura, started as a Barleywine, but it ends up in a more complex place. Baer makes the beer over two batches, using the second runnings from the first batch as the mash water for the second. He loads the recipe up with rye for a viscous body and spicy finish. Rye also cuts through the beer’s huge grain bill, allowing Baer to employ a hopping schedule that’s less aggressive than a typical American Barleywine, but more assertive than a Belgian Strong Ale. Rhinoceros doesn’t fit cleanly into either style category. And that, Baer believes, makes it worth seeking out.

8. Challenge yourself
Most brewers use chocolate in big, rich Stouts. So, when a local chocolatier approached Baer about doing a collaboration beer, he immediately ruled out brewing a Stout. Obscura Cacao is a play off Telegraph’s California Ale. It pours a light amber color, but loads of cacao nibs and husks add rich chocolate aromas and flavors. “That beer throws a lot of people off,” Baer says. “It smells like raw chocolate, and people expect it to pour dark into their glass. It’s not what you’d expect. We wanted to do something different. We take pride in that.”

9. Stretch out
Baer has been plugging away on a 15-barrel system since he first graduated from Telegraph’s tasting room. He’ll soon get the chance to stretch his legs, when Telegraph moves into a new brewing facility. The expanded brewery will double the size of Telegraph’s brewhouse and quadruple its square footage, and it will enable Telegraph to ramp up production on multiple fronts. The expansion will fill unmet demand for California Ale and White Ale, and it will give Baer the breathing room to give now-precious fermentor space over to a host of new beers. “There will be a lot of experimentation,” he promises.