The typical barley wine is a winter drink, sweet, malty and potent. The contrarian Santa Barbara outfit Telegraph Brewing produces an eccentric version that stretches the definition by being made with rye malt rather than barley. Telegraph even refers to it as a rye wine; probably a category with only one member.
It certainly is unique. The nose is basically clean and piney-fresh, though there's also a bit of ale fruit-and-funk quality. On the palate you notice a lot of malt sweetness combined with that elusive rye flavor that's slightly dry and usually gets compared to spiciness, plus a heady dose of alcohol. The finish is bittersweet and pretty long, but altogether there's less bitterness than you might expect from the very hoppy nose.
What food would it go with? Well, the usual grills and cheeses, I suppose, but Rhino pretty much wants to hog the spotlight for itself.
As with a lot of Telegraph's brews, it's unfiltered and bottle-conditioned, and the cork seal and 9.8% alcohol level imply that it should improve in the refrigerator for a couple of months.
Style: Big, malty, spicy and hoppy; fun to drink but you wouldn't want to let it run loose in a china shop.
Price: $11 to $13 a bottle
Where to find it: Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, (310) 306-2822, http://www.beveragewarehouse.com; Lone Hill Liquor in Glendora, (626) 963-0611; 55 Degree Wine in Atwater Village, (323) 662-5556, http://www.55degreewine.com; and Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463, http://www.hitimewine.net.