Guests at Branch Line really have it all: a cozy dining room with vaulted ceilings, a welcoming patio, and a menu bulging with roasted meats and grilled veggies. But one of the Watertown restaurant’s most esteemed features remains a bit under the radar, at least at first glance.
Once diners peer past the slabs of rotisserie chicken and axe-handle rib-eye, past the packed list of wines from across the world, they’ll find one of the best beer programs in the Boston area.
Before lunch or dinner arrives from the kitchen, consider thumbing through the draft list or glancing over at the pristine bar space. As bartenders bounce between the restaurant’s seemingly unlabeled 20 taps, pouring rare stouts and IPAs into sleek glassware, it’s clear the people behind the bar know their stuff.
Many of those offerings scream high-end — think off-kilter ales from Kent Falls in Connecticut and rare brews from To Øl of Denmark — but others, like Jack’s Abby’s veritable House Lager, keep things simple.
Branch Line beer buyer Magellan Casto has curated her list to maintain just that balance, both in terms of style and regionality.
“It’s always tricky because you don’t want to alienate anyone who’s looking for something simple and classic,” she says. “You also need to keep it super interesting and fresh for people looking for really cool stuff.”
Locality isn’t necessarily the goal here — ales anywhere from the West Coast to Belgium have become commonplace — but many locals do make the cut. A recent visit revealed pours from Everett’s Night Shift, some double dry-hopped goodness from Trillium, and a hearty imperial stout from Oxbow Brewing in Maine.
Casto built up her beer knowledge while working at Bukowski Tavern and the Lower Depths, but she really found her calling after being exposed to the complex, barrel-aged roster at Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, Colorado. The trip out West showed her what beer could be, should be, and can be.
“At that point, I liked brown and amber ales, I hated IPAs, and I didn’t even know what a sour was,” Casto says. “Everything took off from there.”
She’s since brought her repertoire to Branch Line to help the restaurant’s draft list flourish. No one beer is a permanent fixture on Casto’s menu: She says that on average, one beer is newly tapped or swapped out every night. One tap line is also reserved for cider. The majority of beers drifting on and off the menu are popular IPAs, but Casto doesn’t mind. She says she enjoys the pursuit of finding the next great beer to bring on board.
One such is Anagram, a blueberry cheesecake stout made by Omnipollo and Dugges Bryggeri of Sweden. The collaboration stout is extremely difficult to find on the East Coast, and is not normally distributed to Massachusetts, but Casto found her chance to cop a keg when Copenhagen Beer Festival came through Boston this past weekend.
“Only one or two kegs came into Massachusetts, and I just had to [get it],” she says.
That beer won’t be the only treat Casto obtained as a result of the festival. Keep an eye out for a few sours from Arizona Wilderness, some offerings from Barreled Souls Brewing in Maine, and a few other rarities from spots like Lost Abbey in California.
Branch Line’s beer list brims with a variety of styles and possibilities, but it does draw attention to an interesting bleed between beverage programs. After all, Branch Line is revered locally for its wine selection. Rather than see this divide as an issue, Casto finds that the two drinks complement each other quite nicely.
“It’s a pretty coexistent system,” she says. “A lot of people come in for either beer or wine, but sometimes you find those people branching out a little bit, whether that be into cider or sours. I find that a lot of wine people really like those styles of beer.”
Whether the night calls for beer or wine, there are more than enough gems to choose from at this drinking oasis. Craft beer only seems to get more interesting, and Branch Line has shown it wants to be as representative of that movement as possible.
“It’s a really cool place where we are,” Casto says. “With the way we Americans do beer, [we] just love to play with everything and make everything new and different. It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here, as far as new breweries, new beers, and the crazy things [people] will put into them.”
This story is part of Beer & Mortar, a series in which Eater Boston contributor Alex Wilking explores the beer scene in Boston and beyond. Stay tuned for new installments twice a month, featuring a mix of old classics and brand new additions.