Branchline Brewing Company (San Antonio, Texas): Woodcutter and Shady Oak

I recently went out to Branchline Brewing Company’s open house and had a chance to meet the owner, Jason Ard, as well as few of the staff, Nicholas Adcock and David Williams. Their open house was a fun event, with indoor and outdoor taps, a food truck, and all around laid-back vibe. I had wanted a chance to come out and review some of BBCo’s beers for a while, and Jason invited me to come out and write some stuff up. A week or so later I got a chance to make it out to the brewery on my own; at first I was greeted with some puzzled looks. I mentioned that I had emailed back and forth with Jason and was supposed to be coming out to review some beers… I guess that memo never got delivered, or the coversheet didn’t get stapled to the TPS report. Whatever. After the initial surprise, both Nick and David were really welcoming. Nick was brewing an experimental small batch of a peach saison, and David being the all around go-to guy was, well, being the all around go-to guy. In between hop-additions, Nick took some time to talk to me about BBCo’s current and future plans (soon to be open as a brewpub with accompanying food trucks multiple nights per week), and David was great about showing me around and all in all basically keeping me company so I didn’t just stand in the tasting room by myself. I wouldn’t have helped myself to any beer; promise. Well, I’m pretty sure.

About the Brewery (from http://branchlinebrewing.com/about/):
Branchline Brewing Company is a production brewery based out of San Antonio, TX. We will focus on high quality craft beer utilizing local and regional ingredients whenever possible. Branchline Brewing Company’s focus is not only to provide our offering to the extreme craft beer drinker, but also to the casual drinker that enjoys a lighter product.

Branchline Brewing Company, San Antonino TX
Branchline Brewing Company, San Antonino TX

Woodcutter Rye IPA

About the Beer (from branchlinebrewing.com/woodcutter/):
Woodcutter Rye IPA is an aggressively hopped American style IPA. This beer is designed for the self proclaimed hop heads that will be enjoying our products. The large addition of Nugget and Amarillo Gold hops gives this beer a decisively bitter bite. After the initial bitterness subsides the drinker is directed to the fruity notes of the late addition of Cascade hops leaving the drinker with a pleasant aftertaste. The use of crystal malts give this beer a light golden color, and the addition of rye malts aids in the body and head retention of the beer. Woodcutter Rye IPA is the strongest beer by both taste and ABV in the Branchline lineup and will be a favorite among the craft beer drinkers.

Style: Rye IPA
ABV: 6.55%
IBU: 64.92

I am a fan of rye in beer. I have been for a while, and whenever I see some new rye related recipe, I always want to try it out. Rye works well in the heavier brews (one of my favorite beers of all time is Boulevard Brewing’s RYE-ON-RYE, a rye ale aged in rye whiskey barrels) as well as adding a nice spiciness to the hoppier brews, like this one. Rye itself has a touch of bite to it (think of that tang with rye bread), and when you add it to the bitter kick of an IPA, it very often pairs incredibly nicely. BBCo’s WOODCUTTER RYE IPA is a good example of this nice duality of the spicy rye and the bitter hop coming together to make a well-rounded and all together enjoyable brew.

Woodcutter's Tap Handle
Woodcutter’s Tap Handle

WRIPA pours into the glass a burnt-orange hue, with a big fluffy white head that fills the dead space on top. The head sticks around for a while, but doesn’t overstay its welcome, and when it is gone it leaves some graffiti on the glass to remind you it was there. Bringing the vapors to my nose, I get some spice, a touch of heat, and some earthy woodiness. There is a hop profile that is a bit citrusy, a bit flowery, a bit of a lot of things. The hops make an appearance in the aroma, but the rye spice is stronger for sure.

Some of Branchline's "Small Batch" in-progress barrel aged series... looking forward to getting a chance to review these!
Some of Branchline’s “Small Batch” in-progress… looking forward to getting a chance to review these!

The first nip of the WRIPA brings a good hop bite upfront, followed by the expected rye spiciness. This is a very well balanced rye IPA; there is a good symmetry between the rye spiciness and the hop bitterness. Some go too hoppy to too spicy, but the WRIPA has a good knack for balancing in-between. My only real gripe with it is that it is a bit mild on the aroma hops; I think if there were more of a hop hit in the nose, it would really make the heavy hoppiness on the palate more easily accessible for more people. It is not overly hoppy to the point of being a big ol’ glass o’ bitter, but the WRIPA is much heavier-handed on the bittering hops vs. the aroma hops. As I’ve said a few times before, I’m a much bigger fan (personally) of hops added later in the boil or in the secondary fermentation than the ones that go in the wort in the beginning of the brew. I like my bittering hops for sure – as much as the next hophead – but I love my aroma hops.

Woodcutter Rye IPA (in an "Old Boxcar" glass, Branchlines former moniker)
Woodcutter Rye IPA (in an “Old Boxcar” glass, Branchlines former moniker)

The sensation on the palate with WRIPA is very smooth, and somewhat dry. There is a mild carbonation to it; nothing too heavy or overly effervescent that would take away from the enjoyment of the rye/hop skirmish that is going on inside my glass right now. The WRIPA is a pretty easily quaffable beer for something as highly bitter as this one registers. If you like AAL or boring brown ales, this will NOT be the beer to get you over to the hoppy side, for sure. But as someone that enjoys – nay, relishes – the bite of the bitter hop, and even more so when it is paired with the herbaceous hit of rye righteousness, the WRIPA is right up my alley. This is not the A#1 best rye IPA ever made, but the WRIPA is more than a solid entry into the canon and a great example of the style.

Overall 7 / 10

Brewery site: http://branchlinebrewing.com

Beer page: http://branchlinebrewing.com/woodcutter/

Shady Oak Blonde Ale

About the Beer (from branchlinebrewing.com/shadyoak/):
Shady Oak Blonde is an American style Blonde Ale. This crisp, clear beer is made to be enjoyed on a hot Texas day. The addition of Texas Wildflower Honey gives the beer a distinct mouth feel that is unique to Branchline Brewing Company. The color is a beautiful light yellow, similar to the trademark honey that the beer is made with. This highly carbonated beer is complimented with a light hop bitterness that is present, but not overwhelming. Shady Oak Honey Blonde is a thirst quenching ale that can be enjoyed by all beer drinkers.

Style: Blonde Ale
ABV: 4.45%
IBU: 26.65

Talking with David while I was hanging out at Branchline, he mentioned something that I didn’t even notice. “It’s a coincidence,” he said, “that we and Guadalupe both have a rye IPA and a honey ale.” It didn’t even dawn on me – probably because when I reviewed Guadalupe Brewing (here) I didn’t review their RYE IPA and because Branchline doesn’t have the word “honey” in the name of their beer – that these two local, independent entities have both created two very similar beers, and at both places they are part of their core lineup! Weird. Beer world serendipity. Branchline’s SHADY OAK BLONDE pours a bright golden-honey yellow with a decent head that fades relatively quickly and leaves ample lacing on the glass. The essence evaporating from the top of the glass is similar to the Guadalupe THA, but more so; it’s odd since this is technically a milder beer (4.45% ABV vs. 7.32%) but the SOB has a more pungent redolence for sure. The honey makes its self known in the bouquet as well as the malt, while the hops are pretty much absent in the scent.

Shady Oak Blonde in a new Branchline "can" glass
Shady Oak Blonde in a new Branchline “can” glass

The first swig of the SOB opens with mild maltiness, a soft sweetness, and overall a smooth flavor. There is some honey on the exit (which is right now an Orange Blossom honey, but that rotates with the season), as well a just a very faint touch of hop bitterness. The flavor is very mild, and not overly potent or offensive at all. SOB is heavily carbonated, but not overly so, and this helps the light body to feel a bit more robust. SOB would be a great choice for sitting on the front porch on a hot summer afternoon. I’m not much of a fan of pilsners or kölsch, so this would be my summer beer choice over those more traditional ones any time.

Shady Oak's Tap Handle
Shady Oak’s Tap Handle

In general I find that your average blonde ale can be somewhat mundane, and it’s not my favorite style. This example of the style takes what could be just a little more interesting than your average AAL and steps it up by introducing local elements (Orange Blossom Honey from Walker Farms) and using great quality ingredients (2 Row and crystal malts, white wheat, and cascade and centennial hops) and doing it in reserved way that doesn’t go over the top on any one element to create an easy-drinking beer that would be another great one to introduce your friends that don’t give a crap about craft beer to craft beer. SOB would be a nice choice for those hot Texas afternoons, post-mowing the lawn. Overall, this is just a nice solid thirst quencher that is not extreme or over-the-top, but gets the job done and while it’s not a style I dig too much on, I still liked it a lot for what it was.

Overall 6 / 10

Brewery site: http://branchlinebrewing.com

Beer page: http://branchlinebrewing.com/shadyoak/

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