Drink This Now: Extreme Beer Fest ‘Prep Week’ at Branch Line

Beer buyer Magellan Casto has been collecting rare kegs from Belgium, Brooklyn, and beyond to tap ahead of the annual Boston festival.

Hanssens Scarenbecca Kriek at Branch Line

Hanssens Scarenbecca Kriek at Branch Line. / Photo by Magellan Casto provided

Magellan Casto was certainly primed to enjoy the 12-ounce bottle of Hanssens Artisaanal Scarenbecca Kriek, a lambic-style sour beer from Belgium, when she first had it about three years ago. It was Zwanze Day, the annual celebration of the Belgian lambic brewery Cantillon, but Casto had to work. She arrived late to the party to find out they had already kicked the kegs of the beer of honor.

“But they had some fancy bottles,” she says, and she selected this kriek, a lambic blended with wild Belgian cherries. The 12-ounce bottle was $45, but Casto didn’t blink an eye. “I was in the mood to spend some money on a special beer. That bottle always stuck in my brain as being a really wonderful experience—it kind of saved my night.”

Now the beer buyer at Branch Line, Casto jumped on a recent opportunity to purchase a rare keg of the Hanssens kreik from her distributor. Though she surmises it was probably the most expensive keg she’s ever bought, it’s the perfect beer to kick off what she’s calling EBF Prep Week, a series of special keg tappings leading up to Extreme Beer Fest coming back to Boston February 3-4.

“It’s a giant gathering of the community of beer,” Casto says of the annual BeerAdvocate throwdown. This will be her third EBF, but she knows not everybody can make it—not only because it sells out almost instantaneously. “So, we’re trying to create a mini-EBF here.”

Prep Week—as in, prepare your liver—kicked off last night with the Scarenbecca Kriek, which is still flowing on draft for $12 per 6-ounce pour (it’s the costliest keg of Prep Week). Branch Line also still has a couple bottles of it (yes, $45, 12-ounce bottles), leftover from the case Casto purchased when the restaurant opened.

The lineup—check it out in full below—doesn’t necessarily showcase beers that people will find at EBF, like some other special events around town next week will. Instead, the beers at Branch Line represent rare favorites of Casto’s—beers she loves but can’t always afford, nor find. She’s been collecting them for a few months.

“It’s a nice event to tap those around. There are so many people coming into town that really appreciate these beers,” she says.

She’s excited about them all, like tonight’s fruity Berliner weiss from the highly regarded J. Wakefield Brewing in Miami, Florida. “The brewer manages to walk that line of crazy flavors and awesome product so well.”

She also loves the Geuze Tilquin, a blend of three different lambics made from worts from Belgian breweries Boon, Lindemans, Girardin, and Cantillon. It represents that idea of community in craft beer, she says. So does the event Branch Line is hosting on its patio on the eve of EBF: a Midwestern brewery tap takeover with Against the Grain, 4 Hands, Blackberry Farms, and Half Acre, with some brewery representatives attending.

“One of the best parts [of EBF is] so many of these breweries that we don’t have here are coming into town, so you end up rubbing shoulders with people who make this beer you’re such a big fan of,” Casto says. “We’re just trying to create a mini celebration for the community we’re trying to build here.”

All of Branch Line’s Prep Week drafts come in 6-ounce pours for $6-$12. A new keg is tapped each night (except Sunday, when the restaurant is closed), and it will stick around only as long as it lasts.

321 Arsenal St., Watertown, 617-420-1900, branchlinearsenal.com.


January 25: Hanssens Scarenbecca Kriek, lambic brewed with Belgian Schaerbeek sour cherries

January 26: J. Wakefield Miami Madness, mango-guava passionfruit berliner weiss

January 27: Geuze Tilquin, Belgian geuze

January 28: Buxton and Omnipollo Yellow Belly, imperial peanut butter biscuit stout

January 30: Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme, bourbon barrel-aged cherry wild ale

January 31: Brooklyn Black Ops, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout

February 1: Prairie Paradise, vanilla coconut imperial stout

February 2: Event on the patio: nine-draft line takeover and meet the brewers: Against the Grain / 4 Hands / Blackberry Farms