Although visitors to Treaty Oak Brewing & Distilling ranch in the Hill Country have seen house beers on the menu for some months now, the brewmaster hadn’t been ready to launch the beers more widely.
That’s changing this week: Treaty Oak has perfected the recipes and is sending three core brews into local bars and restaurants.
Chris Lamb, formerly the head distiller, started learning a new skill last year when owner Daniel Barnes decided it was time for Treaty Oak to expand its boozy horizons. The distillery, now 10 years old, had moved onto 27 acres and had the room for trying something new. But Lamb didn’t expect he would dive full-force into the project so quickly.
“Daniel originally proposed the idea of a seven-barrel system but then goes off and orders a 30-barrel system. Totally different monster,” he said. “Because we started on a 30-barrel system right away, we had to do lots of trial and error and experimenting to get things right.”
But unlike many other breweries going through rough starts, Treaty Oak has a couple of advantages. Fermentation, a process key to beer-making, is also a primary step in the distillation of Treaty Oak’s spirits — something the distillers have been doing in some form for a decade.
Plus, Treaty Oak has a full-fledged tasting room where visitors have been sipping on cocktails made from the distillery’s vodka, gin, rum and whiskey. Lamb was able to put the beers he was testing on draft at the rickhouse to get feedback. He would read reviews on the app Untapped, he said, and ask the bartenders what customers thought. And he would tweak and change and fret.
Now, the beers have met even his high standards.
Treaty Oak is debuting the beer program with the Bright Side Blonde Ale, the Lil’ Hop Session IPA and the Fitzhugh Ale, a British mild. Each one is low ABV and balanced between each of the ingredients, including the Mandarina hops he favors that are “a wonderful sun-kissed orange flavor bomb.”
“The goal with all of (the beers) was to be extremely sessionable, like the current trend, so they’re all between 3 ½ and 5 ½ percent ABV,” Lamb said.
Eventually, Treaty Oak will be able to make the equivalent of 27,500 cases of beer a year — probably more, with the addition of two coming fermenters.
Although the three mainstays are on draft only for now, the brewery is hoping to release them in cans in March. Other brews are also in the works, but Lamb’s focus on the first three means he can scarcely fathom new styles at the moment.
“Once we get our feet underneath us, we will definitely do seasonals,” Lamb said. “Maybe a saison, maybe a maibock in the spring. It’s so early to say. But once we have details ironed out on the production side, I can slip away and do all these experimental things, which I really want to do.”
Expect plenty of experiments, a core activity at the ranch. The rickhouse is filled with barrels aging spirits, but they can age beer, too. And what about distilled beer? That’s already happening, of course.
In the meantime, Treaty Oak is planning tap takeovers and meet-the-brewer nights at area bars to introduce the beers. That has turned out to be another advantage for the company: Treaty Oak and its distributor have barely had to convince potential retailers to take a chance on them.
“Having that name recognition in all the bars around the state, it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, sure.’ A lot of accounts have signed up without even tasting it,” Lamb said.