Whenever I travel to a new place, I like to visit as many breweries and beer bars as possible. So when my wife and I recently took a road trip to Idaho to climb some mountains, beer stops were definitely in the plans. We even made hotel reservations based on how close they were to breweries.
In my opinion, Idaho is a bit neglected. Montana’s Rockies, Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyoming steal attention to its east, and Washington and Oregon steal attention to its west. But this Northwest state has a lot to offer.
For outdoorsy types, it has more undeveloped backcountry than any other state except Alaska; and for beer lovers, it has a rather vibrant craft beer scene that continues to grow. Naturally, I felt right at home.
In total, we made it to seven breweries and two beer bars over seven days (not including one in Oregon and one in Washington).
Many cities across the country are exploding with breweries (including Bellingham, of course), and Boise, Idaho’s capital, is no exception. According to boisebeerculture.blogspot.com, this city (population 214,000) now has 17 breweries, 10 of which have opened in just the last year or two. And it’s not stopping there, as at least five more breweries are planning to open in the next year or two.
After enjoying the 80-mile-per-hour speed limit on the highway, our first stop in Boise was Edge Brewing. Like many breweries these days, it was in an industrial district, which is unfortunate, but I understand the economics of having an inexpensive lease with lots of space. Inside, I didn’t care for the airbrushed art on the walls, but, again, I overlooked it. After all, I was there to eat and drink. Fortunately, the food and beers were delicious. The highlight was Project Citrus IPA (aka Citron Circus), which offered bright notes of tangerine, grapefruit and lemon, along with a snappy, peppery and rind-like bitterness. This was my wife’s favorite IPA of the trip, and it was definitely among mine, too.
We didn’t make it to Sockeye Brewing, but I did try some canned Dagger Falls IPA. It’s a solid beer with a rich malt base and zingy hop notes of pine and grapefruit.
After hanging out at the Pre Funk beer bar, which had a nice tap list and a PDX-like vibe, we had to escape the triple-digit heat and move on to a place with AC. We found respite at the Bittercreek Alehouse, which features 39 draft lines. Opened in 1996, this gastropub has become an institution, and no visit to Boise would be complete without making a stop here.
KETCHUM & SUN VALLEY
For such a touristy mountain/ski town, I was surprised to find just two breweries in Ketchum. I was also surprised to see so many Land Rovers – more than I have ever seen in any city in my entire life.
Sawtooth Brewing featured a small taproom with a healthy set of beers. I tasted a couple decent IPAs, but my favorite by far was the Dawn Patrol Coffee IPA, which was curiously delicious (not to be confused with Aslan Brewing’s Dawn Patrol Pale Ale).
The other brewery in town, Warfield, had just opened a week or two earlier. This combination restaurant, brewery and distillery only makes two beers (for now), which perplexed me. Both beers were well made, but they were stylistically odd. The hefeweizen was too malt-forward, and its yeast esters were underplayed, but it was a good beer on its own. Then there was a 3.8-percent British Bitter, which was smooth and highly quaffable, but it failed to keep my attention for long.
Down the road in Hailey, I ordered a 9-beer flight at Sun Valley Brewing. All of the beers were decent, but two stood out from the others: a wholesome and nicely roasted porter, and a balanced session ale that had a surprising amount of malt flavor. How they packed that much malt flavor into such a low-alcohol beer was mystifying.
McCall, Idaho, which has a population of just 3,000, was probably the biggest surprise of our trip – beer-wise (the biggest surprise of our trip was when we hiked within a few dozen feet of two full-size moose). Three breweries now call this touristy, lakeside town home, though we only made it to two of them.
McCall Brewing was a neat place that seemed to attract locals and tourists alike. Out of the 10 samples I got, three really grabbed my attention. The lemon ginger hefeweizen was refreshing, painfully easy to drink, and it had the perfect amount of ginger in the background. The coconut porter exuded with chocolate, vanilla and a pleasant, woodsy note of coconut. And the Hop In IPA was dry, clean and bursting with hop aromatics. Hop In isn’t their standard IPA, which I didn’t care for so much, but it should be, as it was one of the best IPAs I have had in Idaho.
A few blocks away, Salmon River Brewing did not disappoint, either. Its huge tap list made choosing a beer difficult, but I slowly made my way through most of it with taster trays and schooners. On the hop side, they had some solid offerings. Shiver IPA was dry and snappy with a Northwest-style malt backbone; and Big Dipa was a tasty double IPA. I also enjoyed a Huckleberry Stout and Buzz Buzz, which was an easy-drinking porter made with coffee.
Payette Brewing, Idaho’s largest brewery, is currently building a second location with a 40,000-square-foot brewery. Expected to open in 2016, Payette’s production could increase to 25,000 barrels per year. A good part of this expansion is in response to demand for its flagship beer, Outlaw IPA. Unfortunately, it recently received a cease-and-desist letter from an Illinois brewery because of a conflict with that beer’s name. Payette founder Mike Francis says a new name for the IPA has not yet been chosen, although “Outlawyered IPA” has been one idea.
Boise Brewing, one of the stops on my Idaho tap trail, also faced a legal issue with its original name of Bogus Brewery, which was named after the Bogus Basin Recreational Area. Like many start-ups, the name was changed in lieu of an expensive legal battle.
Grand Teton Brewing, Idaho’s oldest brewery (1988), is now producing some highly rated sour ales, some of which are sold at Elizabeth Station (in addition to some other Grand Teton beers).
Also at Elizabeth Station, you can find a lineup of tasty, Belgian-style beers from the Selkirk Abbey, which is in Post Falls, ID.