Idaho has positioned itself as the top barley producer in the country and the number three hops producer. These two crops may not be as celebrated as our homegrown potatoes, but the humble grains and flowers are essential to producing cold, crisp brews loved across the globe. It’s no wonder that Idaho ranks tenth nationally for breweries per capita. And, here in the state’s capital, craft breweries are popping up on every corner.
“It would be like Washington not making wine,” said Mark Breske, the marketing guru at Sockeye Brewing. “Idaho has all the ingredients at our disposal to make top beers: great natural waters, orchards, hops. Everything is here, might as well use it.”
And use it, they are. Boise is now home to some 18 craft breweries in the city and surrounding area, ranging from long-time favorites, like Sockeye that first started pouring in 1996 and newcomers Mad Swede Brewing Company.
Why Boise Beer?
The beer market is packed with IPAs, lagers, and ports to fill your glass and quench your thirst. The $100-billion-a-year industry ships out 206 million barrels of beer each year, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association. That’s a lot of tall boys from which to choose. But Boise is staking its claim as a celebrated Northwest IPA producer, and its other varieties are worth a toast, too.
“We have a lot of brewers putting in a heck load of hops. That hasn’t been very common in other parts of the country until recently,” said Sheila Francis, the executive director of Idaho Brewers United. “An IPA has been a pretty general category, but now it has become a little bit more specialty and regionally specific.”
A Northwest India pale ale, or IPA, gives nod to the area where it is brewed, with influences trickling down from Oregon and Washington.
“You taste influences from the Cascade and Centennial Mountains with the pine flavor, mixed with a brightness and citrus finish. That to me is a Northwest IPA,” offered Jerry Larson, the owner and head brewer of Mad Swede.
You might notice a bit more citrus as opposed to aromatics, and most importantly, the hops are the star.
“Some brewers are getting their hops from the bine to the kettle as quickly as thirty minutes after they are picked,” Francis said.
But whether you’re looking for a hops-forward IPA or an amber lager, Boise probably has it fermenting in the barrels or on tap ready to poor. The biggest decision to make is, “Where-to?”
The Granddaddy of Boise Beers
For over 20 years, Sockeye Brewing has held the title as one of Boise’s oldest and most-awarded breweries. Their hoppy Dagger Falls IPA and Woolybugger Wheat to name a few can be found throughout the country, but to really experience the best of this Idaho staple, there’s nothing like sampling a flight of the brewery’s ‘big six’ yourself.
“The quality and consistency have been arguably the single most important factor in our longevity,” said Breske. “For a long time, that was hard to find before there was a boom in craft breweries.”
From sour beers to barrel-aged seasonal brews, Sockeye is celebrating two decades of brewing by ramping up what Breske called “the fun stuff.” With two breweries and restaurants on Cole Road and Fairview, stop by for a plate of Sockeye salmon bread and wash it down with a Hell-Diver Pale Ale.
Husband and wife duo Jerry and Susie Larson turned a passionate hobby into a new career, when they opened Mad Swede Brewing Company last October. Jerry retired from engineering, but crafting beer is not that different for him.
“Making beer is a mix of art and science,” he said.
Inside the Cole Road tasting room, the Larsons have created a spot they’d want to come hang out at, with ample beers to try, board games, and usually a food truck outside.
Jerry calls himself a classic IPA guy, so it’s no surprise their Longship IPA is a crowd favorite, but on any given day the scotch ale—playfully named the ‘Caber Toss This, Ye Wee Lad’—might lead the pack. Stop by with the family for board games, and try your luck at bar billiards. Not sure what that is? Jerry teaches the pool variation weekly.
The Happening Spot
At Edge Brewing Co., general manager and chef Tony Knipe knows the food is just as important as the beer.
“We are becoming known as a place that has great food and the beers to match,” said Steve Koonce, the marketing and sales director at the pub. The brewery and restaurant on Steelhead Way offers a comfortable, family-friendly environment, featuring locally sourced pub grub with a twist and craft brews.
“Our menu is built around the beers,” Koonce said. The popular Edge IPA is floral with a malt backbone, and their Odelay Vienna Lager is gaining recognition after winning a gold medal at the North American Brewer’s Association.
Try them all or sip a stout with a round of snakebites, their take on jalapeño poppers.