Idaho’s Top Craft Breweries

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Daniel Matthews

Idaho is one of the best places in the US for brewing beer. It’s the biggest barley producer and the third biggest hops grower overall. Most of the breweries are concentrated in the capital city, Boise, but you can find gems scattered throughout the state in smaller towns. These breweries are a vital part of Idaho’s uniquely independent culture.

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Payette Brewing

Twelve Gauge

This brewery is blowing up, with a massive new facility in the works. The new location will be in the heart of Downtown Boise and will support up to 100,000 barrels. At the current location in Garden City, you can walk in and immediately catch a waft of fresh brewing beer from fifteen barrels — the pub is directly in front of the brewing operation. A former engineer of the Boeing Company, founder Mike Francis always makes sure to have new brew experiments on tap. In the past, he’s teamed up with Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing. Right now you can try the Twelve Gauge Imperial Stout, aged in bourbon barrels for 12 months to yield a touch of vanilla and oak with a hint of whiskey alongside chocolate and coffee notes.

Grand Teton Brewing

Grand Teton Brewing is located in the town of Victor, at the base of the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains. Founded by the Otto brothers in 1988, it was the first microbrewery in Wyoming, and the first brewery to introduce the modern growler to America. The current location opened in Victor in 1992. It’s the perfect place to warm up after a day of skiing. The beers are made from glacial runoff naturally filtered for 300-500 years by Teton limestone and granite. The water surfaces at a spring a half mile from the brewery. Grand Teton’s Sweetgrass American PA won gold in the Great American Beer Fest. It’s a crisp and hoppy pale ale with a strong citrusy, resinous spiciness from five different types of hops. The brewery itself is 11,000 square feet, with private tours available upon request.

Sockeye Brewing

Sockeye just went ahead and pulled in six medals from the North American Brewer’s Association, including two Golds for their barrel-aged beers. That brings their medal count to 132 overall. Located in Boise, this brewery’s been around since 1996 when it was founded by an Idaho river guide. Brewmasters Josh King and Kevin Bolen are on hand at the 12,000-square-foot brewing and canning facility, where they ensure each new batch is worth your taste buds’ time. There, they can churn out beers at the rate of 40 cans per minute and are all about combining modern brewing science with art. Dagger Falls IPA is their flagship beer with a strong citrus and pine hop presence from five different kinds of hops. At the original pub and grill, watch live bands and sip a brew while you sit on the patio.

Salmon River Brewery

Salmon River Brewery is in the mountain town of McCall, overlooking picturesque Payette Lake. Established in 2008 by two married couples, Salmon River got a huge boost in 2013 when Adolphus A. Busch made a private investment. Since then, they’ve moved to their new scenic location, which features live music and events, such as Hot Wax Night every first Thursday in the winter, with happy hour prices all night if you bring in your skis for a wax. The brewpub’s menu includes a locally sourced Black-N-Blue Elk Burger that goes perfectly with the hoppy P.F.D. Pale Ale. P.F.D. won the North American Beer Award Silver medal. Udaho Gold is the beer that sparked Busch’s investment; it won a Bronze North American Beer Award. It’s a light-bodied, crisp Session Ale with grapefruit and citrus-infused variations in the summer.

Woodland Empire Ale Craft

Woodland Empire is a pure beer experience. In 2014, Rate Beer counted their offerings at 107 beers total, the second most behind Sockeye Brewing. Here, you can indulge in a wide variety of brews, from the Melorado IPA to the In the Morning Coffee Mild, an English-style dark mild brewed with organic, fair trade coffee from Doma, an Idaho coffee roaster. Woodland Empire exemplifies the experimental and original characteristics of the modern microbrewery. Come prepared to taste local collaborations — unique glimpses into Idaho culture — including the Acme Boisener-Weisse. It’s a bottle-aged sour with sourdough starter — which is open-air yeast and bacteria, characterizing a true sour — from local baker Acme Bakeshop.

Highlands Hollow

Looking for a brewpub with a lot of history, locally sourced food, and fresh ale? Founded in 1992, Highlands Hollow is the oldest brewpub in Idaho’s capital city. The first thing you’ll see upon approach is ancient ski-lift chairs lined up in front. They’re from Bogus Basin, the local resort. Highlands Hollow sits at the base of the hills that lead to the ski mountain. At the Hollow, you’ll step into a warm atmosphere with constantly rotating taps of unfiltered, fresh beer brewed on-site. To complement that, the menu features pub fare with fresh, local ingredients, and it is this combination that has led to Highlands Hollow’s success. Brewmaster Chris Compton combines innovation with simplicity in his brewing approach. Of the regular brews, Thunder Monkey, a complex range of floral hops and a solid, malty backbone, packs a wallop with 7.5 percent ABV (Alcohol-by-Volume).

Selkirk Abbey

Selkirk is unique in that it’s the only Belgian brewery in Idaho, plus it’s one of the top-rated breweries. On the production side, they have a 15-barrel direct fire brewhouse (in which they make the wort), nine 15-barrel fermenters, and two 15-barrel brite tanks (which are for carbonation). With the help of Laughing Dog’s Fred Colby, owner Jeff Whitman opened the taproom in 2012. It’s adorned with tapestries, antique light fixtures from a Pennsylvania church, and photos of beer-producing Belgian monasteries. Belgian beers take longer to ferment in order for the malt and yeast to create complex flavors. Selkirk’s process is slow and careful, with extra attention to the Belgian yeast and fermentation. It shows, as they only have 11 beers listed on their site; however, the brews explode with fruity, spicy, and sometimes sour flavors. Try the Infidel Belgian IPA for an incredible high burst of sweet fruit and citrus rind evenly matched by spiciness and Belgian yeast esters.

Laughing Dog Brewing

Laughing Dog is another award winner, with ten of their 15 regular (non-seasonal) brews holding medals in various competitions, including the North American Beer Festival, the Great American Beer Festival, and the Yakima Fresh Hop Ale Festival. Owners Fred and Michelle Colby opened the brewery in 2005 and was inspired by their yellow Labrador, Ben, when naming it. In true Idaho style, you can bring your dog to the brewpub and order food from a family-friendly menu. Due to high demand, Laughing Dog will be expanding to a new production facility in 2016. The current alehouse will remain, so you can sample beers fresh from the tank to the tap. Rocket Dog Rye I.P.A. is one to taste, with a mélange of spicy rye malt and caramel notes, balanced with pine tips and orange peel on the hop end.

Boise Brewing

This super-new upstart has already garnered accolades as one of the best bars in Boise. Their CSB (Community Supported Beer) program, inspired by Community Supported Agriculture, features a different beer brewed each month specifically for members. Brews on tap for non-members include the Hip Check IPA, a super-hoppy ale checking in at 100 IBU (International Bitterness Units). This is for people who absolutely love hops. The seasonal Black Cliffs American Stout has rich chocolate and coffee notes with plenty of Northwest pine and citrus hop presence, and a mellow mouthfeel. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and the bartenders are helpful. Boise Brewing has already jumped ahead to being one of the best breweries in Idaho.

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