The Payette Brewing Company may have just recently celebrated its first birthday, but the company is set to do something that has eluded local producers of craft beer for more than a decade — sell a six-pack at the store.
Owner Michael Francis has made a deal with a company from Portland to bring a mobile canning line to Payette Brewing at 111 W. 33rd St. in Garden City later this month to seal up Payette’s Mutton Buster Brown and Payette Pale ales in 12-ounce aluminum cans.
Across town, the owners of Sockeye Grill & Brewery are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a 20-barrel brewing facility on Fairview Avenue. The brewery should be online by the end of the summer. It will triple Sockeye’s currentproduction capacity and have acanning line. If all goes as planned, Sockeye will have its iconic Dagger Falls IPA in cans and on store shelves by the end of 2012, head brewer Josh King said Thursday.
Getting local canned beers on store shelves represents the next step in the exploding Treasure Valley craft beer scene. Two breweries have opened in the past 18 months and at least three more are poised to open by the end of 2012: Slanted Rock in Meridian and Kilted Dragon and Bogus Brewing in Garden City.
All six active breweries in the area sell beer on premise (and 64-ounce growlers to go) and sell kegs to local restaurants and bars.
The last remaining untapped market is retail, and that’s about to change.
A THIRST FOR LOCAL
Both Francis and King say the Boise market will support local beer in a sixer, and both businesses are making a financial bet on it.
To make the investment in just the cans — 200,000 cost about $25,000, Francis says — requires major confidence in the market. (That cost includes the printing of labels, but the brewer has to provide the art and design, which is an additional cost).
“The market is thirsty for a local beer,” said Matt Gelsthorpe, who runs the beer department at the Boise Co-Op. He suspects the offerings from Payette and Sockeye will both be hits. Gelsthorpe expects the Co-Op will sell about a case of Payette beer every day, which is close to his best-selling can option right now, Caldera Brewing from Ashland, Ore.
“People want more local beer options — and local beer available in something other than a growler is something people will appreciate,” he said.
Local craft brewers Crooked Fence and TableRock Brewpub & Grill manually fill 22-ounce bottles to sell at beer specialty stores like the Boise Co-Op, Brewer’s Haven, Bier:Thirty and Brewforia, which is as much as they can do for the underserved drink-at-home market. But that process is labor-intensive, because each bottle has to be filled by hand.
The Boise-area craft beer drinker hasn’t been able to buy a six-pack of local suds since the early 2000s, when original Sockeye owner Kevin Mills had his beer bottled by a contractor.
BOOMING BEER MARKET
The growth in the local craft beer scene follows the national trend. National craft beer sales saw a 13 percent growth (by volume) in 2011 and an 11 percent increase in 2010 — at a time when traditional beer sales (think Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors) have been flat, according to figures compiled by the Brewers Association. In fact, overall beer sales were down 1.3 percent last year, meaning the only growth in the market is craft beers.
Want some more evidence? In 2005, there were 1,394 craft brewers in the U.S. In 2011, that number was 1,938. In 2005, craft brewers produced 6.3 million barrels of beer (a barrel equals two kegs). In 2011, craft brewers produced 11.5 million barrels.
Since craft beers make up about 5 percent of total national beer sales, experts such as Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian, who checked out the Boise brewing scene last summer, say there is room for continued steady growth — especially in local sales, since local production is one of the artisan values closely associated with craft beer.
In the beer sections at grocery stores these days, you are just as likely to see Sierra Nevada or New Belgium beers as Budweiser and Miller Lite. Cooler and shelf space still favors the big brewers, but the craft beer sections keep growing.
By later this year, you might be seeing Payette and Sockeye beers alongside Sam Adams or Rogue.
SUPPLYING THE MARKET
Officials at both Payette and Sockeye say they will start out slowly, to make sure they can meet customer demand at the stores they supply before expanding.
The popularity of craft beers, and the nationwide demand for the ingredients to make them, is part of the reason Payette isn’t putting its best-known beer — the Outlaw IPA — in a can this year. The IPA style requires more hops, and different varieties of them, to create the distinct aroma and bitter flavors the style demands.
Francis, like many brewers, contracts for his hops and doesn’t think he will have enough through the end of the year to can the Outlaw and still meet the draft demands of his Boise bar and restaurant customers.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr