I had a conversation with Sockeye Brewings Josh King in early 2011 about Boises place in the craft beer universe, how we had a thriving local scene but were otherwise an unknown entity in the beer-crazy Northwest.
My thought was that for Boise to represent, we needed a killer local beer in a can or bottle, something that could travel out of the Treasure Valley to put Boise on the map like Deschutes Brewing did for Bend or Ninkasi Brewing did for Eugene.
King had a different take on it. He loved the idea of putting Sockeyes Dagger Falls IPA in a can, but didnt care so much about the surrounding states.
Our goal is to be Idahos beer, King said. I think that title is still out there.
A year later, Sockeye is going all in on that bet. The proof is the new brewery/restaurant building under construction on Fairview Avenue, on the northwest corner of the Cloverdale intersection.
The building itself, which will house a 20-barrel brewhouse, a canning line, storage space, and a massive pub with a fireplace and two(!) patios, will cost more than $1 million. And that doesnt factor in the cost for the brewing equipment, which can cost half a million dollars or more. All the contracting and architecture work is being done by Idaho companies.
King and fellow brewers Lance Chavez and Kevin Bolen expect to begin brewing at the new facility by the end of August. (Bolen, the former head brewer at the Ram who left to work at Grand Teton Brewing in Victor earlier this year, is now back in Boise.) The canning line is ordered and expected to arrive by fall, meaning we could be drinking Dagger Falls IPA out of a can by the end of the year.
The construction on the restaurant portion is expected to take a bit longer, with an estimated opening in spring 2013.
The new brewing system will be able to produce about 3,300 barrels a year, which translates to 6,600 kegs. If they meet that capacity, there is room for expansion inside, and if they run out of room there, Sockeye owner Fred Schuerman owns the land next to the brewery.
The canning line will fill 24 cans a minute (it can do both 12- and 16- ouncers) and could be modified to double that capacity if need be.
There is nothing else like the new Sockeye facility in the Boise beer universe. What I find interesting about Sockeyes plan is that its not to eventually become a regional powerhouse like Deschutes or Full Sail, its to serve the spud state.
Our idea is to be like an Idaho version of New Glarus Brewing, King said last week, standing next to his new brewing equipment.
For those of you not familiar with New Glarus, they are the much beloved and very popular Wisconsin brewery that only sells their beers in state. They sell a lot 109,000 barrels last year. For comparisons sake thats more then Rogue, Full Sail, and Odell. Wisconsinites drink a lot of beer.
New Glarus (which is probably best known for its fruit-infused beers and Spotted Cow Ale) could expand exponentially and sell beer all over the Midwest. For Midwesterners, New Glarus is like Russian River Brewing for we Pac Northwest types. Everybody wants it, and no one can get it. You ask people who visit to bring back a bottle or two.
(New Glarus, being from the Midwest, is way nicer and cooler about their business philosophy than the ultra-smug Russian River, but thats a column for another day.)
It would be cool if people visit here, get a (Sockeye beer) in a can, and give it to someone else who says, I want to check out where this came from, King said.
Sockeye still plans to use their seven-barrel brewhouse at their grill and brewery at 3019 Cole Road to experiment with new recipes to add to their current roster of about a dozen beers, which includes their flagship Dagger Falls IPA, Hell Diver Pale Ale and Powerhouse Porter.
Dagger Falls IPA is so popular it comprises over 60 percent of all the beer Sockeye currently produces and has forced the brewers to travel to Sun Valley to find empty tank space to meet their orders. They sell more Dagger at area restaurants and bars than they do at the Cole Road brewpub.
The new brewing facility means they wont have to do that anymore. It also means you can expect Dagger to be the first Sockeye beer in a can to hit the market later this year.
One thing about the beer-in-a-can industry is you have to order 200,000 cans at a time if you want labels printed on them. Sockeye would likely do that for Dagger but is also considering getting some plain cans, so they can do limited runs of other beers and attach labels to them.
Dagger will be joined on local store shelves by Payette Brewings Mutton Buster Brown and Payette Pale Ale, which hit the market earlier this week.
All the buzz lately about the booming local beer business has been about the new entries into the market. Two breweries have opened in the past 18 months (Payette and Crooked Fence brewing) 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.
With these latest moves, Sockeye has snatched the attention back. They are poised to become the definitive brewery in Boise. Sockeye has the deepest roster of beers, over a decade of history with their customers, and the biggest brewing facility.
Schuerman has owned Sockeye since 2004. He told me last year he was very proud of his employees and felt Sockeye had a superior product so much so that he felt obligated to invest in the future for his employees.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Beer
Patrick Orrs beer column runs the first Friday of the month.