Its been open for more than a year, but I finally got myself over to the Sawtooth Brewery in Ketchum for the first time over the holidays and I wish I would have visited sooner.
Sawtooth Brewery joins Sun Valley Brewing to give Blaine County types lots of options for homegrown beers which are pretty essential for ski/snowboard/winter recreation types in the cold months and pedal/paddle/hiker types for the rest of the year.
(I, for one, feel entitled to a fine American craft beer every time I successfully make it down from a ski mountain with all my limbs intact and brain in one piece. And isnt camping or other recreation by the Boulder/White Clouds/Sawtooths boosted by the fact that you can go into town and get a major meal or other stuff? Now you can get a growler filled and taken to the campsite as part of a resupply mission. Sweet.)
The year-round folks need good brews even more after putting up with legions of invaders week after week. Everybody wins.
The market certainly agrees with Sawtooth Brewery. Business manager Kevin Jones said they are contract brewing with Portneuf Valley Brewing in Pocatello and Sun Valley Brewery down the road in Hailey to meet demand, since they cant brew enough in their small brewhouse, which can only produce about four kegs a week.
When I went there last week, Sawtooth had eight homegrown beers on tap, including cask and nitro brews, and at least three guest taps. I was surprised by how small the room was. I drove by it twice, not realizing it was located inside the Clarion Inn on the corner of Sixth and Main streets in downtown Ketchum.
The brewery and tap room is on the side of the inn facing Sixth Street. It is next to a free public parking lot, however, which is really cool for Ketchum, a town where finding a place for your vehicle can be a real challenge.
The tap room only holds about 40 people at a time and the brewery does not sell food, which means no one under the age of 21 is allowed in. You can bring your own food in, and at least eight local restaurants deliver there.
I stopped in to get a growler filled to take home to Boise last week after a day of goofing around in the snow with the family and was greeted by a small but warm room, filled with a mix of regulars and commuters like me, enjoying pints.
Its the kind of place you can sit in with wet snow pants and hat hair and no one would blink an eye.
Jones said Sawtooths best-selling beer is probably their Freeheeler Rye IPA, which was a little spicier than a typical India Pale Ale but otherwise a finely balanced example of the style. I really enjoyed two winter warmers they had on tap last week the Safety Third Imperial Ale on nitro and the Out Cold Winter Ale on cask. Neither one of those worked for the growler because of the carbonation issue, but I lucked out that the brew I liked the most, the coffee-infused First Chair Stout, was perfect for that task.
Its hard to make a good coffee stout the balance between the rich malt and coffee has to be perfect, otherwise the brew is either too bitter or too sweet.
Done correctly (think Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout, for example), the flavors complement each other. The First Chair Stout did that for me.
(The regular stout is called Last Chair. The coffee version is called First Chair because you need a cup of coffee before the first ski run of the day. )
Sawtooth Brewery celebrated its first birthday in November, and Jones says business has been good. Like a lot of businesses in outdoor towns like Ketchum, things slow down a bit during the shoulder seasons. Jones said the brewery has enough locals to keep going pretty good.
For example, when you walk in, you cant help but notice the dozens of glass beer mugs lining the walls.
Those belong to the 140 members (and growing) of the mug club, locals who get the mugs filled for the price of a pint (16 ounces, for the math impaired among us).
Co-owners Jones and brewmaster Paul Holle both moved to the Ketchum area about four years ago and decided the town needed a local brewery. Holle had been homebrewing for about six years and wanted to go pro. Jones, who is from Denver, was marinated in craft-beer culture.
Together they opened Sawtooth on Nov. 11, 2011, (thats 11/11/11 palendrical phenomenon day) and have been going strong ever since.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Beer
Patrick Orrs beer column runs the first Friday of the month.