For more than a decade, the Treasure Valley had four brewpubs - all in Boise, all serving loyal customers at their respective locations.
You could get a 64-ounce glass growler jug filled with your favorite brew to take home, but you couldn't buy a local six-pack at the store.
The folks at Sockeye Brewing occasionally would fill 22-ounce bottles of seasonal favorites, such as the Winterfest Ale for the holidays, if they had the patience and the time. That was about it.
Spring 2013 looks a lot different. The Valley has 10 active breweries, and a handful in serious development.
When you walk into a WinCo, Albertsons or Whole Foods - or even Maverik convenience stores - you'll find six-packs from Sockeye and from Payette Brewing Co. next to industry heavyweights Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams.
In a few weeks, you might see sixers from Garden City's Crooked Fence Brewing Co. there, too.
The craft beer market is exploding all over the U.S., and Boise is no exception.
What makes the Boise market really interesting is that the two biggest and probably best-loved local breweries are finally facing off in the retail marketplace with their most popular brews: Sockeye's Dagger Falls IPA and Payette's Outlaw IPA.
Welcome to India Pale Ale thunderdome.
TAKING ON THE KINGS
Payette struck the retail market first, bringing a mobile canning line into its Garden City brewery on 33rd Street and putting its Pale Ale and Mutton Buster Brown Ale in six-packs last summer. Payette didn't have enough hops to meet all its Outlaw IPA draft orders and put it in cans. That will change Monday.
"(Outlaw) is our best-selling beer, most well-known beer. To finally get it in cans is just tremendously exciting," Payette Brewing founder Mike Francis said.
Sockeye, which opened a new 20-barrel brewery in West Boise on Fairview Avenue last fall, got Dagger Falls IPA into cans - and stores - by the end of 2012.
"Boise has always been such a great craft beer market - one of the best in the country in sales - but we haven't had a local beer since TableRock was in (bottles) in the mid-'90s," said Dodds Hayden, owner of Hayden Distributing, which has the biggest roster of craft beers in the Boise market and distributes Payette and Crooked Fence.
"Dagger has been around the longest and is best-known. It will be interesting to see it go head to head (with Outlaw)," Hayden said.
"The craft beer market has such local focus. It wouldn't surprise me in a year and half or two if (Sockeye, Payette, and Crooked Fence) are all selling as much beer here as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Sam Adams and Deschutes."
Those rank first, second, third and fifth in the Brewers Association Top 50 for national craft beer sales - and in Boise. No. 4 is Gambrinus Co. of San Antonio, Texas, which makes Shiner Bock and Bridgeport brands.
John Grizzafi, president of Stein Distributing, agrees that local brews will be a force but suspects that it will take longer than a few years, especially since Boise's breweries would need to keep adding capacity.
"By the end of the year, Sockeye could end up being our No. 1 craft beer," said Grizzafi, who also distributes craft heavyweights such as Odell and Firestone Walker in the Valley.
COMPETING FOR SHELF SPACE
The Boise Co-op is the Valley's most tenured craft beer retailer. Beer manager Matt Gelsthorpe says sales of Sockeye's Dagger just keep growing.
"On strict (in-store sales), they have to be close to selling as much as Sierra and Deschutes," Gelsthorpe said. "Every time I order Dagger, I am ordering six, seven, nine cases at a time."
Gelsthorpe suspects local breweries will compete with each other for shelf space. For instance, he's curious to see whether retail sales of Payette's Pale Ale will drop when its Outlaw IPA gets to the market.
"If a beer sells, it stays, and I'll make the space for it," Gelsthorpe said.
The truth is, no one is really sure how Sockeye, Payette and Crooked Fence beers will do against Oregon's Deschutes, Southern California's Stone Brewing or Colorado's Odell.
"Store shelves are valuable real estate. If the consumer likes it, it stays. If it doesn't, something else goes in there," Hayden said. "Craft is such a local focus, however, that I think they will do fine. Time will tell."
As of Monday, Payette will have four beers in cans year-round: Outlaw IPA, Pale Ale, Mutton Buster Brown Ale and North Fork Lager. Sockeye will have Dagger Falls IPA, Power House Porter, Galena Gold Ale and Hell Diver Pale Ale in 12-ounce cans year-round. With its own canning line, Sockeye can do limited runs of seasonal beers.
THE ADVANTAGE OF CANS
Stein said Sockeye cans have been a hit with grocery stores, and he's working to get Sockeye sixers into convenience stores. Maverik is on board and others could follow. Hayden is doing the same for Payette and Crooked Fence.
Lon Audet, director of marketing for Stinker Stores, said he's interested in stocking local beers. Like many retailers, Stinker examines its mix of beers and shelf space twice a year. The spring lineup will be figured out in April.
One factor helping local brewers: Cans take less shelf space than bottles. That helps when retailers determine how much of a commitment to make to local brands.
Grizzafi suspects that Sockeye has the advantage, for now, with its own canning line and more than 15 years of history and loyalty with local customers.
Payette hasn't been open for two years, but it has developed a strong local following and has expanded capacity four times.
At this point, both breweries can produce around 7,000 barrels a year - or about 14,000 kegs.
Payette and Crooked Fence bring in a mobile facility to can their beers.
Francis has Northwest Canning at his Garden City brewery about twice a month. That same company will be at Crooked Fence for the first time next week.
For months, the staff at Crooked Fence, located at 5242 Chinden Blvd., has been filling 22-ounce bottles by hand for sale in local stores. Now it will offer Three Picket Porter and Rusty Nail Pale Ale in cans.
Hayden says the Boise-area brews are poised to do well in Idaho because loyalty to local brands is a huge sales driver.
In Portland, he's heard, some southside bars will have only southside Portland beers on tap.
"That's it," Hayden said. "Nothing from other parts of the city."
Portland has more than 50 different breweries, and that doesn't count the McMenamin's chain and its 30 locations in the Portland area, according to the Oregon Brewers Guild.
The metro Portland area has more than 2 million people and probably the deepest craft beer culture in the United States.
The Treasure Valley has 10 breweries and about 600,000 residents.
Still, the Portland experience shows how local reputation and loyalty can drive the beer industry.
"We support local and have had some success with Idaho wine brands," said Audet. Selling local six-packs, he said, "could do really well."
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS_Orr