It's been a long time since a brewpub has opened in Downtown Boise. As a matter of fact, it was during the George H.W. Bush administration when such a spectacle last took place - back in 1991, when TableRock Brewpub opened just off Capitol Boulevard.
The local craft-beer crowd has been abuzz (almost intoxicated) in recent days with the much-anticipated arrival of 10 Barrel Brewing Company, a Bend, Ore.-based brewery, which debuted at 9th and Bannock streets in late April.
After staring at a construction fence that skirted the 1920s-era Sherm Perry Building for several months, hop geeks and beer neophytes alike are now able to quaff pints of freshly handcrafted brews in what has instantly become the hottest hangout Downtown.
The 9,000-square foot building received a serious makeover, particularly the interior. The construction crew took off the old sheets of drywall, exposing the original brick walls. The drop ceiling was also removed, giving folks a look at the impressive timber beams looming overhead. And in went some imposing brewing equipment and a shiny, new kitchen.
The end result is a functional brewery and restaurant with the capacity to serve a massive volume of customers. Another end result is that the big, open room is an extremely loud place when it's packed with people.
A huge metal shelf, stacked with paper sacks of malt and other dry goods for making beer, separates the bar area from the main dining room. The entire place is a juxtaposition of industrial and natural design - with lots of wood tables and wood trim, set off by concrete, sheet metal and large stainless steel tanks.
The main dining room is split into two sections by a glass-encased barrel-aging room, where hopheads can stare at casks of beer maturing behind closed doors.
But people haven't necessarily been filing into this place en masse just to look at brewery equipment and storage areas. After all, it's about the finished products. 10 Barrel serves a revolving selection of outstanding hoppy ales and stouts (made by brewmaster Shawn Kelso), anchored by some flagships brews like Apocalypse IPA and Sinistor Black Ale.
For the most part, the upscale "pub grub" at 10 Barrel is on par - at least it aspires to be - with the Northwest gastropub offerings served around the corner at Bittercreek Alehouse, meaning that diners will find lots of local foodstuffs prepared in a creative manner, as far as pub fare goes. And like at Bittercreek, diners here should also expect to pay about $15 for a burger and a glass of beer.
A brewpub would be remiss if it didn't pour a little beer into the food. This is surely the case with the charcuterie ($14), a platter of house-cured bacon, aromatic pork sausage (made by Porterhouse Market with black ale from 10 Barrel), chards of imported Manchego, candied almonds from City Peanut Shop, cornichons, ale-spiked stone-ground mustard and probably too many pickled red onions. The kitchen may want to think about adding some sliced baguette or crackers to the line-up.
Beer also makes it into the double-fisted Pubhouse burger ($12), a crusty, locally made bun with a stratum of juicy ground beef (perfectly pink in the center, during one visit), smoked cheddar, crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, shaved red onion and crunchy fried onions darkened by Sinistor Black Ale. The burger comes with fries, the natural-cut variety right out of the bag.
10 Barrel answers the finger-food call with small bites such as wings ($8/small) and taquitos ($9), essentially three rolled, fried tacos filled with housemade Mexican-style chorizo, served with creamed guacamole, salsa fresca and an unremarkable Mexi-slaw.
The wings stay pretty close to Buffalo's original intention. Eight fried wings and drumettes, dripping with hot sauce (Sriracha, no less), come with celery sticks and garlicky blue cheese dressing.
10 Barrel in Bend is known for its stone-oven pizzas. So, diners in Boise can expect to find around a dozen specialty pies. Fans of fungic surely will enjoy the Mushroom Madness ($13/small, which should feed two to three people), an earthy pizza with an herby cream sauce, portobellos (no promised local wild mushrooms!), marinated artichoke hearts, chopped red onion and crumbled feta.
Diners who like the lighter side of pub fare should try the Mediterranean-influenced steelhead sandwich ($10), a baguette-style roll stuffed with lightly grilled and chilled salmon, arugula, sliced hard-boiled egg, tomato, chopped kalamata olives and a verdant vinaigrette.
10 Barrel is definitely barreling down the road to success. Service can be helter-skelter at times and the kitchen has yet to hit its full stride, though. But after some fine-tuning, expect this brewpub to be around for a few presidential administrations.
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org