The Boise area is in the midst of a craft beer boom, thanks to a deluge of new breweries that have changed the suds scene in the Treasure Valley.
Now, tap handles that pour local handcrafted beers are the norm and not an exception at pubs around here. Sure, local microbreweries such as Sockeye and TableRock have turned out good beers and pub grub over the years, but in the past, microbrews from Washington and Oregon have dictated the draught selections at most places. This is certainly not the case anymore.
Garden City, in particular, has recently been transformed into brewers row. These new brewmasters have found a home along bustling Chinden Boulevard, where the industrial setting is a perfect fit for all those shiny fermentation tanks and other large brewing equipment.
CROOKED FENCE BREWING started production on Chinden Boulevard in 2012. This microbrewery uses a 15-barrel brewing system to produce a variety of handcrafted seasonal and flagship brews, including 3 Picket Porter and Rusty Nail Pale Ale, made by brewmaster and co-owner Kris Price.
From the start, Crooked Fence has relied on food trucks to feed customers at its taproom, but opening a gastropub in another location was long ago written into the master plan for this startup.
We always wanted to have a brewpub separate from our taproom that serves great food to go along with our beers, though we figured that was about five years down the road, says Kelly Knopp, co-owner and creative director of Crooked Fence.
Well, we decided just to go for it now instead of waiting about four years ahead of schedule.
Crooked Fence Barrelhouse debuted in June next to the Revolution Center (at the corner of Glenwood Street and Chinden Boulevard) in Garden City. Knopp and his business partners endured many sleepless nights laboring to open the 7,000-square-foot pub as quickly as possible.
It took us about four months to get this place open after signing the lease. It was a lot of hard work, Knopp states.
The Barrelhouse is located in a former Chinese buffet restaurant. First, they had to remove the large steam tables left behind by the former tenants and take down the drop ceilings, which really opened up the space. There was even a tacky mural of dolphins on one of the walls. That had to be covered up.
Once the place was gutted, the real work began. Lots of rustic wood and industrial accents were added inside and out. A long bar now runs along the back wall, just around the corner from a spacious game room with shuffleboard, pool tables and pinball. Beer geeks will get a kick out of the impressive collection of old beer cans that take up an entire wall above the shuffleboard. The Barrelhouse boasts a decidedly old-time saloon ambience, juxtaposed with modern upgrades, but its not just for adults.
We want people of all ages to feel comfortable here, like they can hang out, Knopp says.
As for the beer, the Barrelhouse usually pours at least eight Crooked Fence brews at any given time, rotating seasonal beers into the draught selection, as well as a few guest taps from other microbreweries around the Northwest. Bartenders also pour frothy handcrafted root beer made by BuckSnort in the Wood River Valley. There is also a select list of Idaho wines for those who arent into sipping suds.
Brewers at the Barrelhouse are planning to make small batches of beer on site using a three-barrel system that will solely be consumed at the pub. The main brewery and taproom will continue to operate just down the boulevard, where the larger production takes place. The brewery even started canning a few of its beers recently, with the help of a mobile canning operation.
Crooked Fence has always done things a little differently, from its nuanced brews to the fun artwork that bedecks the beer bottles and tap handles designed by Knopp himself, who happens to be an accomplished artist. So why would their pub fare not be whimsical as well?
With our food, we decided to continue with our perfectly unusual philosophy. The menu ties into that belief, he says.
Knopp must be talking about the cheeseburger topped with candied bacon on a glazed donut bun. Or he could be referring to the corned beef taco or Frito chili pie, draped with porter-kicked turkey chili.
The brew-friendly appetizer list includes flatbread pizzas, housemade bangers and mash and poutine-style fries smothered with chopped prime rib, gooey Parmesan and a peppercorn sauce spiked with Sins of Our Father imperial stout.
Our goal is to offer scratch cooking with fun twists on comfort food, Knopp explains.
If we can find food locally, well definitely use it. And well be using more and more local food as time goes on.
Chef Frank Garros menu, which also includes wraps, salads, sandwiches and burgers galore, currently sources products from Homestead Natural Foods, Pastry Perfection and Zeppole Baking Co., to name a few. The Barrelhouse also offers a weekend brunch menu with plenty of fun takes on classic morning dishes.
Without a doubt, the Barrelhouse has become all the rage since it opened its doors.
The amount of business weve done has exceeded our expectations. Now we are just honing everything so it runs smoothly, Knopp says.
IN DOWNTOWN BOISE
10 Barrel Brewing Co. is another new brewpub that became a just-add-beer sensation after opening earlier this year in the 1920s-era Sherm Perry Building at the corner of 9th and Bannock streets. This Bend, Ore.-based microbrewery and pub chose Boise for its second location because of the potential in the Downtown core.
We really want to help build on the draw of Downtown, and hopefully expand the 8th Street corridor to open up even more possibilities around the corner and to surrounding areas, says Garrett Wales, managing partner of 10 Barrel Brewing.
The Bend brewpub has become a haven for outdoor enthusiasts since it opened in 2006. Wales and his partners also wanted to go after this group in Boise. They even put in lots of bicycle parking out front to lure the pedal crowd.
There are a lot of similarities between Bend and Boise, especially among the demographics. Boise appears to have a very active and outdoors culture, much like in Bend. This is an audience that we tend to really tap into and relate with, he says, no pun intended.
The folks at 10 Barrel worked day and night remodeling the 9,000-square-foot building, most notably by removing the drywall and drop ceilingexposing the brick walls and beautiful old timber beamsand adding garage-style doors that open up onto the sidewalk. Then in went the large tanks and other brewing equipment, followed by a full-service kitchen.
Our Boise location is three times the size of our Bend pub. We dont actually brew on site at our Bend location, as all our brewing comes out of the production facility across town, Wales explains.
We have a fully sustained brewery inside the Boise location. We also have a barrel-aging room right in the middle of the dining room.
The brewery produces around 15 different kinds of beers, like Apocalypse IPA and Sinistor Black Ale. Shawn Kelso, formerly of Barley Browns Brewpub in Baker City, Ore., heads up the brew crew at 10 Barrel, which as the name suggests, uses a 10-barrel brewing system. The place also serves inventive cocktails, like huckleberry lemonade with Idaho vodka, and Northwest wines.
As for the grub, the kitchen goes out of its way to source a multitude of local foodstuffs for the menu, which has a litany of producers at the top of the page. Shout-outs go to Acme Bakery, Purple Sage Farms and Independent Meat Co., and the list goes on.
The Northwest gastropub offerings include appetizers, entrée salads, burgers, sandwiches and blistered stone-oven pizzas all of which play well with the handcrafted brews. There is also a kids menu and plenty of soft drinks for the wee ones.
Good picks here are the steamer clams with bacon and the charcuterie plate, an array of cured meats and ale-spiked sausages (from the Porterhouse Market in Eagle) with a tangle of pickled red onion, cornichons, Manchego cheese, stone-ground mustard and candied almonds from City Peanut Shop.
10 Barrel also makes a mean pubhouse burger. This monster is served on a crusty bun with an overload of grilled ground beef, smoked cheddar, crispy bacon, lettuce, dill pickle and fried onions in a black ale batter.
There are lighter sandwiches for those who are not into double-fisting their food. Try the Mediterranean-inspired chilled steelhead sandwich; a fluffy beer bun layered with grilled salmon, cucumber, hard-boiled egg, olives, arugula and tomato. Vegetarians will find plenty to eat, too, like a roasted cauliflower sandwich and an asparagus salad with shaved Parmesan and almonds.
OLD FAVORITES STILL THRIVE
Of course, microbreweries that serve upscale pub fare are hardly new to the Boise area. Places like Highlands Hollow Brewhouse and the Ram Restaurant and Brewery have been constants in the local brewpub game over the years.
People have also flocked to TableRock Brewery since it opened in 1991, making it the oldest brewpub in Boise. TableRock uses a 12-barrel brewing system to produce a bevy of craft beers such as Copperhead Red Ale and Hophead IPA Version 2.0. The kitchen consistently pumps out heaping nachos, sambal-kicked hummus, inventive burgers and a tasty pesto BLT.
And lets not forget about Sockeye Grill and Brewery, which has been a neighborhood fixture on Cole Road in Boise since 1996. This popular brewpub not only turns out great handcrafted beers and upscale pub grub, it also features weekly live music on the patio. Sockeye is especially known for its Dagger Falls IPA and Hell Diver Pale Ale, both of which are now sold in cans as well.
The brewery recently opened a large canning facility near the corner of Cloverdale Road and Fairview Avenue in Boise, where it uses a 20-barrel brewing system to produce all those cans of brew that have popped up in stores throughout the region in the last few months. Sockeye has plans to open a second brewpub at its new location later this year.
The food here will be similar to our other brewpub, but well probably have some different items on the menu, says Josh King, head brewer at Sockeye.
Not all the new brew ventures around town are intended for large spaces, though. For instance, Cloud 9 Brewery is in the process of setting up a small brewpub in the former Moxie Java spot near the corner of 17th and State streets in Boise. If all goes well, Cloud 9 should be open by years end.
This North End nanobrewery (meaning that it will use a four-barrel brewing system or less) is the brainchild of longtime Boiseans Jake and Maggie Lake, who are turning their love of home brewing into a bona fide establishment. They will be making small batches of organic brews on site, to be sold exclusively at the pub.
Were not going to put a lot of beer into the marketplace, Maggie Lake says about the diminutive nature of their business.
Serving food has been part of the Lakes plan from the beginning. Expect to see a gastropub menu that is both seasonal and rife with local foodstuffs.
The 1,400-square-foot space will have a small kitchen and a 26-seat dining room. The seating will spill out onto the patio during the warmer months.
Its a nanospace for a nanopub, thats for sure, she says.
FOOD TRUCKS PLAY A ROLE
A handful of new craft breweries around the Valley whether they are micro or nano are only interested in producing beer, though, and not venturing into the restaurant business.
Places like Payette Brewing Co. in Garden City and Slanted Rock Brewing Co. in Meridian leave that task up to local food-truck vendors, who show up on busy nights at various taprooms.
Weve had great success with the food trucks. People really love that they can step out the front door and grab something good to eat, says Michael Francis, owner and head brewer at Payette Brewing.
Kilted Dragon Brewing, a new nanobrewery on Chinden Boulevard in Garden City, also relies on food trucks for its dining services.
The local craft-beer scene is definitely a dynamic force, with more and more places slated to open in the coming months. This unfolding brewmania sure makes going out for a burger and a beer more enjoyable.
James Patrick Kelly, a restaurant critic at the Idaho Statesman, is the author of the travel guidebooks Moon Idaho and Spotlight Boise. He also teaches journalism at Boise State University.