'Idaho Beer': An earnest tribute

npoppino@idahostatesman.comMay 9, 2014 

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  • ABOUT THE BOOK

    "Idaho Beer: From Grain to Glass in the Gem State," by Steven J. Koonce; American Palate, $19.99 print, $9.99 ebook. Meet the author from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 5, at the Idaho State Historical Museum, 610 Julia Davis Drive, Boise.

A year ago, I handed the reins of the (Twin Falls) Times-News' beer blog to Steven Koonce, who'd migrated from Utah after a stint with Salt Lake City's Epic Brewing.

This month, the result of Koonce's year of Idaho beer boot camp hit bookstores.

Just pages into "Idaho Beer," you'll see the passion that prompted the book: "The story of beer in Idaho didn't happen in the '80s, '90s or 2000s - it's happening right now!"

But that sentence is also why trying to freeze the Idaho beer industry in one comprehensive book is so difficult.

It's true, Idaho's beer scene is exploding. New breweries are opening. Long-established brewers are toying with new beers and new methods of distribution. It's all happening quickly, and just barely published, small parts of Koonce's tour of the state are already out of date.

Accept that "Idaho Beer" is a snapshot in time, and you're in for a whirlwind tour. Koonce touts his book as a road map to the state and he touches on it all - breweries, the barley and hop farms that feed them, and the bottle shops that sell the result. I can only imagine the miles he put on researching everything.

There's a brief pause for history, augmented by an exhaustive list in an appendix of all Idaho breweries that existed before the state's industry withered in 1960. And Koonce offers a top 10 list of beers to try that is heavy with IPAs, but also includes things such as McCall's Wobbly Man Smoked Scotch Ale (my vote for best beer in the state).

Koonce aptly illustrates his other point - that Idaho beers are uniquely local in a way brewers in other states would find hard to replicate. An agriculture-heavy economy that produces both specialty barley and hops means Idaho brewers find their ingredients within the state's borders - their products aren't just brewed in Idaho, but are made of Idaho.

"Idaho Beers" works best as a pocket guide to plan your next tour, and as a reminder to seize the moment and celebrate the state's beer boom.

Nate Poppino: 377-6481Twitter: @npoppino

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