Words & Deeds

Payette, Sockeye are biggest Idaho breweries — but for how long? Ask your Mother

Sockeye Brewing’s Dagger Falls IPA, first offered in 2002, is the Boise brewery’s biggest seller.
Sockeye Brewing’s Dagger Falls IPA, first offered in 2002, is the Boise brewery’s biggest seller. Statesman file

Because we are chest-thumping beer drinkers who proudly live in Amurka, we want — we need — to know whose is biggest, right?

For years, Grand Teton Brewing in eastern Idaho was the state’s largest beer producer. But in 2014, relative newcomer Payette Brewing Co. nearly doubled its production in one year and stole the crown.

In each of the past three years, Payette has cranked out more beer than any other Idaho brewery, according to the Brewers Association, a national trade organization representing the craft brewing industry. Payette produced 11,003 barrels of beer in 2016. That nudged out veteran Sockeye Brewing, which finished a few keggers behind with 10,892 barrels. Payette opened a huge, gleaming new brewery along the Boise Greenbelt last year. Staying neck and neck, Sockeye has added equipment and ramped up production.

Still, tastes change. All taps eventually spit foam.

Who will be Idaho’s top dog at the end of 2017? Or even 2018? Will it still be Payette? Can Sockeye eke one out?

Better ask your Mother.

Vista, Calif.-based Mother Earth Brew Co. opened a 40,000-square-foot Nampa brewery last fall with potential to expand. The facility pumped out 4,700 barrels in the final five months of the year, owner Daniel Love says. That’s 500 more barrels than full-year production at Eagle’s Crooked Fence Brewing, which now ranks as the fourth largest brewery in the Treasure Valley.

In California, Mother Earth is only the seventh biggest brewery in San Diego County. Still, it produced 25,000 barrels last year at the Vista location, Love says. Adding together the Vista and Nampa breweries, Mother Earth produced more beer than Payette, Sockeye and Crooked Fence combined.

Payette’s target in 2017 is to brew 12,000 to 13,000 barrels, founder Mike Francis says. Sockeye is aiming for 12,000, according to Mark Breske, the brewery’s marketing director.

Mother Earth in Nampa will brew a minimum of 10,000 barrels in 2017, Love says. If he lands additional distribution hubs in Illinois and Colorado, that number could reach 15,000 this year, he estimates.

Mother’s day appears to be coming in Idaho.

“The goal of us moving here,” Love explains, “was to eventually bring the business here.”

Love’s five-year Nampa goal is “to get this facility to 60,000 barrels a year,” he says.

Brewskies or not, that thought might be hard for Idaho’s capital city to swallow. Is it possible that Nampa could brew more beer than Boise someday? (Would Canyon County then be Idaho’s version of San Diego County? Um.)

For Mother Earth to hit that five-year production mark, it would need about 25 distribution points, Love says. Right now, Mother Earth is distributed in California, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Florida and Hawaii, plus parts of Europe, Asia and South America. The Vista brewery provides beer to Southern California and Phoenix only. “Remember,” Love explains, “we have 22 million people in Southern California.”

Payette sells beer in all or parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. It continues to explore ways to leverage its products outside Idaho. Sockeye beer is available in those same states with one exception — Alaska instead of Montana. Sockeye has focused on “strategic growth,” Breske says. “We have carefully expanded into new states with limited packages,” he says. “We are pretty selective with where we go outside of Idaho. I think we are going to maintain the states we’re in now for the most part.”

Through years of sweat, growth and marketing, Payette and Sockeye have ingrained themselves into Idaho’s fabric. It’s tough to imagine Mother Earth ever selling more beer in the Gem State than those hometown Boise breweries.

But in terms of overall brewery production? Or perception and familiarity outside the state?

Down the road, it seems feasible that Idaho might find itself tied to Mother’s apron strings.

If that makes the native Idahoan in you wanna boo-hoo, crack a can of Boo Koo. You’ll feel better. Like the brewery slogan says: Love your Mother.

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds