Nobody’s jaw hit the floor faster than Jerry Mitchell’s when a list of the nation’s 50 fastest growing small and independent craft breweries was released Tuesday.
“I was very surprised,” Snow Eagle Brewing & Grill’s owner says with a laugh.
Opened in 2011 at 455 River Parkway in Idaho Falls, Snow Eagle is the only Gem State brewery included in the ranking from the Brewer’s Association, a trade organization representing small and independent American brewers. Boise, which experienced rapid brewery growth in the past several years, is conspicuously absent from the inaugural list.
Ranked by percentage of production growth, the Top 50 included several criteria to qualify — including having been open since 2015. Snow Eagle, which finished 24th, brewed just under 500 barrels in 2016, and cranked out about 600 barrels in 2017, brewer Ty Blacker says.
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Snow Eagle beer is sold almost exclusively in-house. Mitchell found a distributor and explored pushing Snow Eagle beers into other bars and tap houses, but “they’re just overwhelmed with the number of beers out there,” he says.
“Our only limitation is we only have eight handles,” Mitchell adds.
Snow Eagle benefits from tourists stopping in Idaho Falls on the way to Yellowstone National Park, he says. They sip a pint and grab a burger or Japanese cuisine from Snow Eagle’s impressively large brewpub menu.
“Starting about in May, we just start really rocking,” Mitchell says. “We peak in August.”
Beer makes up about 20 to 25 percent of Snow Eagle’s total sales, Mitchell says.
The Brewers Association’s list shows varying paths for small brewing operations. Brewpubs like Snow Eagle made up eight of the businesses, while 40 microbreweries and two regional craft breweries filled out the list.
“I think we hit a niche,” Mitchell says. “We’re the only brewery with a restaurant in Idaho Falls. There’s another brewery, Idaho Brewing Company, but they just brew beer and sell it.”
Among the ranked breweries, median growth from 2016 to 2017 was 216 percent, according to the Brewers Association. The median size of breweries rose from 284 barrels in 2016 to 963 barrels in 2017.
“With 5 percent growth overall for small and independent brewers in 2017 and microbreweries and brewpubs delivering the majority of that, we wanted to spotlight some of the breweries driving that growth,” Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, explained in a prepared statement. “As the growth base for craft becomes more diffuse, these fast growing brewing companies illustrate that a diverse set of success stories still exist.”
While it’s fun to be recognized by the Brewers Assocation, Mitchell sees Snow Eagle’s top 50 ranking as a bit of a numbers game. Nearby Melvin Brewing of western Wyoming — which distributes its popular, hop-packed IPAs in states ranging from California to New York — made the list ranked 46th.
“I don’t really know that our numbers really justify the rating,” Mitchell admits. “But as far as quality goes, we have super-quality beer. We have a brewer that’s very creative.”
That brewer, Blacker, appreciates the benefits of brewing in Idaho Falls. The jumping-off point to Yellowstone isn’t quite as brewery-saturated as Idaho’s state capital.
“I spent last weekend there in Boise touring all the breweries,” Blacker says. “There’s some big breweries. We went up there and just got a hotel for two nights and just tried as many breweries as we could. ... It blew me away.”
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