Words & Deeds

Idaho has a new largest local brewery. This California transplant ‘sets the bar higher.’

When the beer centrifuge at Payette Brewing Co. in Boise started acting up last month, production manager Matthew Watterson looked for repair help — from a competitor.

Watterson, who grew up in Boise, reached out to a California-based brewery that expanded to Nampa three years ago: Mother Earth Brew Co. Watterson suspected that head brewer Chris Baker and operations manager Adam Kinney might have insight.

“It took just a single phone call,” Watterson says. “They literally jumped in the truck after a long shift, came down and looked at our equipment, and said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll see you tomorrow.’ They took time off their work to get us back online.”

Stories like this explain why, even in the highly competitive Treasure Valley, you don’t often hear grumbling about an out-of-state newcomer from San Diego County.

It’s also why “drink local” diehards shouldn’t begrudge Mother Earth’s latest, crowning Idaho achievement.

In 2018, Mother Earth brewed 10,125 barrels of beer in Nampa, according to co-founder and CEO Daniel Love. Based on newly compiled numbers from the Brewers Association, Mother Earth topped the two closest Idaho competitors: Payette Brewing, which produced about 8,200, and Sockeye Brewing, which cranked out about 9,900 barrels.

Yes, a California transplant is now Idaho’s largest brewery.

Taste a little bitter? Could be Mother Earth’s commitment to quality hops, and lots of ’em.

Find it hard to swallow? Weird. Mother Earth is leading a quality-assurance charge to make all Idaho beer more palatable.

The brewery’s investment in laboratory testing and freshness code dating encourages others to step up their game, says Matt Gelsthorpe, beer program manager at Bittercreek Alehouse in Boise.

“It sets the bar higher,” he says. “There’s a professionalism, ultimately, and a business mentality that Mother Earth brings that — love it or hate it — helps the local industry mature.”

“Skating by cannot become the norm. And it will not be allowed to be the norm. Because you have Mother Earth there.”

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In Nampa, Mother Earth Brew Co. head brewer Chris Baker loads up a case of freshly canned Hop Diggity Double IPA. Kyle Green Idaho Statesman file

Mother Earth’s 40-barrel, automated Nampa brewhouse — which is larger and more efficient than its original Vista, California, facility — is on pace to produce 16,000 to 17,000 barrels in 2019, Love says. That would be nearly as much as Sockeye and Payette combined.

Last year, Mother Earth produced about 40,000 total barrels between California and Idaho. Love doesn’t expect that number to increase in 2019. But in January, Mother Earth began shifting more production to Nampa as part of a long-term plan. “We’re just going to move numbers from one brewery to another,” Love says.

Mother Earth distributes its beer in 18 states, along with modest amounts in half a dozen or so foreign countries. But from the start, the Idaho newcomer approached the Boise beer community enthusiastically.

Love, who co-founded Mother Earth in 2010, serves as vice-president of Idaho Brewers United, the state’s brewers guild. He is considering taking over duties as president soon.

Mother Earth brewed the official beer at this year’s Treefort Music Fest. It’s also a sponsor at the popular event.

Talk to area breweries, and you’ll hear anecdotes like Payette’s — of Mother Earth offering friendly advice. Or selling sought-after hops and grains at cost. Or providing the services of its brewery laboratory.

From 2014 to 2016, Payette was Idaho’s largest beer producer. Sockeye, which was founded in 1996, earned the title for the first time in 2017. Watterson enjoys a professional camaraderie with the Sockeye brewing team, and says he’s enjoyed getting to know them on a more personal level — notably experienced head brewer Josh King.

But Watterson only developed a closer relationship with Mother Earth in the past few months, he says. Sharing information with Baker has been beneficial in myriad ways, he says, whether swapping resources or making a case for investments at Payette.

“It’s been pretty cool,” he says. “If you sit down and have a beer with Chris Baker, nine times out of 10, your conversation on a specific facet of his technical brewing process or their packaging operation — it’s going to drift toward quality control.

“Mother Earth does a great job. The quality of the beer speaks for itself.”

Idaho produced an estimated 91,448 barrels of beer in 2018, a slight decrease from the estimated 97,818 barrels in 2017. Nationally, 7,346 craft breweries operated in 2018, according to the Brewers Association, up from 6,490 in 2017. Those breweries produced 25.9 million barrels of beer in 2018, growing from about 25.1 million in 2017.

Whether Idaho generates more or less beer this year, one thing appears certain: Mother Earth will be the Gem State’s biggest brewery for the foreseeable future.

As a recognizable name, it also will collaborate with regional breweries. Mother Earth’s first packaged hazy IPA, a joint effort with Fremont Brewing of Seattle, is being canned this week.

“It’s an electric-lime-green, 16-ounce can that has both our logos on it,” Love says proudly. “Looks like an energy drink. We’re going wide with it, and big. It’s going all over the U.S. in all the states we distribute to.”

Love discovered Boise during travel for a job in telecommunications. But why did Mother Earth decide to invest nearly $4 million into launching a second brewery in Nampa? Because of the financial incentives and water quality, he says.

Finalizing the transition, Love and his wife moved to Eagle three years ago. Occasionally, he still gets a friendly jab about being a native Californian.

Gregarious and forthright, Dan Love will just take a sip of BooKoo IPA and smile.

“I wish I was a native Idahoan, but I’m not,” he says, chuckling. “But I’m definitely local.”

Idaho brewery production in 2018

Mother Earth Brew Co., Nampa: 10,125 barrels

Sockeye Brewing Co., Boise: 9,900

Payette Brewing Co., Boise: 8,200

Grand Teton Brewing Co., Victor: 8,000

Laughing Dog Brewing Co., Ponderay: 7,000

Woodland Empire Ale Craft, Boise: 3,450

Boise Brewing, Boise: 2,400

Selkirk Abbey Brewing Co., Post Falls: 1,900

Western Collective Beer, Garden City: 1,805

Hunga Dunga Brewing Co., Moscow: 1,500

McCall Brewing Co., McCall: 1,400

Sawtooth Brewery, Ketchum: 1,293

Powderhaus Brewing Co., Garden City: 1,250

Wildlife Brewing, Victor: 1,240

Salmon River Brewery, McCall: 1,150

Wallace Brewing Co., Wallace: 1,100 barrels

MickDuff’s Brewing Co., Sandpoint: 1,093

Trickster’s Brewing, Coeur d’Alene: 900

Crooked Fence Brewing Co., Garden City: 834

Post Falls Brewing, Post Falls: 817

10 Barrel Brewing, Boise: 800

Idaho Brewing Co., Idaho Falls: 754

Snow Eagle Brewing, Idaho Falls: 750

Lost Grove Brewing, Boise: 710

Rants and Raves Brewing, Moscow: 700

Slate Creek Brewing Co., Coeur d’Alene: 625

Downdraft Brewing Co., Post Falls: 600 (now closed)

Magic Valley Brewing, Buhl: 600

Mad Swede Brewing, Boise: 586

Daft Badger Brewing, Coeur d’Alene: 568

Barbarian Brewing, Garden City: 550

Crescent Brewery, Nampa: 500

Highlands Hollow Brewhouse, Boise: 500

Mad Bomber Brewing Co., Hayden: 500

Sun Valley Brewing Co., Hailey: 455

North Idaho Mountain Brew / City Limits Pub, Wallace: 416

Bear Island Brewing Co., Boise: 400

Clairvoyant Brewing, Boise: 400

Warfield Distillery and Brewery, Ketchum: 340

Bertrams Salmon Valley Brewery, Salmon: 330

Radio Brewing Co., Kellogg: 310

Von Scheidt Brewing Co., Twin Falls: 300

Cloud 9 Brewery, Boise: 285

Shattuck Brewery, LLC, Elk River: 250

Bella Brewing, Garden City: 200

County Line Brewing, Garden City: 200

Jim Dandy Brewing, Pocatello: 167

River of No Return Brewing Co., Challis: 150

River Bend Brewing, Hailey: 117

Matchwood Brewing Co., Sandpoint: 115

Moscow Brewing Co., Moscow: 104

Bombastic Brewing, Hayden: 100

Heaven’s Gate Brewery, Riggins: 100

Wolftrack Brewing Co., Cottonwood: 100

Hardware Brewing Co., Kendrick: 80

Utara Brewing Co., Sandpoint: 70

Slanted Rock Brewing Co., Meridian: 35

Westwood Brewing, Rathdrum: 35

Koto Brewing, Twin Falls: 26

Priest Lake Brewing, Priest Lake: 25

Edge Brewing Co., Boise: Requested not to publish

Broken Horn Brewing Co., McCall: Requested not to publish

Portneuf Brewing Co., Pocatello: Requested not to publish

Sources: Brewers Association, Mother Earth Brewing, Barbarian Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing. Some numbers are estimates provided by the breweries.

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Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and columnist at the Idaho Statesman, where he also has been a sportswriter, entertainment editor and features editor. Deeds co-hosts “The Other Studio,” a one-hour music show, at 8 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.