Sipping a pint on the sprawling outdoor patio behind Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens last month, I couldn’t help thinking about home.
I’d managed to sneak in a tour of Stone’s mammoth brewing operation during a family vacation. I’d already visited San Diego mainstays AleSmith and Ballast Point days earlier, as well as newbie nanobreweries Pacific and 2kids. In preparation for my return to Idaho, I’d meticulously jammed a suitcase with 48 pounds of bubble-wrapped bottles. (I made sure not to mention “bombers” to airport security.)
There’s nothing like a trip to San Diego County to put Boise’s burgeoning brewery scene in perspective.
I admit it. My mind got a wee bit blown in SoCal. That said, I didn’t return thinking that Boise should try to become San Diego, sometimes referred to as America’s craft beer capital. Or Portland. Or even Bend.
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Still, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional reminder to keep striving for a richer, more rewarding local beer scene.
Stone, the biggest brewery in Southern California, is a jaw-dropping facility. Take the hourlong tour if you ever get the chance. It’s informative and entertaining, thanks to the lighthearted, knowledgeable guide. Stone also is an outstanding place to eat and lounge afterward on the lush, manicured garden grounds. Oh, and check out the bazillion bottle options on the beer menu. Would you like some Pliny the Elder, sir? Or perhaps a selection from The Bruery in Placentia, Calif.? Yes, please.
Stone was far from the only eye-popping sight, though. Or tongue-dazzling taste.
Ballast Point’s new location in the Miramar neighborhood, its fourth in San Diego, is more than 100,000 square feet. It’s magnificent — from the breathtaking, German-imported copper brewing equipment to the insanely interesting beers. Super-fresh Grapefruit Sculpin on tap? Count me in. And how many crazy-wild beers can one brewery concoct? Is that really curry, cayenne and coconut in the Indra Kunindra?
My palate got a weeklong workout — from decadent high-alcohol masterpieces such as AleSmith’s Vietnamese coffee-laced Speedway Stout to goofy-awesome treats such as Belching Beaver’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout. Man, I fell in love at AleSmith. Those six packs of Tony Gwynn-inspired San Diego Pale Ale .394 are so cool.
The best part? It was easy to handle all the beers. A fun, inviting aspect of San Diego’s brewery scene — and something Boise breweries should mimic — is a focus on 4-ounce taster pours.
Boise-area breweries usually sell taster flights. And, yes, you normally can mooch a free taster squirt around these parts. But what was the first thing I noticed at Ballast Point’s original brewery in the Scripps Ranch neighborhood? All 19 beers that I counted on the chalkboard were individually listed at three price points: taster, half pint and pint. Or you could order three tasters — 12 ounces of beer — for $5. AleSmith’s chalkboard listed a 4-ounce taster price range ($1-$3) and 8-ounce range ($2-$5) to go along with pint and growler price ranges.
Beer tours make frequent stops at San Diego breweries, so it makes sense. But emphasizing individual 4-ounce pours also tells you something about a city’s beer culture. San Diego breweries want drinkers to try everything. San Diego thinks big by going small. Even craft beer bars there list and sell individual tasters.
I returned to Boise with two revelations: 1) I am so freaking glad to be away from San Diego traffic; 2) I’d sure like Boise breweries to highlight tasters a bit more.
It’s great fun, two bucks at a time. And I feel like it would work well here. Because one thing is certain about Boise’s still-developing beer scene: There’s no lack of enthusiasm. And everybody seems to be on the same page about moving the brewery scene forward.
On that note, here’s some local news and events ...
Idaho’s new top brewery
That’s nearly double its production in 2013, and marks a changing of the guard. Victor’s Grand Teton, which generated 9,879 barrels in 2014, has topped the category in previous years. Rounding out the top five in 2014: Sockeye (8,295), Laughing Dog (5,804) and Crooked Fence (4,200). The production drop-off is fast after that, starting with McCall Brewing (1,300).
The gap stands to widen. Payette has announced plans to expand to a larger brewhouse with the long-term theoretical potential to pump out as many as 100,000 barrels of beer annually.
Craft beer week is May 11-17
American Craft Beer Week is here. You’ll find local and national breweries specially featured on taps around town. Boise’s Edge Brewing, for example, will pop up with its new Project Citrus IPA, among other flavors, at 6 p.m. May 13 at The Front Door, 105 S. 6th St. Here are a couple of other highlights:
• The River Room at Whole Foods, 401 S. Broadway Ave., Boise, will tap four heavy-duty brews at 5 p.m. May 11: Payette Brewing’s 12 Gauge stouts from 2013 and 2014, and Sunday Mourning Breakfast Stout from 2013, plus Stone’s Wootstout 1.0.
At 6 p.m. May 13, the River Room will highlight Stein Distributing’s craft beer portfolio with beers and representatives from Edge, Firestone Walker, Odell, Woodland Empire, Uinta and Widmer. Expect fun swag giveaways.
At 5 p.m. May 15, there will be a Sierra Nevada tap takeover and reps on hand.
At 5 p.m. May 16, Deschutes will take over taps.
• Crooked Flats, 3705 Idaho 16 in Eagle, will host American Craft Beer Week’s grand finale: The annual Brew O’lympics from noon to 5 p.m. May 17.
Basically, it’s a party with local breweries. Employees and owners will compete in events ranging from keg tossing to corn hole. There will be 11 beers on tap, as well as barbecue and music. Proceeds go to Idaho Brewers United, so it’s a good cause — if you’re interested in seeing Idaho’s brewery scene expand and improve.
Want to catch a ride? Get one for $5 each way at The Barrelhouse, 5181 N. Glenwood St., Garden City, or Highlands Hollow, 2455 Harrison Hollow Blvd., Boise. Rides leave for Crooked Flats at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. They return at 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Bonus: The ride to the party includes a free pint token.
More taps, more taps
• Growler fill stations are only as good as the beers they offer. So The Growler Guys, which opened last month at 2020 E. Overland Road in Meridian, plays the odds.
The beer mecca has 54 taps — 42 of beer, six of cider, three of kombucha, two of soda and one of cold brew coffee. Check out what’s on tap at thegrowlerguys.com.
The Growler Guys will host a “New Kids on the Block” night during American Craft Beer Week: From 6 to 8 p.m. May 14, they’ll feature two beers each from local breweries Edge, PostModern and County Line.
Multiple Growler Guys locations already exist in both Oregon and Washington. A Boise location is planned at some point.
• When it comes to tap handles, nobody outguns Yard House at The Village at Meridian.
Yard House recently added 24 new beers to its 140-handle lineup. IPA-loving Idahoans will be stoked to find Elysian Space Dust, Fort George Vortex and Laurelwood Workhorse (I love that stuff) among the new choices.
Gold medal whiskey
Caldwell-based Koenig Distillery’s Seven Devils Straight Bourbon recently was awarded a gold medal in the annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition. It retails for about $30. For more about the competition, visit sfspiritscomp.com.