The Gem State ranks third in the nation for total hop production, supplying about 15 percent of the U.S. hop market from fields in southern Idaho and the Panhandle. Most of those hops are sold to big commercial brewers, but fresh-hopped beers are becoming more popular among local craft breweries for their fresh, grassy favor.
- Jeffrey C. Lowe
Payette Brewing Co. is entering its fourth year offering beers made with fresh hops taken straight off the bine (yes, that's spelled right) from Gooding Farms, in Parma. Sockeye Brewing also uses fresh hops, plucked from Jackson Hop Farms in Wilder, to brew two of its specialty beers, and Boise Brewing—Boise Weekly's next door neighbor—hit the ground running with a fresh hop beer made with Parma's Alpha Hops during its first year of operation.
To showcase local fresh hop beers, Boise Brewing hosted the inaugural Hoptober Freshtival in October 2014. Because fresh hop beers can only be brewed during the short window of the hop harvest in late August and September, you never know when they'll start showing up on taps. But rest assured, Boise Brewing owner Collin Rudeen said there will be a follow-up Freshtival in 2015.
German beer steins are a sight to behold. These 1/2-liter and 1-liter tankards were traditionally fashioned from glazed stoneware, adorned with elaborate decorations and topped with pewter lids or thumb-lifts. Some say the lids were conceived as a sanitary measure after the Bubonic Plague to keep flies from falling into people's beers. Though most German biergartens have since switched to lidless glass mugs, one thing remains the same: size. At Schnitzel Garten in Eagle, patrons can choose from a variety of German beers—Bitburger, Hofbrau, Paulaner, Spaten—and select from three sizes: a 1/2-liter glass, 1-liter mug or 2-liter boot. The 1-liter mug because it's the perfect, arm-wearying size for a sloshing, "Prost!" Speaking of Prost, German beer lovers will soon be able to clink mugs in Boise. Prost German Pubs, which owns four German-themed concepts in Seattle and two in Portland, Ore., plans to open a seventh location, Prost Boise, on Eighth Street in April.
- Jeffrey C. Lowe
- A range of local breweries offer barrel-aged beers.
Aging beer in barrels was the norm for centuries, but fell out of practice when breweries went industrial at the end of Prohibition. Thanks to the craft beer renaissance, barrel aging is back in a big way. The technique enables a wide range of experimentation: beers pick up traces of whatever once filled the barrel—as well as the wood itself—so popular choices include wine and bourbon barrels. Treasure Valley breweries like Sockeye Brewing, Payette Brewing Co. and Edge Brewing are all on board with barrel-aged beer.
At Sockeye, barrels from local vineyards are used to create sours and so-called "wild beers," in which wild yeast is allowed to run rampant. Sockeye also uses gin barrels to age its popular Dagger Falls IPA and Hopnoxious Double Imperial IPA. In November 2014, Payette released its Twelve Gauge Imperial Stout, which was aged for more than a year in bourbon barrels. Edge's Midnight Lullaby Imperial Stout draws hints of wood and wine from the French merlot barrels in which it was aged from December 2014 until its release in April 2015. Barbarian Brewing, which is set to open sometime in 2015, is hanging its horned helmet on barrel-aged beer. Describing itself as "Idaho's first dedicated barrel house," Barbarian plans to specialize in Belgian and European-style sours and imperial ales aged in oak, hearkening back to "how beer was made in the days of yore."
- Jeffrey C. Lowe
- Growler fill stations are filling up the Treasure Valley.
No longer do loyal beer drinkers have to trek to their favorite brewery to pick up a growler of good beer, nor do they have to settle with a six-pack of PBR from the corner store. These days, growler fill stations are on almost every street corner, setting up shop everywhere from gas stations to grocery stores. As more of these stations open, the beer selection keeps getting better. Tap offerings range from bigger breweries like New Belgium to local and regional joints like Woodland Empire Ale House and McCall Brewing Company.
Of course, there's a catch: Unlike bottled beer, growlers have to be consumed quickly, so you'd better be ready to throw back 64 ounces within a day or so.