Driving east on Chinden Boulevard from Garden City, it might feel like you're traversing the City of Strip Malls. Don't be fooled—over the past few years, breweries, wineries and a cidery have sprung up along GC's main arterial, staking out a new place for the growing craft beer scene and paving a new drinking route: the Chinden Brews Cruise.
There are at least nine craft beverage establishments spread out over the 2.5-mile stretch of Chinden from Branstetter Street 43rd Street. The majority offer beer, but there is also a cluster of wineries centered on 43rd Street and one of Boise's few cider establishments.
We drank our way along these boozy miles of Highway 26, starting from its western reaches. Here's a taste of what we tasted:
9719 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-376-4026, powderhausbrewing.com
At the westernmost edge of Chinden's brewery row is Powderhaus Brewing Company—a massive temple to beer that feels transported from an epic German poem. Instead of squishing into a strip mall or a converted space, Powderhaus built a custom brewery from the ground up. The result is exquisite: a cavernous wooden, metal and cement interior that feels like a modern rendition of the mythical "great hall."
Between the giant taxidermy mounts on the walls and the (non-stuffed) pet dogs, there were more animals inside the brewery during a weekday afternoon visit than there were humans. With the addition of skis and snowshoes mounted to the walls, it's the epitome of rustic Northwest decor.
Brewers Tyson Cardon and Tyler Schmidt said their "vision is to create beers inspired by the Great Northwest and the alpine spirit." The results are a full-time tap list full of locally sourced hops and pine and floral flavors. Their seasonal and bi-annual brews include selections like the Schmidts and Grins Doppelbock with hints of caramel, fruit and chocolate and a 10 percent Bent Shaft Imperial IPA that will knock you on your butt with Idaho 7 hops—a nationally sought after variety, special to the state.
County Line Brewing
9115 W. Chinden Blvd. 208-830-2456, countylinebrewing.com
Set in the corner of a modest strip mall not far east on Chinden from Powderhaus is County Line Brewing. The beer baby of Laura and Zach Kiehl, County Line offers killer brews in a laid back, no-frills atmosphere. A handful of tables are arrayed on the red concrete floor, including a cool curved bar along one of the walls. Beer orders are placed at another bar backed by the brewing operation, where you can watch the magic happen.
During our visit, dogs roamed freely as neighbors chatted and toasted one another.
County Line offers about a half-dozen brews on tap and boasts a number of seasonal offerings, including the dry hopped pineapple sour and 2016 RIP Russian Imperial Stout. Among the standbys are the Shade Tree IPA—which is a take on the style that dials back slightly on its characteristic hoppiness but retains a crispness that would be welcome in the eponymous shade of a tree—and the Barnwood Brown Ale, a roasty, malty, chocolatey offering that warms in all the right ways.
Feel like talking some craft brew shop? County Line is next door to craft beer supply store Homebrew Stuff, which has everything you'd need to get into the homebrewing game.
Barrelhouse Pub & Grill
5181 N. Glenwood St., 208-376-4200, barrelhouse.beer
For all of the alcoholic treasures to be found on the Chinden ale and cider trail, there is one notable absence: food. Barbarian Bella, Meriwether, and Powderhaus do host food trucks on specific days, but it is possible to wander down the trail with nothing more than popcorn to keep you going.
For a food break that doesn't require sacrificing craft brew options, wander a few blocks off the Chinden strip for dinner at Barrelhouse, a pub run by Eagle-based brewery Crooked Fence.
If you've been to the Crooked Fence headquarters, you might be surprised by a different vibe at Barrelhouse. The pub has a spacious and entirely wood-paneled dining room. Crooked Fence's artsy beer posters pepper the walls, but the tap list has a wide variety of Boise area brews and beer from farther-reaching suds makers like McCall Brewing and Deschutes in Oregon.
The upscale food menu has plenty of options to satisfy both the picky eater and the comfort-food obsessed. The most fun to be had might come from exploring the appetizer menu—which includes selections like jalapeno popper egg rolls, spicy maple-bacon peanuts and steamed cider and jalapeno clams. Fully sated, head to the game room in the back for pool and shuffleboard.
5270 W. Chinden Blvd., barbarianbrewing.com
Just a few storefronts east from Barrelhouse, Barbarian Brewing has a drastically different vibe. White Christmas lights frame the chalkboard beer menu directly in front of the entrance, adding a soft touch to the otherwise industrial-modern taproom. The lights won't distract you for long—the tap list is a sight to behold. At any given time there are close to a dozen brews available, not including bottles for sale out the door.
Barbarian specializes in sour and barrel aged beers. The name pays tribute to the Old World brewing styles that inspired husband and wife James Long and BreAnne Hovley to open the outfit in October 2015. According to Barbarian's website, their mission "is to create delicious, complex, artisan ales. Our creativity won't be limited by style guidelines."
Their beers don't disappoint. The IPAs have clever ingredients like mango, passion fruit and cedar. Each dark beer has a personality of its own, distinguished by flavors of coffee, plums and raisins, citrus chocolate, and sour cherry. Those aren't even the most unique selections—the Jotunheim is a Nordic-inspired beer made with wild apples and elderberries, and a recent Berliner weiss incorporated strawberries, cardamom and rose water.
If you like sours, this is the place to be. Grab a pint, sprawl out with friends in the spacious interior—complete with a large table, deck and a couch area—or face off against an opponent at the dart board.
5242 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-972-6725, meriwethercider.com
In a beige strip mall farther east on Chinden, sharing walls with insurance agencies and construction shops, is one of Boise's few cider treasures. Meriwether, owned by the four-person Leadbetter family, opened the Garden City location in 2016 with help from a $30,000 kickstarter campaign.
That local support doesn't seem to have faded since. On a Saturday afternoon visit, the cozy taproom was packed with parents sharing a cider while their kids played board games nearby, couples huddled together and strangers laughed at the bar—all drawn together by the promise of gluten-free booze. There was hardly a seat left at any of the high wooden tables or the hand-crafted wood and resin bar, but patrons were happy to stand and sip—digging on the cheery vibe of the warm red walls and friendly chatter.
Despite its industrial location, Meriwether feels like a neighborhood community center—dogs, kids and families welcome.
When drinking at Meriwether, do yourself a favor and grab a flight. Try tons of flavors for less than $10 and take a tour through the sweet and fruity, hoppy and fresh, and sour twists of cider wonderland. Unless the Strawberries and Cream Nitro cider is on tap. If so, get that. And another.
4340 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-629-5623, bellabrewing.com
Drinking at Bella could easily feel like having beers in your buddies' garage. The brewing operation and taproom is actually inside a converted garage on Chinden and 44th Street, in a shopping alcove flanked on either side by auto parts dealers. Thanks to the tasteful decor, friendly staff and stellar beer, Bella has transformed into a hip hideaway.
The pint-sized taproom is basically a fenced-off sitting area inside the brew operation, flanked on two sides by vats and oak barrels. The Mod decor is really what sets the scene—crisp gray walls offset by bright accent colors and minimalist posters advertising the available beers. The Bella look—branded by owners who took over the original outfit, Haff Brewing, in January 2016—is unmistakeable.
On the beer front, Bella has all the classics—and some twists. Its stable tap list includes plenty of pales, reds and browns, but of particular interest are the Mahalo Melon watermelon wheat and Blu Snow Porter, the latter made with white chocolate and blueberries.
Keep an eye out for the giant white Cobby's Sandwich Shop sign on the right—that's Bella's next door neighbor. Also, consider stopping for a sandwich to-go if Bella's free popcorn doesn't quite fill you up.
District 44 Wine Hub
107 E. 44th St., 208-376-4023, cinderwines.com
Split Rail Winery
4338 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-490-0681, splitrailwines.com
4338 W. Chinden Blvd., syringawinery.com