The big buzz (pardon the pun) at the Idaho Distillers Association
's Taste of Idaho Distilleries event June 19 was twofold: Nearly all of the distillers present emphasized sweet, fruit-forward flavors and hyper-local sourcing.
Representatives from eight local distilleries packed the cozy, red-brick main room of Beside Bardenay in downtown Boise for the exclusive event, which was intended to showcase the best hand-crafted liquors from the Gem State. Grand Teton Distillery
traveled in from Driggs, Up North Distillery
made the trek from Post Falls, Mill Town Distillery
flew in from Sandpoint, and representatives from Koenig Distillery
in Caldwell and Boise-based Old Boise Spirits
, 44º North Vodka
, 8 Feathers Distillery
all made appearances. As the night wore on, reporters and liquor store owners flitted from table to table, tasting samples of the newest and most popular products from each distiller.
"Each of these companies is small, family owned and trying to establish themselves in a very competitive industry," said IDA president and 44º North Co-owner Ken Wyatt in a brief address. "The Idaho Distillers Association works to level the playing field."
Fruit-flavored liquors abounded, running the gamut from vodka to bourbon: Bardenay, 44º North, Koenig, Grand Teton and 8 Feathers all stood out for their fruity libations, with Idaho-sourced huckleberry being most popular. Three non-huckleberry flavors that topped the heap were 44º North's Sunnyslope nectarine vodka, which smelled like fresh-picked stone fruit without a hint of alcohol edge and had a sweet, robust flavor; 8 Feathers' bold black cherry vodka made with fruit fresh from Emmett and sold exclusively in the distillery's store; and Bardenay's cassis liqueur made from black currents grown in Washington State, a small-batch rarity still only available at its restaurants.
When it comes to local sourcing in the Gem State, potatoes are a mainstay, and Grand Teton, 44º North and Koenig all offered vodkas made with Idaho spuds. Mill Town also exemplified the hyper-local focus, though in a different way: The barley for its signature Barley Vodka—an easy-drinking, 80-proof pour that Manager Jessie Vachon called the company's "baby"—is grown on the same farm where the distillery is located, and new Rye Whiskey using all home-grown rye is planned for 2019.
Up North also took unique approach to local with its grain-free "honey spirits," distilled in batches from 1.5 drums of Idaho honey. Combined with cranberry juice, sweet and sour, ginger ale and a squeeze of lime, the barrel-finished version of the spirit was sweet and refreshing.