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The Starbucks of Craft Beer

With a new location and Barley Bros., Brewforia aims for world domination

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From the rust-colored arch above the entrance to Meridian's new Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park, the campus looks like an airport, complete with a labyrinthine parking lot, sapling-lined thoroughfares and stylish new outbuildings. It's a fitting place for Rick Boyd's vision for Barley Bros. and Brewforia to take off.

On Saturday, Sept. 1, the park will host the Barley Bros. Traveling Beer Show, which features live music, a beard and mustache contest, vendor tents and a hearty selection of beers. The $20 ticket to the event buys attendees access to more than 250 beers, as well as games and live entertainment.

Boyd hopes the success of Barley Bros. will enable him to hold similar festivals beyond Idaho and further his goal of turning Brewforia, which organized and funded the event, into a national franchise.

"We're in the infancy of what is becoming a major industry," Boyd said about his master plan. "I compare it to Starbucks."

And beer festivals are Boyd's way of ministering the gospel of craft beer. He has organized three previous Barley Bros. iterations at Ann Morrison in Boise, Alpenfest in 2009, Oktoberfest at Centurylink Arena in 2011, and the Winter Ale Festival in McCall in 2011----as well as the Ale Fort at Treefort Music Festival.

McKenzie Christensen, chair of the McCall Winter Carnival committee, said the Barley Bros. Winter Ale Festival helped attract the 21-35 age demographic to the otherwise family oriented carnival. The festival included a local night, featuring Salmon River Brewery and McCall Brewing Company, live music and unlimited tasting of 100 different beers for $20.

"We saw a dramatic increase in the number of carnival-goers the second weekend, which I credit in large part to the new events, including the brewfest," she said.

Brewforia has also worked outside the Barley Bros. brand. Ale Fort sold roughly 1,000 tickets at $25 apiece to attendees and featured unlimited all-local mini beers from Sockeye Brewery, The Ram, Crooked Fence Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing Company, Payette Brewing and Tablerock Brewpub.

Boyd said he hopes to hold more beer festivals in the future, but he's proceeding cautiously in the wake of 2011's Barley Bros. in Ann Morrison Park, after which the city and Brewforia entered a billing dispute over damage to the park and the cost of city services.

The city alleged that Brewforia owed around $7,800 plus interest for damage to the park lawn and police services. Boyd challenged how the city arrived at its bill, particularly how it assessed damage to the turf and charges for police presence during the festival. Boise Parks and Recreation officials said they didn't want the festival to return, so Boyd said he was taking Barley Bros. to Meridian.

That lawsuit is still pending, but Boyd said he hopes to have the issue "resolved soon," and that he expects to do smoother business in Meridian. Boyd is working with Colin Moss, recreation coordinator of Meridian Parks and Recreation, to ensure that the city's relationship with Barley Bros. doesn't end in acrimony and litigation like it did in Boise.

Moss confirmed that the festival is required to carry a $500,000 insurance policy, and he plans to assess event damage to the park in person with its organizers.

"We do our best to make expectations very clear for the use of all our parks, and we hold anyone accountable who doesn't meet those expectations. This event is no different," Moss said.

While Barley Bros. made the move to Meridian, Brewforia opened a second location in Eagle this month.

At 4,550 square feet, the new Eagle location is larger than its Meridian counterpart to accommodate more customer seating, more beers--between 60 and 80 beers per week on 10 rotating taps--and a 1,500-square-foot kitchen.

Its larger menu, back patio and open floor plan are taking Brewforia into unexplored territory. A new emphasis on food has allowed Boyd and chef Ryan Hembree to take a more-nuanced approach to pairing beer and food, though Boyd maintains that beer is still king.

"First and foremost, we are a beer store," he said.

Boyd is currently eyeing a third location in Spokane, Wash., which he hopes to open in six to nine months.

"We're thinking things could progress up there pretty quickly," he said.

While Boyd says that individual differences between Brewforia locations are a perk of being a young company, he concedes that his franchise plans may require him to enforce some uniformity.

"I personally like there being a little unique character to each store. The most important thing is that each store have a similar feel and the right ambiance," he said.

Brewforia's early expansion plans ran into a hiccup when it opened a location in Bown Crossing in May 2011. The space wasn't technically a franchise, but rather a licensed facility owned by former employee Chris Oates and his wife Kammie. In October 2011, Boyd and Oates severed ties, claiming they had differing visions for the space and the business was renamed Bier:Thirty Bottle and Bistro.

Despite any past setbacks, Boyd hopes to have his franchise program up and running by the end of 2012. He said he already receives regular requests from potential franchisees.

Boyd's strategy is to use the Internet as a forum where Brewforia locations can make rare brews available in 30 states, turning the disadvantage of a fractured microbrew market into an advantage for his company.

"Each franchisee will have access to beers that are exclusive to their region, but that people want in other parts of the country," he said.