Boise is home to only four microbreweries. Serious and devoted beer drinkers hop from one to another, depending on what's on tap. Personally, I like to start with a Hopnoxious at Sockeye Grill and Brewery up on the Bench, head downtown for a White Bird Wheat at TableRock, down a Buttface Amber on The Ram's patio and then head north for a Hippie Shake at Highlands Hollow.
Hopnoxious is brewmaster Josh King's double IPA that has developed a cult following. In fact, Sockeye's current tap lineup is a hop lover's heady dream. Hopnoxious sits at the extreme end of the hop scale, with Hell Diver Pale Ale on the mild end. Dagger Falls IPA, which won a silver medal at this year's North American Brewersfest, falls between the two but is definitely on the hoppy side. Precocious Pale, an imperial pale ale, wedges itself just below the hop-measure of Dagger Falls. As for the temp, Sockeye tested out at 37.7 degrees, a few degrees colder than what King says he's shooting for.
"We have all the beer at the same temperature. It's closer to 42 degrees by the time it comes out of the tap," says King. "Ideally, I'd like to keep it closer to 50 degrees because the colder it is, the more it shocks the tastebuds and masks the flavor in beer. If you want to get the full flavor of beer, it should be at least 50 and above." But, for the sake of customers, who prefer a "cold one," King sets the thermostat a little colder.
Brewers at all three other microbreweries agree with King.
"The warmer the better," says Kevin Bolen, brewmaster at The Ram. Bolen says ideally, he'd prefer to serve his beer at 40 degrees, but the taps are pouring at 38 degrees. We'll have to take his word for it, though, because with the new Coldest Beer rules, The Ram was ousted from this year's testing. If you want to do a little testing of your own, Bolen has a couple of interesting seasonals on tap. The Bottle Rocket Lager, a Bavarian-style Helles, should be on tap for the Fourth of July, and for something on the wheatier side, try the Barefoot Wit.
In the North End, you'll find another seasonal wit on tap at Highland's Hollow Brewhouse. Brewmaster Chris Compton says the crisp and slightly dry Half Wit is based on a Belgian style. Compton also recommends the Gingerwheat and Spoon Tongue for easy thirst-quenching brews. We tested Highland's Hollow out at 42 degrees this year, and that's right about where Compton wants his beer to be.
"Different beers work better at different temperatures and it depends on what flavor profile you want," says Compton. "With nine beers on tap, I can't go real warm, and I can't go real cold." For those customers who find 40 degrees too warm for their tastes, Compton says they order their poison in a warm glass. "The warmer the beer is you get a richer flavor. If you like hops, the colder, the better because the malt subdues, whereas the warmer the beer, the more malt. You don't want 60 degree beer. That's too warm."
Last year's warmest beer, TableRock Brewpub actually tested out about 9 degrees colder this year. It was at whopping 53.9 last year. This year, it came in at 44.3.
"Nobody likes a 50-degree beer, but if we can keep it under 45, we're pretty happy," says assistant brewer Tim Spanbauer. With a beer like TableRock's summer seasonal Orange Blossom Special, it seems like a sin to kill the taste. Although Spanbauer exerts that the OBS isn't a sweet beer, those who prefer a little less fruit may be interested in the Dog Paddle Pilsner, a true Pilsner with a distinct hop bite on the finish, which is due out by the Fourth of July.