The State of American Craft Beer – Idaho

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With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now reached our Twelfth state on the list, The Gem State of Idaho. Besides those world famous potatoes, the state is known for their large annual production of the nation’s hops, being the third largest hop growing state with around 10% of the total each year.

Idaho ranks 39th in total population (just over 1.6 million), has a total of 43 craft breweries as of2014 and a brewers guild, Idaho Brewers United. The state ranks 23rd in total breweries and 9th in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.

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History

Like most states on the West Coast, the real beer boom in Idaho started as a result of the gigantic gold rushes of the mid-19th century. Prior to that, before the Civil War, the traditions of English immigrants dictated the styles available – primarily ales, stouts and porters. But once the mining boom took hold, the state’s first brewery opened in Lewiston in the early 1860’s and with all those German miners flooding the area, the Lager style became king. By 1888 there were an estimated 33 brewers in the state.

In the 1890’s, with the rise of industrialization, the state’s production started it’s decline as the growth of pasteurization enabled outside influences to begin distributing within the state. Going dry in 1916, Idaho started the country’s Prohibition party early. Some breweries were able to restart following more than a decade of dormancy, but just as it occurred throughout the country, the big national brewers ruled the day and the state’s independent breweries were all shuttered by 1960.

That all changed in 1984 when the state’s revival began with the opening of Snake River Brewing in Caldwell. It unfortunately closed in 1991, making the oldest current brewery Grand Teton Brewing, opened in Victor in 1988 (a winner of 7 GABF medals, most in the state) and the first brewpub, Highlands Hollow, opening in Boise in 1992. While there was significant growth in the 2000’s (17 breweries open before 2010) the state is about to open it’s 50th brewery and 33rd since 2010 with another 7 stated to open in the near future. The state’s largest brewer and most commonly available outside the state is Payette Brewing in Boise.

Five More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out

Boise BrewingBoise Brewing (Boise) – The state’s most recent and only recipient of a GABF award this year, they’ve only been in operation since 2014. With this recent success, yet still relatively small, they’ve already crafted over 23 varieties in that short time, thus quickly making a name for themselves in the NW brewing community.

Crooked Fence Brewing (Garden City) – In operation for just over 3 years, Crooked Fence has been growing at a phenomenal rate. With all the success they’ve seen at their main brewery and barrelhouse locations in this NW Boise suburb, they can now also be found out further east in Eagle as well. We’re especially big fans of their Sins Of Our Fathers Imperial Stout.

laughing dog smiLaughing Dog Brewing (Ponderay) – Found further north in the panhandle above Coeur d’Alene, this dog friendly pub is celebrating their 10th anniversary of creating “fetchingly good beer.” Known for having a solid variety of hopped up styles such as their big Alpha Dog and Laughing Dog IPAs, you’ll never go wrong with their beautiful selection of award winning works.

Sockeye Brewing (Boise) – Touted as having Idaho’s #1 selling beer (Dagger Falls IPA) and being Idaho’s most awarded brewery, Sockeye has been brewing up mad street cred since their founding in 2002. In addition to their popular IPA, they’ve been scoring major points lately with their barrel-aged strong ales.

Woodland EmpireWoodland Empire Ale Craft (Boise) – In existence over a year now, Woodland Empire has already been blowing away the PNW craft scene with their unique art and a devout focus on quality over quantity. If you want to see what the cool future of Idaho brewing beholds, look no further than these artisans who’ve already created a total of 60 varieties in just over 21 months.

Didn’t find a brewery near you listed here? Check out this list of Modern Idaho Brewers for more info.

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