- Idaho’s Payette Brewing recently expanded to a capacity of 100,000 barrels a year.
The drive along US-20 between Central Oregon and Boise can be pretty boring: vast tracts of uninhabited, sagebrush-filled land with little to ease the monotony until the mountains past Burns. But Idaho's capital is worth at least a weekend visit for any Bendite, thanks to its towering state capitol, its vast array of outdoor activities and (increasingly) its beer scene.
The state currently has 54 operating breweries, from Laughing Dog way up in Sandpoint to Grand Teton near the border with Wyoming. A good 20 of them are in the greater Boise area, about five hours away from Bend. Staying at a cheap hotel somewhere downtown serves as a good base to explore the beer scene, since one can easily visit multiple worthy locations in an easy walking tour.
Start with Woodland Empire Ale Craft, which launched in 2014 and sees occasional distribution over here. So Juicy is their session IPA, and it's remarkably flavorful. On the other end of the spectrum, there's Beast Moans, a 10% imperial stout. It's conveniently located right by the PreFunk Beer Bar, a growler-fill place and neighborhood hangout offering all the highlights of local distribution.
A bit east of downtown is Boise Brewing, which features a high-ceilinged taproom and a unique "public offering" program that lets Idaho residents with at least $1,000 purchase company stock and have voting rights on future brewery operations. The Snowboarder Porter on tap is a lovely chocolate-themed affair, and—like the two places mentioned above—the bar is dog-friendly inside and out, something that really needs to be seen more often in Oregon.
Downtown itself is home to 10 Barrel's local brewpub, where Shawn Kelso brews IPA all day and wins medals for them, year after year. It's just a block or so from Bittercreek Ale House, arguably the main hub of Idaho beer and a great place to catch up on smaller locals such as Edge Brewing and Hunga Munga. (They're also offering Extra Special Bittercreek, a combination of IPA and English mild brewed in collaboration with Barley Brown's.)
Finally, for a taste of where Idaho beer is going, check out the new factory and taproom Payette Brewing opened up just outside of downtown, a bit north of the Boise River. Launched five years ago in the adjacent town of Garden City, Payette's grown so fast that as of last September, they're headquartered in a new $4.5 million brewhouse, containing a 60-barrel system with a potential capacity of 100,000 barrels per year. This gives it the capacity to put out even more cans of Rustler and Mutton Buster around Bend and elsewhere, as well as launch new one-offs like One in the Chamber, a 9.7 percent IPA that's dangerously drinkable in much the same manner as Boneyard's Notorious.