According to a 2018 report by Forbes, Boise is the fastest-growing city in America, and the local craft brewery scene has been working hard to keep pace. But people aren’t just flocking to the Idaho capital for its moderate climate, affordable cost of living, and limitless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. They’re attracted to the city because the people living in it are innately and profoundly friendly.
“We have a city program here called Boise Kind. We say, ‘Don’t be nice, be Boise nice,’ and that speaks to Boise as a whole,” Molly Leadbetter, co-owner of Meriwether Cider tells me. “We have one employee who always says that Boise is like adult Sesame Street.”
This overwhelming sense of community connectedness and collaboration is everywhere you look in Boise, including the local breweries, which are all using their taps to not only pour tasty beer, but to do good and give back. Here are four worth visiting.
The shining example of Boise Kind is Boise Brewing, which is owned by more than 450 locals. This idea for community-supported beer was inspired by community-supported agriculture (CSA), which usually consists of local community members purchasing shares or a membership—typically in the form of a weekly box of produce—from a farmer.
Founder Collin Rudee turned to what’s called a Small Corporate Offering Registration (SCOR), a state-based program that allows a small business to have as many investors as they’d like and advertise it publicly. In 2014, Bose Brewing was able to officially roll up the doors to their Boise taproom thanks to $450,000 of contributions from 232 neighborly investors.
Boise Brewing crafts a wide range of styles, focusing on quality over flashiness; its Black Cliffs American Stout won gold at the 2018 World Beer Cup. And the bulk of the brewery’s experimentation efforts come in an unusual category: IPAs. Its new Evolution Series so far features a Hazy IPA, Hazy Pale Ale, and soon, a Milkshake IPA. “It’s a chance for us to try out new hops, try out new ingredients, and really be outside the box of your traditional IPA,” Rudee says.
In 2017, the brewery raised another $300,000 with a second round of public investment, which enabled it to expand production to more than 2,000 barrels per year. Now in a third round, the brewery is seeking funding for taproom improvements, and if all goes well, enough to open a second taproom. All community owners get voting rights, dividends (when profitable), a growler fill per month, and an owner’s mug.
“It’s been amazing, especially when we were getting started and there were people investing in a company that didn’t have a location yet or past experience running a brewery,” says Rudee, who predicts Boise Brewing will have more than 600 investors when it wraps up this third round. “It’s a testament to how people want to get involved and be a part of something.”
As a way to give back to the community that has so earnestly supported it, Boise Brewing donates $1 of proceeds from a select beer each month to a local nonprofit. It has also started organizing volunteer days with its owners; recently, more than a dozen of them got together for the city’s Rake Up Boise program, which rakes the yards of those who are unable to do it themselves.
Lost Grove Brewing
At its two-year anniversary party in October, Lost Grove Brewing, located near Boise State University, announced a dozen nonprofits it plans to work with over the next year. Each one had a booth set up and every guest that interacted with them all was entered into a giveaway to win free beer for a year.
“We were born and raised here in Bosie, so the idea is to take care of our community,” says founder Jacob Black. “Being a small company, we can’t necessarily donate a ton financially, so we see ourselves more as having the ability to help spread the word about the nonprofits we have in the community and how they help us. That’s just as important.” Each month going forward will highlight a different nonprofit. During one week, coined Powerful Pints, Lost Grove donates $2 from all pints poured from a designated tap and on the second Tuesday of the month, the nonprofit gets to use the brewery space to raise awareness, leaving with 50 percent of proceeds from the evening.
Typically, only about four of the 10 to 12 beers on tap at Lost Grove are regular brews. The brewery regularly experiments with five series: IPA Series, Acid Raindrops Sour Series, Social Club Session Series, People Series, and The Lost Series, reserved for one-offs and misfits, like the Milk Milk Lemonade Chocolate Stout, a milk chocolate stout steeped with lemon zest for a subtle citrus finish.
The People Series is a way for Lost Brewing to actually involve locals in the brewing process. Not only do the brewers try to source all local ingredients and donate their grain to nearby farmers, but this new series features collaborations with influential people in Idaho. Recently, they partnered with the Eilen Jewell Band, a local folk band that travels all over the world. Working with brewer James Hixon and local roasting company Dawson Taylor Coffee, they came up with a coffee hazelnut porter called Ghost Town Porter.
And this week, Lost Grove is set to soft open The Lost Shack, its second taproom in Southeast Boise, which unsurprisingly, is another partnership. Working with local food truck Sushi Shack, it’s part taproom, part sushi bar.
The blackboard of taps at Barbarian Brewing feels like an ode to my childhood. At the sight of the Sour Patch Kids Gose, my mouth immediately starts watering, a physical, nostalgic response to one of my favorite movie theater snacks. Only here, it’s available in adult beverage form, made with 50 pounds of candy.
A similar reaction comes over me when I happen upon the Pop Rocks Gose, which owner and brewer James Long tells me he created simply because he “wanted to pour Pop Rocks in beer and watch it explode.” Without even tasting it, the familiar crackling sound from so many 1990s birthday parties of my past creeps up to my eardrums.
“It’s the inner manchild in me, and it was such a hit that we started branching out and doing other things,” says Long, a former trauma nurse who opened Barbarian with his wife BreAnne Hovley in 2015, largely thanks to a community-backed Kickstarter campaign. (The downtown Boise location is the couple’s second taproom.) From the Pop Rocks experiment, Barbarian’s Candy Gose Series was born, and later, an Ice Cream Series came along as well. When Long was given 20 pounds of apricots from a local farm, he thought about how well apricots and ice cream go together. Pastry ales were all the rage at the time, so why not make an ice cream one?
“It’s dessert in a glass, essentially. A lot of our stuff we try to make for people who aren’t beer people,” he says, adding that the brewery has since made eight ice cream ales, including a S’mores and Reeses Pieces. “Generally, people think it’s just harsh IPAs out there and we want to make something for everyone.”
And Barbarian does have something for everyone. Long has made more than 200 different recipes in four years, averaging eight new beers a month on a five-barrel system. Much of his production facility is filled with oak barrels aging sours, funky Brettanomyces beers, bourbon barrel stouts, and barley wines—many of which are spontaneously fermented lambic-style in a coolship, a centuries-old technique that is rarely used today. But the brewery’s chalkboard also boasts Belgian ales, porters, farmhouse ales, and of course, the top-selling hazy and West Coast IPAs.
As for charitable involvement, Barbarian doesn’t have a cleverly named program like some of its neighbors, but Long and Hovley did hire an employee whose job is to select initiatives on a case-by-case basis. On my visit, they were promoting Ales for ALS. “That’s one thing the breweries, wineries, and cideries in Boise do a really good job of,” says Hovley. “It turns out, people love to drink and give back, so it’s kind of like two birds, one stone.”
Meriwether Cider was founded in 2016 by an adventure-seeking family of firefighters: Gig (head cider maker) and Ann Leadbetter, along with their daughters Molly and Kate. In the fall of 2018, they opened their second taproom, a cider house in downtown Boise, which has ten taps representing local, national, and international ciders in addition to their own.
“We wanted to bring the widespread diversity of cider to Boise. Every time you go to a bar or restaurant, you pretty much have to order the cider. There’s usually just one and it’s a very standard flavor, nothing crazy or funky or unique because they need it to be a crowd-pleaser,” Molly says. “There are so many other techniques and yeasts and diverse varieties of cider being made around the world and we wanted to highlight that and really help people discover what cider can be.”
This diversity is fully represented in Meriwether’s lineup, which includes a Ginger Root cider and seasonal releases like Pineapple Habanero. Hop Shot, a semi-dry cider that’s dry-hopped with Citra hops, won best in show in the hopped category at GLINTCAP 2019, the world’s largest cider competition. Recent releases include Rosé Cider, aged on malbec grape skins from a local winery, and Cidre du Jardin, a funky, unfiltered cider that’s half-wild fermented and then half-fermented with a yeast strain from France. Both of those are part of an experimental, small-batch series called Voyageur.
As the only cider house in Boise, Meriwether is keen on education. All Meriwether employees are certified cider professionals through The United States Association of Cider Makers. “We thought that was really important because cider is such an unknown entity,” says Molly, who is currently studying to become a pommelier herself, the highest level of the certified cider program. If she passes, she’ll be the first in Idaho to achieve that status.
Meriwether also runs a Purposeful Pours program, dedicated to a different non-profit every quarter. The cidery throws parties to raise money and donate a portion of proceeds from specific ciders to the cause. And above the cider house bar, a sign states that if you leave without your credit card, 20 percent of your tab will be donated to a charity.
“There’s no end to the support we’ve seen from the Boise community and craft beverage industry,” says Molly. “We can depend on people showing up. They’re jazzed to be there and be part of the community.”
Top photo of Barbarian Brewing by Danny Rosas Design.