Warm up at these 7 Boise, Idaho, craft breweries

Boise brewery

Whether you’re planning to ski or visit family, winter provides an opportunity to warm up with some craft beer. And Idaho is the perfect place to do so.

Idaho’s brewery scene has seen heady growth over the last few years. Boise, the state capital and Idaho’s largest city, and the surrounding area are home to more than 20 breweries.

While Boise is known for Northwest IPAs made from hops grown in Oregon and Washington, local brewers like to experiment with new styles and flavors, so there promises to be something for everyone. On two recent visits, I found citrus-infused ales, chocolaty stouts and interesting flavor profiles using Hibiscus, Vanilla and tea.

Here are seven craft breweries I visited and liked, but there are many more to try:

Boise Brewing, 521 West Broad St., Boise

Founder Collin Rudeen sources ingredients sourced from local farmers. Its November beer list included 15 choices – from Golden Trout Pale Ale to Black Cliffs (Stout) to cider. Boise Brewing has received four medals from the Great American Beer Fest and Black Cliffs one a gold medal at the 2018 World Beer Cup.

Visitors will see large ceramic mugs lining the walls of the downtown Boise taproom. They belong to Idaho residents who are part owners of the brewery. I like that it’s one of a handful of community-owned breweries across the country.  In fact, 6-year-old Boise Brewery is in the midst of a third Idaho Public Offering to raise capital to make improvements to its downtown Boise taproom and possibly open a second taproom.

Boise Brewing collage
Boise Brewing manages to feel cozy even thought its inside a large warehouse. (Sheryl Jean and BeFunky)

Mad Swede Brewing Co., 2772 South Cole Road, #140, Boise

Owners Jerry and Susie Larson spent 30 years home-brewing and experimenting before deciding to open the brewery in 2016. Its early November tap list of 14 options includes Lollygagger Lager, Naked Sunbather Nut Brown Ale (winner of a 2018 silver medal from the North American Brewers Association) and Sunstone Hazy IPA (New England style). Located near the Boise Airport, the taproom has a laid-back vibe and features live music, trivia nights, games and Comedy Open Mic Nights on Mondays. You can order from a food truck.

Woodland Empire Ale Craft, 1114 West Front St., Boise

Is there a better combination than beer and pinball? That’s what you’ll find at Woodland Empire, which specializes in IPAs with its “Mixtape Series” and twists on classic styles like its current Thunder Chicken (smoked Porter) and Count Chocula (chocolate cereal milk Stout). Its Mixtape offering in November was Twined & Twisted (Kristall Haze IPA). Former Austin, Texas, musician and homebrewer Keely Landerman, her husband Rob, and Tom Dolan started making artisan beers in small batches in 2014. They started amassing medals in 2015: winning five medals through 2018. At the downtown Boise taproom, you can play on retro pinball machines order tasty food from Manfred’s Kitchen next door for delivery to your table.

Woodland Empire Craft Ale
Sip your beer while playing retro games at Woodland Empire Ale Craft. (Sheryl Jean)

Payette Brewing Co., 733 South Pioneer St., Boise

Founder Mike Francis left his Boeing engineering job to study brewing at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology. He first worked at Seattle’s Schooner Exact Brewing before opening Payette Brewing in 2010. He named the brewery for French Canadian fur trader François Payette, whose moniker graces many Idaho landmarks. It offers many year-round and seasonal brews, such as Flyline Vienna Lager, Pistolero Porter and Sofa King Juicy Mango Hazy IPA. Its all-ages taproom allows well-behaved pets. Customers can order from rotating food trucks and take a free brewery tour on Saturdays.

Boise
Payette Brewing is located in an office/industrial area along the Boise River. (Sheryl Jean and BeFunky)

Barbarian Brewing, 5270 Chinden Boulevard, Garden City, and 1022 West Main St., Boise

Husband-and-wife team James Long and BreAnne Hovley started the brewery in the Boise suburb of Garden City with help from Kickstarter in 2015, Two years later, they opened a second taproom in downtown Boise, which draws a hip, youngish crowd. You won’t find its beers outside of the two taprooms, which adds to the allure. Using Old World-brewing styles, the brewery specializes in limited batch sours, Bourbon barrel stouts and barley wines, but it also makes traditional beers, Belgian ales and experimental styles such as Ice Cream Ales and a Candy Gose series. Boise customers can order food for delivery from Calle 75 Street Tacos. You won’t find this beer outside of its taprooms.

Boise

Barbarian Brewing has an extensive selection of brews. (Sheryl Jean and BeFunky)

10 Barrel Brewing, 830 West Bannock St., Boise

Technically, this is a brewpub opened in 2013 by the Bend, Ore.-based brewery, but Boise brewmaster Shawn Kelso (aka Big Daddy) does make beer on site. Its known for big IPAs – like Idahop and Freak Alley – but its menu of 22 beers on top in early November also includes Swill (American Radler), Apricot Crush (Sour), Cream Ale and the seasonal Pray for Snow (Winter Ale). The open, industrial-style brewpub is a popular spot to watch sports on big-screen televisions. 10 Barrel Brewing operates five other locations in California, Colorado and Oregon.

Boise
10 Barrel Brewing in downtown Boise is part brewpub and part sports bar. The bar is open to the sidewalk during nice weather. (Sheryl Jean)

Sockeye Brewing, 12542 West Fairview Ave., Boise, and 3019 North Cole Road, Boise.

Sockeye is Boise’s largest brewery. Founded in 1996, it now has two Boise locations with full-service restaurants. Along with its flagship Dagger Falls IPA, you’ll find Woolybugger Wheat, Angel’s Peach Amber and seasonal brews like Winterfest. This award-winning brewery doesn’t take itself too seriously with its motto “Drink like a fish!”

Boise, Idaho’s train depot and bell tower are not to be missed

Like a sentry, the stately, Spanish-style tower watches over the city of Boise, Idaho, from its perch atop a hill south of downtown.

Still, I may not have noticed the modest spire if I hadn’t been staying in that part of the city. And that would have been a shame.

The stunning view of the Boise skyline and its foothills from its 90-foot bell tower is not to be missed.

View from the Boise Depot tower
The view from the Boise Depot tower. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

It’s one of the many grand old train stations that have been renovated across the country.

Railroads helped the nation’s westward expansion, creating much of the network of roads and towns we have today. Many depots closed as autos and planes replaced trains for transportation. Some depots — including those in Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; New York City; and St. Paul, Minn. — still are used for Amtrak and/or a local commuter rail system. Others have been renovated for other uses, such as apartments, retail and event space. And some have been demolished or sit vacant and crumbling per a recent New York Times article.

I have visited a dozen renovated train stations across the country, including seven in the Midwest. I’m no train nut by any stretch, but I appreciate architecture and history.

In Boise, New York architects designed the city’s depot for Union Pacific Railroad. Guide John Devries told me construction began in 1920, with the first train rolling through five years later.

Boise Depot's Great Hall
The Boise Depot’s Great Hall, or lobby, was a cavernous room with a 44-foot high ceiling. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

At the time, the depot was called “the most beautiful structure of its kind in the West.”

“At the depot’s height, there were six trains coming through daily,” Devries said. “There was Amtrak passenger service until 1997, but now the only passenger rail access is in Sandpoint,” Idaho (420 miles or nearly eight hours to the North).

Ceiling in the Boise Depot
Spanish trusses and rafters in the 44-foot-high “Great Hall” lobby are painted in original colors. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Construction company Morrison Knudsen Co. (known in these parts as MK) bought the building in 1990 and restored it. The $3.4 million renovation was unveiled in 1993.

The renovation opened the bell tower to the public for the first time as MK installed an elevator and stairway. The tower’s four bells used to play music; today, only one rings on the hour.

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Inside, a large 1945 train schedule graces part of a wall. The old retail counter houses Boise Depot and Union Pacific memorabilia, such as matches, pins, sugar packets and train time tables. (See photos taken by me below.)

In 1996, the city of Boise bought the depot, which is operated by the Boise Parks and Recreation Department.

The Boise Depot is open to the public for free from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Sundays. Otherwise, you can rent it for an event.

Idaho offers extraordinary road trips

Idaho is a pretty state, and driving on U.S. Highway 95 in that state has to be one of the prettiest road trips.

I’ll add it to my list of favorite road trips, which I wrote about in July.

US 95 goes from the United States’ border with Canada south to Mexico. Within Idaho, it stretches vertically for more than 538 miles along the state’s western edge. The most stunning sections — traversing rivers, lakes, farm land and meadows — lie within the 304 miles between Sandpoint in the Panhandle south to New Meadows near Boise.

Map Sandpoint to New Meadows, Idaho

You’ll pass through two time zones without ever leaving Idaho. This description of US 95 is driving north to south:

  • As you leave the laid-back city of Sandpoint, you must drive over the Long Bridge, which stretches for nearly 2 miles across large Lake Pend Oreille. The bridge offers stunning views of the sapphire-blue lake and surrounding peaks, which can be dusted with snow from October through May.
Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
U.S. Highway 95 cuts straight across Lake Pend Oreille for nearly 2 miles in Idaho. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
  • South of Sandpoint, you’ll pass through farmland and meadows and the city of Coeur D’Alene. You’ll note a large lake here, one of several waterways along US 95.
  • Around Moscow and south to Lewiston, you’ll drive through the beautiful Palouse region of rolling hills (blond in fall/winter and green in spring). The area is a major producer of wheat and lentils as well as other crops. One theory is that the name Palouse comes from French-Canadian fur traders changed the name of the local Palus American Indian tribe to the French word pelouse, meaning “land with short and thick grass.” (See my featured photo at top.)
  • The city of Moscow, home to the University of Idaho is worth a stop for good cafes, art, vintage stores and a campus walk.
Lewiston Hill, Idaho
This is one of the 64 curves on Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, as it drops 2,000 feet in 10 miles. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
  • Heading into the city of Lewiston, stop at the overlook for panoramic views of the intersection of the Clearwater and Snake rivers and surrounding hills. Opt to drive Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, if you can stomach a drop of 2,000 feet in 10 miles and 64 curves.
Road sign on Lewiston Hill, Idaho
It’s recommended to take some ess curves on Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, at 15 miles per hour. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
  • After Lewiston, US 95 follows the stunning Salmon River from south of White Bird to Riggins, with many places to stop to camp, fish or just take in the view along the way. Just before Riggins, you’ll leave the Pacific Time Zone and enter Mountain Time Zone as the road crosses the Salmon River.

Two alternative roads off  US 95 in Idaho also are worth a drive for their spectacular scenery.

State Highway 97 near Coeur D’Alene: Starting near Wolf Lodge on U.S. Highway 90, the road meanders along Harrison Slough and some small lakes. Continue to Plummer or loop back on State Highway 3.

State Highway 55 at New Meadows: This road shadows the Payette River, with especially pretty sections at Cascade, Smiths Ferry and Banks.

Payette River, Idaho
Idaho State Highway 55 offers views like this of the Payette River and surrounding mountains. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)