Little Bitch Otter

Thursday May 29th was the official release date for Crooked Fence’s latest brew, “Little Bitch Otter” The Garden City brewer has a bit of a tradition of snappy quirky beer names, not that this necessarily distinguishes them from most other craft breweries, but this particular title was certainly not out of the ordinary for them.

I am not privy to the story behind the name…there must be one… but Im sure it would not be difficult to manufacture something reasonably entertaining Ex Post Facto. I’m pretty sure we can throw out the possibility that it is in reference to the 1977 “feel-good” story of Emmet and his friends and their “jug band”. Seeing as how it is not likely that the late Jim Henson’s estate would have allowed the use of that name anyhow. Maybe it is just that this otter is female, and it is simply accurately named in that way.

Crooked Fence calls this an “India Brown Ale”, yet another BJCP category bastardization, this time a combination (or compromise) of India Pale Ale and Brown Ale. The Beer Judge Certification Program puts a beer like this in Category 23. “Specialty Beer” Basically a catch-all. It’s the organizations category for “we don’t think these are important enough to warrant their own official category in our little classification system, but we can’t deny their existence either” In this case, the IBA is hoppier and more bitter than a standard Brown, and not as roasty and dark as the CDA or Black IPA (itself also not an officially recognized style).

I felt that the pint I had did in fact fit into this category with its nice fresh hoppy bitterness and a healthy component of toasted malts. I suppose it is hard to NOT be true to style when your “style” is so broad, that it includes such diverse elements as Great Divide’s “Bee Sting Honey Ale”, Bear Republic’s “Red Rocket Ale” and Stone’s “Arrogant Bastard”. As a brewer, shooting for Category 23 and nailing it would be about as hard as hitting a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle. I had mine at Woodland Empire Ale Craft, the brew place just down the block from the release party, held at Boise’s first growler fill station, “Pre Funk Beer Bar”. I guess you could say I was pre-pre-funking.

…Or…, maybe it is just another installment of their animal theme. OK, it’s not much of a theme, only 3, but they have put out “Black Unicorn” and “Crash Monkey”, as well as last fall’s “Donkey Show”. (I’m not touching what that one might mean) So, so far only mammals. If Platypus Stout is next, I’m not sure if that would continue the run for that class or not. Lactating egg-layers that they are. Perhaps if we knew weather this was an African Otter or a European Otter…that would be a good clue.

Judging by the massive turnout, Id say that this was an eagerly anticipated beer. Woodland Empire is a relative newcomer to the valley and Crooked Fence was in the first wave of early arrivals in the Boise Area craft beer awakening that started about 3 years ago. Both places were packed and had lines out the door and literally down the street. Woodland ran out of their allotment of the Otter by about 630 and I can only hope that PreFunk had a few more kegs. Still, a good beer, cheers to CF on this latest one, and a great crowd, showing their support for another Boise Beer.

Cheers

 

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Highlands Hollow Visit

Highlands Hollow is one of the 4 “old school” brewpubs in Boise. The others being Sockeye, TableRock and The Ram.  In the last few years, though, nearly a dozen more have popped up around town but “the Hollow” is of the old guard.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the Scottish theme that seems prevalent in the craft beerniverse.  All the Kilt referenced beer names, many involving the “man-dress” being tilted, lifted or drafty, are all over the place.    Just in Boise, we’ve got “Kilted Dragon” as well, with their exclusively Scottish naming convention for their beers.  Just make sure you don’t confuse a “Scotch Ale” with a Scottish Ale”

Located at the bottom of the hill from Bogus Basin, it is a well frequented stop for tired and cold skiers coming down the mountain after a long day of chair lifts, moguls, yard sales and face plants.

I had not been in a long time so decided it was time for a visit.  I tried a couple that I didn’t recognize, and the Brass Lamp Brown Ale that they brewed for the recent “Ale Fort” festival seemed big and robust, but at a modest 4.9% it was pretty easy going down. The Scotch (don’t call me Scottish) Ale had a lot of the “Scotch” character, earthy, peaty and smokey with a little extra malty sweetness.

Inside, exposed rough cut timbers are used liberally, and brick walls and beer paraphernalia are the theme.  It has a pretty strong ski lodge feel with a chair circled gas fire pit and it was pretty casual and a bit noisy environment but comfortable.

It is at an end of town that I don’t get to very often, but it must be pretty popular with the Boise “North-Enders” judging by the number of SUV’s and Subarus parked out front.  They have a niche I think and this recent infiltration of Micro and Nano brewpubs in the area shouldn’t give them much trouble.

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Boise’s North-End has a “Nano-Pub” Cloud 9 opens it’s doors

Boise’s latest brewpub has opened in the Downtown/North end area and it was immediately evident that I waited far too long to make my inaugural visit. Over the last few months, Woodland Empire, and Edge Brewing have thrown their hat into the ring of the Treasure Valley craft beer scene,…and now Cloud 9 Brewery is right on their heels.
Evidently they had about a dozen of their creations lined up on opening day, but after “3 weeks of standing room only” according to Ian, C9’s Beer Bar Czar, they were down to only 5 when I finally stopped by.

Cloud 9 BreweryA quite small space, tucked away in a strip mall between a nail salon and a fitness center, seating about 30 and the brewery “tour” took all of 3 minutes.  All 5 of their 4BBL fermenters were busy doing that voodoo that they do, trying to supply reinforcements. They have a Barrel count on their chalkboard that, as of this writing, shows 49 Barrels brewed.   At the moment, the second batch of the “Salted Caramel Stout” was in primary, going nuts and foaming out of the blow-off tube all over the brewery area floor.  I tried the entire available line-up and they were all good.  Across the board, I thought they were not very hoppy. The Pale Ale for instance was listed at only 26 IBUs and my server pronounced the DIPA at over 120. The latter sure didn’t taste like it but there was nothing wrong with any of them and they were all very tasty. The Porter and the stout particularly are going to be easy entries for the style for folks that think they don’t like “dark beers” Salted Caramel Stout…..seriously. They pull it off though and there is just a touch of salty-sweetness that betrays its namesake.
Chatted with the owners Jake and Maggie, they were kind enough to set aside some time for me.  We agreed that their very busy first few weeks, was a good problem to have.  There have been negotiations with other local breweries with larger brew-house, to contract out a couple batches of their most popular offerings.  I’m guessing the IPA and maybe the Honey Basil.  Guest kegs have kept the taps flowing, with regional selections from Hopworks Urban Brewery, Grand Teton, and a rather uncommon IPA from Deschutes, but I’m sure Cloud 9 would like their customers to see as many Cloud 9 beers on tap at any given moment.   I know I would.

The food menu is a simple but upscale local and organic selection that I have already heard quite a bit of positive, anecdotal compliments about.   The grilled cheese w/ brie and provolone sounds great and I am betting their Burnt Creme (Creme Brule’) pairs well with the Salted Caramel stout.  Either way, I’m trying that duo.

Here’s to Cloud 9 Brewing, Boise’s most recent in the growing craft beer landscape.  From here, it looks like it is off to a great start.

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Edge Brewing – First Visit

The latest entry into the fray of Treasure Valley breweries is Edge Brewing.  Backed by multiple partners/investors, local home-brew supply shop, HomeBrewStuff’s owner Marcus Bezuhly is behind it and Kerry Caldwell, formerly of TableRock BrewPub is brewing it.  Edge is located in West Boise, whereas the last few openings have been in downtown or Garden city.

Edge has the interesting distinction of it’s arrangement with their investors/partners.  Many of them are certified beer judges and avid home-brewers themselves, and they are encouraged to brew unusual and interesting one-offs on Edge’s 15G pilot system.  These will go on a couple of “guest taps” at the Brew-pub. Free to experiment on something significantly smaller than their 15 Barrel system, who knows what concoctions will show up from time to time.  A Chipotle’ porter perhaps or maybe a Butter-finger Stout..it’s anyone’s guess. With several regular offerings and some seasonal rotations that will surely make appearances, these loose cannon test batches promise to be an interesting addition and will help Edge to stand out a bit in the Treasure Valley blossoming Craft Beer scene.

Edge Sample "Flight"

I visited Edge the other day and tried the sampler of their current line up.  It was no surprise to see a Pale, an IPA, an Amber and a Wheat.   The IPA was even appropriately named “Obligatory”.  A nod to the assumption that if you are a brewpub you better have an IPA on tap at any given moment.  There was also a Belgian Tripel that was nice and so was the rather hoppy and fairly dry Imperial Stout.  As a matter of fact, save for the Belgian, I thought that most of the line up reflected a slightly hopped up quality.  Possibly a tendency that Edge will be known for going forward… and perhaps that characterization would not displease them.   One of the two beers they had from their experimental “pilot” system was a Cinnamon Cider which I loved, and Marcus himself had the honor of kicking off it’s maiden batch.

Throwing caution to the wind and picking out an appetizer I had never heard of, I stumbled upon an epicurean delight called a “Scotch Egg”.  A hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, breaded and deep fried. Delicious, and the Obligatory IPA washed it down nicely. Although now that I think of it, a Scottish Ale would have somehow seemed perfect. I  even came back to Edge again several hours later, partly so I could bring a friend to try their beers…but really it was mostly so I could have another one of those little gems…and another beer…or two.

The wide tap list that Edge promises to maintain and the frequent rotation of new and potentially bizarre test batches, will keep me coming back as part of my regular rounds.  Congrats and good luck to Boise’s newest brew-pub.

 

 

 

 

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Oskar Blues returns to Boise

Its been a couple years since Lyons Colorado’s Oskar Blues’ distinctive cans have been seen on the shelves of craft beer sellers here in the Treasure Valley.

Back in the Summer of 2010, citing production and capacity limits, the decision was made to pull out of the Idaho market after 4 or 5 years, much to the dismay and depression of craft beer lovers in the area.  Apparently they felt they couldn’t adequately supply their larger markets while being stretched all the way to Idaho. What made it seem even worse was that OB was currently leading a really cool movement of canning good beer.  I recently wrote about that HERE.

Now, they are coming back.  Evidently production and capacity are no longer such a limit (aprox 120,000 barrels last year) they they can (re)expand to our market.   Their recently opened 2nd brewery in North Carolina was undoubtedly behind this.  That’s good for us.  Regulars like Dale’s Pale Ale, Mama’s LIttle Yellow Pils, Old Chub, and Deviant Dale’s IPA has already started showing up around here. Other states being added to their turf are Minnesota, Delaware, Kansas and Nevada

As a gauge of how important this is, there were no less than 3 separate occasions/celebrations in town this past week.  Local bottle-shops and gastro-pubs hosting events were Brewforia’s “Welcan Back” party, as well as “Welcome Back Oskar Blues”, a three day launching event at Whole Foods, and yet another at BierThirty

It was nearly to the point of people lining the streets waiving hops and barley sheaves shouting ‘Hail, Hail the return of the King”.  Well maybe not that far….but it’s big.    It’s great to see another quality brewer represented (again) here in the Boise area.

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Craft Beer – Not just for Bottles

It is generally accepted that the best freshest beer is when it is right out of the keg.  On draft or on tap.  After that, the packaging that is used can affect the condition of the beer after a little time.  Bottles and cans are mainly what breweries use for portable, “single serving” vessels.

For a long time, there was a stigma about cans in that it was somehow considered cheep, lower class or somehow less desirable.  I suppose mainly because of most of the beer that was in them was of the American Macro Swill variety.

Over the last ten years or so, this has changed as craft brewers have started adopting cans as their choice for packaging and distribution.  One of the first to do this was Oskar Blues Brewing as far back as 2002.  “They said we was daft to put good beer in cans, but we did it all the same…” Their Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chub were pioneers in the canned craft beer shift.   You can even get their beer in 32oz “Crowlers” now.  Other brewers have since picked this up and now more and more good beer is showing up in supermarkets and “bottle” shops in cans.

Cans are a better container for beer for a few important reasons. One is that they do not transmit light and light can damage beer and sometimes give it that skunky flavor,  which is why most bottles are dark brown.  Keep that in mind when you see those sixers of Heineken and Corona in the cooler.

Another is that they are more environmentally friendly and are recyclable.  Emptys are light weight and compact-able.  Taking a few cans with you in your back pack is a lot easier than bottles.   Especially when you consider packing the empties out.  Which you always do..right?

While glass is a good insulator and the thin aluminum can is not, the latter can be cooled down quickly plus you can use one of those cool little foam can “cozies” if you want.  www.craftcans.com  is a site dedicated to craft beer in cans with beer reviews, a canned beer database and an interactive map showing craft brewers that can.

There will probably always be bottles but seeing good bee…in a can is no longer remarkable.

 

 

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Woodland Empire opens it’s doors

Another landmark event in the Treasure Valley’s craft beer explosion.  Woodland Empire Ale Craft opened it’s doors yesterday afternoon and began pouring the first four of what promises to be an interesting and eclectic gamut of craft beer for Boise area folks. I was there an hour after they opened their doors for the first time, officially and got to try everything they had.

An open, relaxed and somewhat spartan tasting room, with nice picnic table style seating and high small tables.  A few cushy chairs at one end and the whole space still slightly smelling of fresh paint.  It was already half full at 4pm with people continuing to trickle in as the after work crowd started to show up.  By 5 o’clock it was pretty much packed.  Rusty, one of the owners spotted my computer and made sure I had the wifi password as I staked out a corner table.

Their 4 “regulars” were on tap.  “City of Trees IPA”, “In the Morning Mild”, “Gold Days Tripel”, and “Rabbit Fighter ESB” (there’s got to be a story behind that name).  All of them were good, particularly the Mild.  Kind of a light brown ale made with coffee from Doma Coffee of Post Falls, ID.  All of them were very sessionable, though the Tripel was approximately %9.  No “in your face” obnoxious experimental triple IPA bitter bombs or 17% Imperial Stouts, but more a line up of beers that are great for having (a few of) over relaxing conversations.

There are some more “risky” seasonal recipes coming down the pike for WEAC but these are likely to be the main line up for a while at least.  The 4 sampler “flight” was even served in an old muffin tin and the self-serve water cart was stocked with 1 liter flip-tops.  A nice touch.

It was a bit of a who’s who there with brewers from multiple local breweries and representatives from several local publications.  It’s fair to say that Rob, Rusty, Keely and the rest of the crew were making it happen.  It was a big turnout, a great start to an exciting and welcome addition to the Boise Beer scene.

 

 

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Launching a craft beer revival in Boise

Brewforia Beer Market.  A purveyor of craft beer here in Boise and a location that I have been neglecting lately.  With the exponential growth of craft Breweries and bottles shops in the Boise area, this pioneer, spearhead of the movement is getting overlooked a bit lately.  At least by me it is.  But it holds a special place in this craft beer industry. The place it forged.

Like most small businesses, Brewforia had modest beginnings. Opening in a strip mall on Milwaukee Ave in late 2009, and the early press releases boasted over 150 different bottles of craft beer. Nothing really to brag about nowadays but a big deal when it happened over 4 years ago.   There was nothing in Boise like that.

There was a few taps there as well and I remember one of my first visits overhearing semi-panicked phone conversations on troubleshooting the CO2 system that was not working correctly.

Early May, they moved to a permanent location on the west side of Boise and have been there ever since.  Larger space, 3 times as many bottled beers to choose from and 10 taps.   That was when I became a regular. Always something new, usually something I had never seen before.

In May of 2011 an additional location was opened in Boise’s east end at Bown Crossing and did well, managed by Chris Oates.  Several months later, after some differing visions and plans, between Rick and Chris it became clear that “Bier:Thirty” would have to become it’s own entity and the two parted ways.

In Aug 2012 Brewforia opened another location in Eagle.   A location that seemed to have a bit of a more upscale feel and an expanded menu.  Bringing on Ryan Embry of Life’s Kitchen and his culinary repertoire made the place a definite destination for terrific food and great craft  beer.   Even something as simple and cliche’ as a burger is something I can hardly resist every time I’m there.  I am now starting to understand why they call it the “Belly Burger”

The two locations have now been around for a while and there are growler fill specials, trivia nights and other promotions, but there is still and always has been good beer flowing from their taps and bottles waiting patiently in the coolers for folks looking for something they can’t easily find anywhere in Idaho.

SInce Brewforia’s start, there has been at least 5 breweries opening and 2 or 3 bottleshops with their own impressive selection of bottled beer, opening up in the Boise area.  But Brewforia was the pioneer. The trailblazer…the vanguard..the pointman.  Riding the crest of what has become a tidal wave of a craft beer revival in the treasure valley.

I’m just glad to be swimming along with it…sipping as I go.

 

– Cheers

 

 

 

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A visit from the Reverend

Last week, out of the blue I received a direct twitter message asking what the best bars/tap lists/brewpubs in Boise were.  The sender was @revnatcider a fairly new hard cider maker from Portland and was headed this way, talking to bars retailers and distributors in his effort to expand a bit.  I along with a few others replied with our suggestions on where to visit and who to talk to and as it turned out, he stopped by Eagle’s Brewforia during our home-brewers monthly meeting.

The HB club meeting mostly consisted, as it always does,of everyone bringing 1 or two items they had brewed and talking a bit about how they were made.   Including  Jim’s 3 year vertical of his hoilday imperial porter that was very tasty and was a great example of how late/fresh/dry hops flavors can fade over time.

The star of the show this moth,however, 2013-12-19 20.26.15however was Nat and his hard cider he brought from his Portland shop.  “Sacrilege Sour Cherry”, a lacto only  8.5% ABV cider with cherry juice.  Big pie-cherry aroma and just the right amount of sourness.  Quite dry but it somehow kept a lot of that cherry flavor and was very tasty.  His website  is right…  “Expect Kreik Lambic” when you taste this.  The “standard” straight up cider he also brought was also very good.  Clean, dry and flavorful.

This is clearly top notch stuff.  I think the Reverend’s sermon will be well received out here and hope that a cider revival will then soon be upon us.  Hopefully soon his flip-top bottles and distinctive newsprint style labels will start showing up on the shelves of area bottle-shops.

Amen

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Home Brewpub

I’ve written before, and mentioned several times since, about the recent craft beer explosion in the Boise area.  What I often tell people is 4 years ago there were 4 on premise brewing BrewPubs in town…now there are 9…I think..with 4-6 in various stages of planning, funding, building whatever.

I try to visit each regularly.  10 Barrel, one of the new kids in town, gets a lot of my beer business mainly because they cater to my obsession of seeing something that I’ve never had before, and with 19 or 20 taps, there is a good chance that anytime I stop by there, something I don’t recognize will be on tap that demands my attention.

I have a sentimental thing in my heart though for Sockeye Brewing.  It was the first BP I visited when I saw the light of CraftBeer back in 2004 and the fact that it is just 2 miles and a straight shot from my house, it right away became a bit of a regular.  I fairly quickly had gone through their regular line up and I had come to find out much later that they had all the work they could handle keeping up with demand at their onsite, brewing facility.  I suspect this was probably  why I didn’t very often see many experimentals and “one-offs” from them.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve had almost 50 different beers that have come from the original Ustick/Cole location. The Dagger Falls IPA is their flagship beer,also Purple Haze espresso stout and Wolly Bugger Wheat are  usually on and they are a few of my favorites.

Their new facility a few miles west, will allow some expansion and has already provided the benefits of a canning line and much greater production.  Spotting some of these regular offerings on the shelves of local bottle-shops and grocery stores in the last year or so is a good thing.

Just today I stopped in at the original site after a few hours of Christmas Shopping and was pleasantly surprised to see a new beer on the chalkboard.  “Lightning Creek” Belgian White IPA.  It was delicious and it was good to see an old friend have something new on tap.

Cheers to old friends

 

 

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