Delicious and beautiful, the War Cry by Barbarian
Beer might not be the first thing you think of when you hear Idaho, but Boise has a vibrant beer community and some offerings that would make the mouth of any cicerone start to water. I’m going to highlight a few of my favorite places from my recent visit to the spud state, but I would highly recommend looking around for yourself as well. We all know how quickly craft breweries can pop up!
First things first: I know everyone has different tastes in beer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been belly up to the bar at some world-renowned craft brewery or local legend with the best imperial barrel-aged something-infused blah blah whatever beer and someone sidles up next to me and asks the bartender what they have that tastes like Blue Moon. And that’s fine. I used to react in astonishment and judge their horrible taste, but they are in the same brewery as I am, and that’s a good thing! Whichever friend, article, or pure flight of whimsy brought them there, they are now among great beers, and the bartender and patrons should be their guides to trying something new.
The tap list can be overwhelming sometimes
If you’re only going to stop at one brewery in Boise make it Barbarian Brewing. If you love sours this place is paradise. I don’t mean flavor-of-the-week raspberry Berliner weisse either, they have barrel-aged golden sours, sour reds, and I saw a sour porter listed somewhere. You have your pick, and they’re all fantastic. They age their beers in tequila barrels, wine barrels, whiskey/bourbon barrels, and of course the regular old oak barrel. The flavors run the gamut from sweet to tart and everywhere in between. My favorite on the sour side of the spectrum was the War Cry, a golden sour aged in bourbon barrels for a year and blended with white wine juice. If ever a description seemed like it was made just for me it’s this one. The Watermelon Sour and Beta Wolf 2.0 sour IPA are also wonderful.
Barbarian doesn’t stick to just sours, however amazing they may be. They extend their talents to IPAs as well, and the quality stays the same. They have a nice selection of east coast style IPAs to choose from. The Space Wolf was my favorite, with lots of big hop flavor and still crushable at 6.8%. The CryoWolf experiments with cryogenically freezing several hop varieties which, from what I’m told, preserves and presents more of the hop characteristics while also increasing the yield of the batch. The pièce de résistance, however, was a very intimidating triple IPA called Fenrir. Billed as a juicy east coast IPA and coming in at 11.5%, this is what we call a “dangerous beer.” Juicy barely does it justice, with sweet, citrusy goodness oozing out with every sip, the high alcohol content is hardly noticeable. It goes down smooth, so please be sure to get yourself an Uber or walk back to your hotel after a few of these.
The best looking cupcake tray I’ve seen
Just a short one-block walk from here is the second brewery I’d recommend: Woodland Empire. Much darker and less shiny than the bright taproom at Barbarian, this place just has a different vibe. It’s dog-friendly, and the bartenders were almost as eager to greet us as the pups under the table. Here you’ll find people playing darts while a long table hosts 4 serious chess games. The menu is a bit more eclectic, with some seemingly gimmicky beers like a celery mint collaboration that actually turned out to be delicious. The sours just couldn’t live up to Barbarian, but they did have some tasty IPAs and other offerings. The Big Sticky Red IPA was a nice full-flavored beer, and the Pineapple Weed Pilsner (infused with chamomile) was uniquely delicious. My favorite was a coffee stout featuring beans from local Neckar Coffee. It pepped me up for the 20 steps I had to take to get to my next stop.
Basically right next door to Woodland Empire is PreFunk Beer Bar. This is the place to squeeze in, find a seat in the small bar area or at the tables outside, and get comfortable to finish out your night. With beers on tap from all over the US and beyond you will definitely find what you’re looking for. My favorite of the night was the Phantom Bride IPA by Belching Beaver, but there were a lot of tempting taps from O’Dell, Victory, Firestone, and so many more. It got pretty crowded, but it was never too loud. It was a perfect way to finish out an evening of drinking before heading over to the Knitting Factory for a show.
A couple of honorable mentions that are close as well: 10 Barrel Brewing, who expanded their reach by selling to Anheuser-Busch in 2014, has a pub nearby, and whatever you may think about big beer distribution this place puts out some pretty tasty IPAs. The local Payette Brewing, who are in the other direction geographically and otherwise, moved to a location closer to downtown last summer and the taproom is beautiful. Outside you can sit on the grass and watch people’s dogs chase each other as you sip on some decent IPAs and fun one-off beers probably brewed with maple syrup or gingerbread cookies.
Boise has managed to surprise me in many ways over the years. From the proximity to ski resorts and hiking trails to the beautiful parks and disc golf and now the excellent beer scene, I count Boise among the best cities I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. The 3 places I described are located downtown, so there’s plenty of access to food and entertainment as well. If you’re feeling like some caffeine and/or sugar after your beer crawl, Guru donuts is just a block away for coffee and treats (if you get there before they sell out.) Drink well, be merry, and get home safely! Enjoy Boise!