Beertown, Idaho

Last weekend I was let off my leash for 4 glorious days.  It was my annual “boys football trip,” as my wife lovingly calls it.  Nonetheless, she took over all parenting duties while I hopped on a plane for a long weekend of drinking beer and taking in the Smurf Turf in Boise.

Driving into downtown from the airport, it was obvious that Boise is a beer town.  There was a homebrew shop, a brewery and a handful of bars advertising local beers on the 10 minute drive.  As our trip continued, beer was everywhere and a ton of it was consumed since there were no responsibilities within 1,000 miles.  Beyond that, every restaurant seemed to carry something brewed in Boise, and the nearest CVS to our hotel stocked at least half a dozen local 6-packs in their beer cooler. According to the Brewers Association, there are 10 breweries in Boise (population 214,000), with another 5 in the planning stage.  Having a lot of breweries per capita is a surefire sign that a city is a beer town, but that got me thinking - what gets a city to that point?

Below are my thoughts on the requisites for becoming a Beer Town -

A. Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable, including the occasional adult beverage at lunch on a Thursday

B. There is a large number of people who appreciate high quality food products and are willing to pay for them.  This population should also have civic pride.

C. The city has laws that allow breweries to exist without overly burdensome regulations or stifling fees.  Reasonably priced commercial and industrial rent helps too.

D. There is an opportunity to drink beer in many different, nice places and there are conditions that support that happening.  I call this beer infrastructure, or Beerfrastructure.

I’d like to think that grabbing a pint while it is still light outside won’t get you sideways looks in any self-respecting city and the willingness to pay for something high quality (at least on occasion) is transforming from a trend into an established mindset.  Where this mindset is further along and more prevalent, I would expect to see more breweries.  Regulations still vary greatly across states and municipalities, but there are seemingly weekly stories about governments making changes in laws that support craft beer and breweries.

Beerfrastructure is a bit of chicken/egg situation since a list of beer drinking places could include breweries, brewpubs, and beer bars.  However even a city without those establishments could have the bones to create them.  If you have a ton of old, vacant warehouse space in an industrially zoned area, that place is screaming for a brewery. If you have a number of old dive bars that are showing their age, those could be revamped to feature a selection of fantastic local beers. Other potential components of Beerfrastructure include a concentration of good restaurants, high quality grocery and liquor stores, sporting events, festivals and performances, a college/university, farmers markets, and outdoor recreation spaces.

Getting back to Boise, what I see as their critical Beerfrastructure is their outdoor spaces, active downtown and university.  The Boise Greenbelt is a river and bikeway that is an exceedingly pleasant place to drink a beer and I’m sure the mountains and trails around the area are the same.  The downtown is active day and night, with bars and restaurants that hit everyone's budget.  It is nice without feeling pretentious, which is exactly how a place you drink beer should be.  Boise State University provides a young population that likely drinks its fare share of Natty Light.  However those people will graduate and many of them will stay, get jobs and will then be willing to spend more than $7.99 on a 12-pack.  It is a replenishing craft beer drinker pipeline.

Lots of the local stuff, plus a big box of "Vitamin R" for when the time calls for it . . 

Lots of the local stuff, plus a big box of "Vitamin R" for when the time calls for it . . 

Once you have a critical mass of Beerfrastructure, it builds upon itself.  Beer festivals start popping up, restaurants expand their beer menu, your local CVS stocks cans of single-hop IPA and more and more crazy people open breweries.  Welcome to beer town.