For some, there’s no sweeter reward than cracking open a cold one after a hard day’s hike, or conquering that menacing mountain bike trail. For others, gathering on the back deck with friends to share a beer is the pinnacle of summer.
With warmer temperatures and longer days, it’s natural to gravitate to the outdoors, whether it’s fishing, hiking, biking, or just leisurely soaking up the abundant sunshine. Summer is the time to put away those weighty, high-alcohol brews that kept you toasty in the winter and reach for something light, crisp and refreshing.
The Wood River Valley has no shortage of enthusiastic craft microbreweries offering seasonal summer brews. Each one brews something unique, providing ample opportunity to discover which summer brew—or two—is right for you.
Founded in 1986, Sun Valley Brewing Company is the oldest brewery in Idaho, according to current owner and brewmaster, Sean Flynn. It moved to its current location on Hailey’s Main Street in 1993—and added a restaurant—officially turning into a brewpub. Sun Valley brews roughly 400 barrels a year, with the capacity for more, but most of their beers are sold through the brewpub and at local events. Sun Valley Brewing is the on-site beer vendor for Ketch’em Alive, the Tuesday evening summer music concert series, and the annual Sun Valley Center’s Arts and Crafts Festival held in August.
“We try to do interesting beers,” Flynn said. “We don’t follow too many trends, but we don’t ignore them either.” Flynn has two summer seasonal beers on tap. The first is Honeyweizen, a play on a style of wheat beer called Hefeweizen. Flynn chose local Five Bee Hives honey to give this wheat beer a twist; it clocks in under 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
One trend Sun Valley Brewery is following this summer is a citrus-infused India Pale Ale. Sun Valley Blood Orange IPA has only a hint of blood orange flavor. “It appeals even to non-IPA drinkers,” Flynn said, “because the blood orange mellows the hoppiness.” Even though this citrus-kissed IPA is refreshing for summer, it taps out at 6.5 percent ABV, making it one of the higher alcohol summer brews.
In addition to the two seasonal brews, Sun Valley Brewing’s flagships Gretchen’s Gold Lager, a German-style lager (4.9 percent ABV) and Blonde Pilsner, dry and crisp (4.1 percent ABV) fit the typical profile of summertime sipping.
Experiencing A Growth Spurt
Paul Holle and Kevin Jones opened Sawtooth Brewery in a motel off Ketchum’s Main Street in November 2011 with a 20-gallon system. The tap room was larger than the brew room. It didn’t take long to attract a local fan base thanks to high-quality beers supported through a robust email marketing campaign and a “mug club” membership program. By 2012, Sawtooth was leasing space at other breweries in the state to meet demand, bottling the most popular styles for local retailers and distribution to southern Idaho.
In 2016, Sawtooth made significant investments aimed at growing the brand further. The brewing operations and tap room moved to a large warehouse in Hailey to increase production. Sawtooth Public House, a gastropub, opened at the junction of Main Street and Warm Springs Road in Ketchum. The Public House serves the whole Sawtooth beer lineup, plus rotating guest taps. Late in 2016, they added a canning operation for two flagship brews, Sunnyside Session Wheat and Idahome IPA.
“In 2016, we produced 600 barrels,” Jones said. “For 2017, we’re on track to produce 1,200—basically double. And we’ve added northern Idaho to our distribution.” Even with the expansion, Jones said they haven’t forgotten why they started brewing to begin with: brew beer compatible with the lifestyle of the Valley. Sawtooth is big into wilderness conservation. They’ve adopted trails to maintain and hold fundraisers for the Idaho Conservation League.
Although Sawtooth is known for American-style ales, and Oktoberfest fall beers, their flagship Sunnyside Session Wheat is an easy summer sipper: crisp with hints of citrus and low alcohol (4.7 percent ABV). Summer seasonal Cold Springs Pilsner is Sawtooth’s Bohemian-style lager. “It’s great—light and crisp—but it’s hard to do. It backs up our whole production because it takes longer to ferment, but it’s worth it. Last year we did 75 barrels; this year we’re aiming for 100 to 120 barrels. It should last us until we roll out Oktoberfest production.”
The New Brewers on the Block
Technically a brewpub—the beer is brewed mostly for the restaurant onsite—Warfield Distillery & Brewery opened on Main Street in Ketchum in 2015. Co-owners and founders Ben Bradley and Alex Buck are also co-brewmasters. The duo will celebrate Warfield’s second anniversary in July by releasing a rye Munich dunkel, a dark, German-style lager.
“Unlike many brewers, IPA isn’t our favorite style of beer,” Bradley said. Instead, Warfield focuses on “oddball styles”: British bitter, Scottish ale, and dunkelweizen, to name a few. Bradley and Buck use only organic malt and whole-leaf hops.
Warfield’s flagship blonde lager, Still Thinking, is a session beer, ideal for summer because of the lighter style and lower alcohol content (5.5 percent ABV). The summer seasonal, Short Pants, is a German-style Hefeweizen, full-bodied and spicy, bolder than American-style Hefeweizens. The Witty Woodpecker, a Belgian witbier, could be a summer beer, thanks to its dry, crisp finish, although it packs a punch at 7.2 percent ABV.
To celebrate the August 2017 solar eclipse, which part of Wood River Valley is in the direct path of, Warfield is releasing a special Eclipse beer, an old English Burton-style ale. Not exactly a summer sipping beer, but then again, it’s not often Central Idaho is in the path of a total eclipse of the sun. That, and summer in general, are reasons enough to raise a glass and cheer.
Flying under the radar is Hailey’s River Bend Brewing Company. More “nano” than “micro,” River Bend is the smallest of the Valley’s breweries by volume. It brewed roughly 130 barrels last year. Owner/brewmaster Chris Harding specializes in ales, utilizing a seven-gallon brewing system. All his beer is sold by the keg to restaurants in the Valley, including Despo’s, Lefty’s Bar & Grill, Wiseguy Pizza Pie, KB’s, and Galena Lodge. This summer, River Bend introduced Chaos, a hoppy pale ale that fits right in as a summer thirst quencher.
ABV — Alcohol by Volume. A measurement of the alcohol content by volume percentage.
Brewpub — A restaurant-brewery that sells 25 percent or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar.
Dunkelweizen — a darker, maltier version of Hefeweizen.
IPA — India Pale Ale. Generally higher-alcohol-content beers brewed with an aggressive number of hops, resulting in bitter grapefruit or resinous pine flavors.
Lager — beer fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at colder temperatures. Associated with crisp, clean flavors.
Microbrewery — A brewing business that does not exceed production of 15,000 barrels annually, and 75 percent of its beer is sold offsite.
Session beer — lighter body and lower alcohol, generally acceptable to have more than one in a sitting—good for summer quaffing.
Witbier — An unfiltered, Belgian-style ale with a high concentration of wheat. Translates to “white beer.”