When Steve Koonce was working his first teenage job at the old Jack in the Box in Post Falls, little did he suspect the unassuming city would someday be home to one of his favorite Idaho breweries.
“I knew it as the place with the outlet malls on the way to Coeur d’Alene,” said the 34-year-old East Valley High School graduate. “Now they’ve got this amazing brewery (Selkirk Abbey) and a great bottle shop (Enoteca).”
That’s a small part of the story Koonce, a video producer who writes about beer for the Twin Falls Times-News, tells in his new book, “Idaho Beer: From Grain to Glass in the Gem State” (History Press, 144 pages, $19.99).
His journey to enlightenment took Koonce to California, where he was initiated into craft beer culture during a long day of drinking with Greg Koch, Stone Brewing’s colorful co-founder (who penned the book’s foreword); the Washington, D.C. area, where he acquired a “pretty bad Belgian beer habit”; and Salt Lake City, where he worked in sales and marketing for Epic Brewing.
Koonce moved to Twin Falls in January 2013 and began blogging. When his publisher came calling with the book idea, he already had a good handle on the Boise scene from his time with Epic, and on how to turn a project quickly from his film school training.
“I treated it like I was making a documentary,” he said. “You do everything as close together as possible, since you’re on a pretty short budget.”
The result is rather light on North Idaho content – aside from Selkirk Abbey and Sandpoint’s Laughing Dog – because of Koonce’s tight time frame, some communications issues and his focus on bigger breweries. “If there’s a second edition, which there probably will be, there will be more of that,” he said.
What’s there now is glowing. Koonce said he’s impressed with both Selkirk Abbey and Laughing Dog for different reasons.
With Selkirk, it’s the “really incredible” beer – particularly Infidel, the Belgian-style India pale ale that Koonce puts at No. 1 on his list of 10 must-try Idaho beers.
While Belgian IPAs are an American concept, Koonce said, Infidel “tastes to me like it could have come right from Brussels. You have those thick candy flavors you get from Belgian beers, and while it’s hoppy, it’s not overtly so.”
He’s high on Laughing Dog’s beers as well, with Alpha Dog imperial IPA and The Dogfather imperial stout ranking No. 9 and No. 5 on his list, respectively.
But as a former marketer, what really catches Koonce’s attention is the streamlined distribution deal that Laughing Dog founder Fred Colby worked out with Total Wine stores nationwide. “That’s really progressive,” he said.
Along with his thirst-inducing tales of southern Idaho’s burgeoning brewery ranks (most of which aren’t readily available around Spokane, save for Sockeye and Grand Teton), Koonce ties the movement to the state’s growing production of raw beer materials.
Idaho brewers are in a better position than most to source both malt and hops from their home state. In addition to its three major barley malting operations, Idaho ranks a distant but respectable third in U.S. hops production to Washington and Oregon.
It’s not just microbrews driving those developments. One malting plant, and the world’s largest single hop farm – Elk Mountain, north of Bonners Ferry – produce exclusively for Budweiser brands.
“It’s one of the smallest states, populationwise,” Koonce said, “but it’s really important when it comes to beer.”
Selkirk Abbey celebrates its second anniversary Saturday with a series of special tappings at the Belgian-themed brewery, 6180 E. Seltice Way in Post Falls.
The festivities kick off at 11 a.m. with a keg of zested Chapel witbier (specific fruits still were being determined at press time). That will be followed by three smaller specialty casks: 1 p.m., Huckleberry Chapel on huckleberries; 3 p.m., Guilt coffee porter over oak chips that co-owner Jeff Whitman has been aging in Barbados rum for four years; and 5 p.m., double dry-hopped Afterlife summer IPA.
There also will be food from Shameless Sausages, and music both live (including a pipe band at 2:30 p.m.) and DJ. For more information, call (208) 292-4901.
• The Selkirk bash also will be the first official gathering for the new, expanded Inland Northwest Girls’ Pint Out chapter.
The national organization brings together women interested in craft beer. There previously were separate Spokane and North Idaho chapters; for details, see girlsbeerblog.com.
• Ramblin’ Road, which brews both Belgian and Northwest styles, has added a pair of new beers on opposite ends of the spectrum.
A floral, spicy Belgian Wit (5 percent alcohol by volume, 12 International Bitterness Units) uses chamomile in place of the typical coriander, along with sweet orange peel. That’s balanced by a big but smooth-drinking Double IPA (8.5, 120) with tropical fruit notes from Belma and Citra hops.
• Perry Street is pouring a crisp summer pale ale (5.0, 30) made with a single malt – Maris Otter, a British barley that adds a rich nuttiness – and single hop, El Dorado, which contributes subtle fruit flavors and aromas from tropical to pear.
• Two new beers should be on at Waddell’s Brewpub by the time you read this: a smoked porter and a Vienna-style lager. In the works is a tart-leaning blackberry ale.
• In Fairfield, Roman-themed Zythum is introducing three new additions to its lineup today: Heroes steam beer, Sordidium Red and a Citra-centric IPA.
The new Growler Guys outlet originally planned across from Trader Joe’s in Lincoln Heights is instead relocating to the vicinity of 13th Avenue and Grand Boulevard. Franchise owners are shooting for a September opening.
A North Side location, at 9329 N. Newport Highway, should be open by August. The Bend, Oregon-based chain typically features 40-plus taps for growler fills.