This will go down as the year when the craft beer express started to lose a little momentum. Production growth is expected to drop below double digits for the first time since 2010 (the midyear figure was 8 percent), and larger players like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada are seeing sales start to slip.
But with the brewery count at an all-time high – passing the 5,000 mark last month – there’s also no question that craft beer has carved out its niche in communities across the country. Here’s a look back at local highlights from the past year, plus a few peeks at things to come in 2017:
Open and shut: After a whopping nine brewery openings in Spokane and Kootenai counties in 2015, this year’s total dipped to four – Young Buck and Little Spokane at the downtown incubator (with its Steel Barrel taproom), V Twin in Spokane Valley and Post Falls Brewing – along with farther-flung Quartzite in Chewelah and two in Moscow, Rants & Raves and Hunga Dunga.
There still are several more at various points in the pipeline, including Spokane’s Four-Eyed Guys, a distribution-only nano that’s in the final licensing stages; TT’s Old Iron, set to join in at the incubator; Millwood Brewing and Greenacres’ Sun Mountain in the Valley; and in North Idaho, Bombastic in Hayden, Utara in Sandpoint and Bent Tree in Athol.
On the flip side, Budge Brothers became the third area brewery to call it quits over the past three years (following BiPlane and Ramblin’ Road). Zythum closed its Fairfield taproom but still plans to brew for limited distribution.
On the move: Iron Goat moved to an expanded space in downtown Spokane and added food, Laughing Dog is brewing at a larger Sandpoint-area location with a taproom expected to open in the spring, and Twelve String hopes to transfer its taproom next summer to the bigger building it’s refurbishing in the Valley.
Badass Backyard continues to brew at home but opened an offsite taproom in the Valley, while home-based Whistle Punk is finalizing plans for one near downtown. Top Frog also added a taproom to its Newport brewery.
The bar scene: Spokane’s original craft beer bar, The Viking, closed in August but just announced plans to reopen in February following renovations. Coeur d’Alene’s Crafted Tap House launched a sister sports bar next door, Victory Sports Hall (also with 50 taps), and Nectar Wine and Beer, which opened last year in Kendall Yards, plans to add a South Perry location next spring. South Hill hangout The Hop Shop lost its lease as part of the neighboring Remedy Kitchen and Tavern development, though its owners are planning a new project to be announced.
Feeling festive: The Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival again reported record attendance after moving to Avista Stadium and a new summer event, the Spokane Brewers Festival, launched at the Spokane Arena.
The second annual Spokane Craft Beer Week in May featured 15 collaboration beers by area brewers, up from six its first year, along with a new local IPA challenge. On a smaller scale, No-Li’s occasional small-batch festivals keep selling out earlier each time, and the regional Girl Scouts organization expanded its annual Craft Beer & Cookie Fest to Coeur d’Alene as well as Spokane.
Honor roll: Perry Street captured a gold medal at the nation’s biggest beer bash, the Great American Beer Festival – the third local brewery to do so, following No-Li and the former Coeur d’Alene Brewing – while Bonners Ferry’s Kootenai River became the area’s first repeat winner, earning its second bronze in three years.
No-Li continued racking up medals in international competitions, with wins at Belgium’s Brussels Beer Challenge, Germany’s European Beer Star, the Australian International Beer Awards and the Great International Beer & Cider Competition in Rhode Island.
Closer to home, No-Li, River City, Big Barn, Waddell’s and Northern Ales from Kettle Falls all scored hardware in the Washington Beer Awards, while Slate Creek, MickDuff’s and Wallace were winners in North American Beer Awards judging in Idaho Falls.
Bottle stations: Twelve String, Trickster’s and Daft Badger began putting selected beers in 22-ounce bottles, and New Boundary is bottling its Lemon Kick hard lemonade. No-Li added the new Red, White & No-Li pale to its canned offerings, and has started canning its flagship Born & Raised IPA at Hale’s in Seattle for West Side distribution.
Groceries and growlers: Fred Meyer installed growler fill stations at its remodeled stores at Wandermere and Spokane Valley (which also got an in-store Cork & Keg wine and beer bar), after introducing the idea locally in Coeur d’Alene. Yoke’s got into the game with a growler station at its Mead store, with others under consideration.
Sour notes: Sours continued to be the hot style locally as well as nationally. Among the many area offerings, Twelve String, River City, Iron Goat, Young Buck and Badass all brewed the tart, salty wheat beer called gose; the Steam Plant did its initial strawberry sour, scheduled to return in January along with a cranberry Berliner weisse; and Waddell’s made its blackberry version a year-round fixture along with another rotating sour.
While those are quicker kettle sours – made by adding bacteria during the brewing process – some local brewers, including Iron Goat and Young Buck, also are experimenting with traditional longer-term, barrel-aged sours.
Pushing boundaries: Orlison, which launched as a lager brewery, keeps adding ales to its lineup. Selkirk Abbey is moving beyond its Belgian roots with a new Northern Cross label, beginning with a Northwest-style IPA and a just-released stout.
Elevating grain: While the Northwest is known for hops, craft malting operations are starting to sprout around the region – including Palouse Pint in Spokane Valley, which produces a variety of malts with locally grown grain. Those have been used in specialty offerings from several brewers including Bellwether, Black Label, Steam Plant and Hopped Up.
Sing for your suds: Finally, the year saw new Inland Northwest (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene) and Palouse-Two Rivers chapters of the national Beer Choir, which promotes song-filled social gatherings at breweries and bars. Should auld acquaintance be forgot …
Spokane craft beer pioneer Mark Irvin is back brewing after an almost two-year absence. Irvin, who founded Northern Lights in 1993 and later helped build it into the current No-Li Brewhouse before leaving in April 2015, is the new brewer at Bennidito’s Brewpub; his first offering there, an unfiltered wheat beer made with honey malt, should be on tap by the time you read this.
Bellwether’s big Darknut Braggot (honey beer) collaboration with Hierophant Meadery (13 percent alcohol by volume, 20 International Bitterness Units) was made with hand-collected green walnuts and aged six months.
Young Buck’s Brett IPA (6.5, 35) has a big, fruity pineapple aroma and a mild tartness.
V Twin has tapped a Duck Walk Dark Wheat (5.7, 24).
Perry Street is pouring a roasty, spicy Rye Stout (7 ABV, IBU not available).
Save the date
Perry Street rings in 2017 with a New Year’s Eve Frosted Formal featuring food, DJ music, a special beer release and prizes for best attire; tickets are $40/person, $60/couple.
Barrels, Bubbles and Bivalves on New Year’s Eve at The Steel Barrel/Zona Blanca will include barrel-aged beers, champagne cocktails, oysters and ceviche.
Selkirk Abbey’s fifth annual New Year’s Day brunch will feature food from Black Tie Catering.
Waddell’s Brewpub has a customer appreciation party Jan. 2 with drink specials and prizes (including a 40-inch TV).
Send beer news, comments and questions to senior correspondent Rick Bonino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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