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Friday, August 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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On Tap: Sandpoint boasts thriving craft beer scene

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 8, 2019, 4:44 p.m.

By Greg Wildermuth For The Spokesman-Review

Sandpoint, has long been a favorite destination for residents of the Inland Northwest and beyond. This town nestled on the banks of Lake Pend Oreille and surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains 75 miles northeast of Spokane swells with visitors every weekend during the summer to enjoy the beautiful lake and winter to take to the slopes at Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho’s largest ski resort.

Once a hub of railroads and logging, Sandpoint seems to have embraced its current identity, and you don’t have to look far to find antique stores, art galleries and boutique shops. But among these trappings of a vacation destination, you will find something unexpected – a truly thriving craft beer scene.

Greater Sandpoint is home to four craft breweries, each working to produce exceptional beer while dealing with the challenges of doing business in a seasonal town. It was precisely the size and pace of the town that drew brothers Duffy and Mickey Mahoney from their hometown of Monroe, Washington, to Sandpoint when they were looking to start a brewery in 2005.

“We wanted to open a brewery (in a place) we wanted to live,” said Duffy Mahoney. “We were both so tired of traffic and the other aspects of big-city life. We wanted to get away from all that.”

After finding a location for a brewpub in downtown Sandpoint, the brothers opened MickDuff’s Brewing Co. in 2006. They have steadily grown since its founding and now distribute several of their beers regionally. In 2014, they expanded to an additional 7,000-square-foot facility just around the corner from the original brewpub.

This new beer hall, as they refer to it, allowed the Mahoneys to boost their production, invest in technologically advanced equipment and host more public and private events. The beer styles lean toward lighter lagers, blondes and IPAs, but with 12 to 15 beers consistently on tap, there is something for every taste.

If the average local beer drinker has had one beer from Sandpoint, it is likely the Huckleberry Cream Ale from Laughing Dog Brewing. This fruity and sessionable beer is perfect for hot summer days and is widely available in bars and grocery stores throughout the region.

In fact, thanks to a distribution agreement with Total Wine & More, Laughing Dog’s beers are available in 15 states coast to coast. While this focus on distribution has allowed for continued growth since its founding in 2005 – a newly expanded production facility and tap room was opened in 2017 – you will still find plenty of locals at the (obviously) dog-friendly taproom a few miles outside downtown Sandpoint in Ponderay, Idaho, enjoying the 10-plus beers on tap.

“Craft beer is a scene unto itself. (Fans) seek out breweries wherever they may be,” says brewery spokeswoman Michelle Sivertson. “We are lucky enough to have a local following that supports us all year long.”

With two well-established breweries serving a county with fewer than 44,000 permanent residents, it might seem like a fool’s errand to try and open up your own. But for the two newest breweries in downtown Sandpoint, it has been all about establishing their own identities in very different ways.

After spending four years as the head brewer at Laughing Dog, David Kosiba decided to strike out on his own with the help of his partner, Christina Stecher. Although they had plenty of ideas for beer, they wanted to do something different for their food menu.

Leaning on Christina’s time living in New Delhi after college, they landed on fast-casual Indian fare as an exciting addition to the local culinary scene. After studying with a Seattle-based chef, they began to refine their recipes and opened Utara Brewing Co. in June 2018.

Located in a former blacksmith shop that dates to 1908, Utara has spent the past year brewing to support the tap room and limited distribution to other Sandpoint bars and restaurants. While they have seven core beers brewed year-round, they also release small-batch experimental creations every Monday.

As far as competing with other local breweries, Kosiba says he is much more focused on converting the non-craft beer drinker: “Macrobreweries would like us to think choosing a beer is like choosing a professional sports team. It’s the job of craft brewers to dissolve this paradigm and (build) a sense of community and collaboration.” With that in mind, he is hoping that the local breweries can continue to work together on collaborative events and beer releases.

Sandpoint’s newest brewery, Matchwood, opened its doors last October right in the middle of the “shoulder season,” after the summer crowds have gone home but before the ski bums begin their annual pilgrimage. This seems appropriate because founders Andrea Marcoccio and Kennden Culp describe Matchwood as “Sandpoint’s neighborhood brewery.”

The brewery is part of the historic Granary District and inhabits an old warehouse built in the mid-1930s. Because of its expansive size, the facility has plenty of space for preparing its 10-plus beers and full food menu, with room left over for a community meeting space that “serves as a platform for local leaders, organizations and businesses to hold meetings, workshops and presentations.”

This has allowed the brewery to host more than 200 community-driven events since opening, everything from nonprofit board meetings to gatherings for local military veterans and even a recurring story hour where parents can enjoy a beverage while the little ones enjoy a book. With live music and other performances at least once a week, there is always a reason for locals to stop by.

Starting a brewery is an inherently risky venture, and choosing to open in a small town brings a different set of risks than opening in a larger market. But with a bit of creativity and good luck and a lot of great beer, these Sandpoint breweries manage to stay full with happy and thirsty patrons 52 weeks a year.

What’s Hoppin’ This Week

What’s Hoppin’ This Week is your one-stop weekly planner for beer-related events in the Inland Northwest. If you have an event you would like included, please reach out to me at 509BeerBlog@gmail.com. Cheers!

Wednesday, Aug. 7

Millwood Brewing Company, 9013 E. Frederick Ave., Millwood, is hosting a “Kegs for a Cause” fundraiser to benefit the Northwest’s Parkinson’s Foundation from 1 to 9 p.m. – $1 from each pint sold will be donated to the organization that supports the more than 100,000 people in the northwest affected by Parkinson. (facebook.com/events/734244190341675/)

One of the region’s newest breweries, Bent Tree Brewing, 30923 North Quail Run Court in Athol, Idaho, is hosting the first meeting of its new home brewing club from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. It is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the home brewing process. No experience needed. (facebook.com/events/2239146122805532/)

Friday, Aug. 9

The downtown Spokane location of Steady Flow Growler House, 111 S. Cedar St., is hosting a brewery battle between Spokane’s Humble Abode Brewing and Richland’s White Bluffs Brewing. Starting at noon Friday, you’ll be able to get a blind tasting flight of two beers from each brewery and vote for your favorite. At 5 p.m. Saturday, the brewers will be on hand to talk about the beers, and the winner will be announced at 7. (facebook.com/events/483572235521764/)

Saturday, Aug. 10

The Ales for the Trail Microbrewery Festival is 2 to 8 p.m. in McEuen Park, 420 E. Front Ave., in downtown Coeur d’Alene. The festival will have several local and regional beers and ciders on tap, as well as food trucks and games all to raise money for the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation. Tickets are $30 and include six, 5-ounce pours and a commemorative tasting glass. (facebook.com/events/367920390737024/)

Mad Bomber Brewing, 9265 N. Government Way, in Hayden, Idaho, is releasing the second in a series of beers brewed in conjunction with local public service organizations. This special IPA will be pouring 6 to 10 p.m. in the taproom, and 10% of beer sales will be donated to charity. (facebook.com/events/381967725672181/)

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