All the Brewery's a Stage 

Boise beer hotspots host events of all stripes

click to enlarge Mad Swede

Susie Larson

Mad Swede

There's a brewery in Boise to satisfy nearly every beer lover's craving. With novelty favorites, popular national brands and breweries-turned-restaurants filling the local scene, each spot has to find its own way to stand out and connect to the Treasure Valley community.

In the process of finding those niches, breweries are transforming from casual taphouses into destinations for events, fundraisers, and specialties. Only time can tell what local brewers will have on tap next.

Stay Weird, Woodland Empire

If it's out of the ordinary, you can probably find it at Woodland Empire Ale Craft.

Taproom Manager Christian Atley described the spot's employees, co-founders and patrons as people who enjoy all things weird, and said the beauty in beer is its ability to connect them.

"We see ourselves as underground and weird and punk rock, so this is a way for us to express our personality," Atley said.

Whether you're looking for the hottest comedy show in Boise—perhaps literally, as the back-of-the-house brewing space doesn't have air conditioning and can fit 100 people—a puppet horror show or a place to swap out your Atari for a Rolling Stones record, Woodland Empire has an event for that.

Its most popular and sought-after show is Hogspoiled, a celebration of comedy that challenges the longtime comedy superstition that Friday shows are terrible and boasts great acts through the winter at Hogspoiled. Two of Boise's best-known comedians, Emma Arnold and Sophie Hughes, host touring stand-up comics, most of whom are female or queer.

Every show has sold out and patrons even line up out the door for a chance to watch their favorite performers.

Woodland Empire also stole a page from the Canadian punk band PUP when it released the ingredients of a newly concocted brew and invited homebrewers to create their own versions. Much like the band, which once dropped lyrics and chords before releasing a song, the brewery compiled many creative entries to its Brew-It-Yourself Challenge, which was paired with PUP's visit to Boise.

Groups of steadfast regulars have taken Woodland Empire co-owners Rob and Keely Landerman (the latter of whom is Idaho's only female head brewer) up on offers to use the brewery as a home base. One of the most tight-knit groups to call Woodland Empire home is Kegfit, which began its CrossFit-style workouts with empty kegs at Woodland Empire five years ago. The partnership is so close that the brewery honored Founder Dirk Manley with his own brew.

Not many breweries have gym junkies working out next to the barrels that drinkers will later drain, or have stage lights reflecting off their freezers. That would just be weird—which is how Woodland Empire likes it.

A Focus on Idaho

Powderhaus Brewing Company is the brewery to visit for a little German flair in the Treasure Valley. But despite its overseas-inspired names and events, Powderhaus staff will tell you the watering hole's focus never wavers from the Gem State.

"One of the things that I think is very unique to Powderhaus is that we pride ourselves on using only Idaho ingredients; Idaho water, Idaho hops, Idaho people brewing it," said Co-owner and Founder Lisa Schmidt. "We like to highlight the best that Idaho has to offer."

That focus on Idaho prompted Schmidt and her family to open their brewery to local vendors, companies and organizations looking for the perfect event space. Since 2015, weddings and their attendant receptions, wakes, baby and wedding showers, campaign events, tradeshow-esque gatherings, sales presentations, company parties and training sessions have all filled Powderhaus' taphouse, brewery and beer garden.

In addition, the brewery hosts its own events with an eye toward fresh, unique themes. Annually, Powderhaus invites its patrons to dress up for Beer Prom. On the traditional side, it also boasts an annual German Oktoberfest and Maifest celebration.

By opening the space beyond brewing, Schmidt said she and her family are marrying "the best that Idaho has to offer" with experiences the state has yet to tap.

"Idaho is so unique," Schmidt said. "We have a beautiful place to brew [beer] in Idaho, and we have wonderful people to brew it for—visitors and locals."

Welcome to Valhalla

Visiting one of Barbarian Brewing's Treasure Valley taprooms is a must if you want to experience its creative brews like Huginn and Muginn and Elixir of the Gods.

"We brew to keep our taproom stacked," said Co-founder Bre Hovley. "You're not going to find us in the grocery stores."

Barbarian's Garden City taproom can seat 40 people, but the business is in the process of adding an event space by expanding into what used to be a barrel room. The brewery's downtown location can hold 99 patrons and boasts a private meeting space called, appropriately, the Valhalla Room. Currently, it houses painting nights and events thrown by local organizations. While the brewery and main taproom are never shut down completely, Hovley said she and her staff encourage companies to use the Valhalla Room for private parties.

Barbarian also throws its own events. In honor of the Norse God, Thor, the brewery hosts "Thors-day" every week to release a new brew. During Boise Downtown Association's First Thursday event in September 2019, Barbarian also donated $1 from every pint sold to benefit Ales for ALS, a nonprofit that supports ALS research and treatment.

As the brewery continues to grow, Hovley said she and her husband, Barbarian Co-founder James Long, would love to host more even parties, food trucks and live music acts.

A Drink on the Wild Side

Susie and Jerry Larson have two passions: good beer and the environment. When they opened Mad Swede Brewing Company in 2016, they found a way to fuse the two together.

After Snowpocolypse ravaged the Treasure Valley the winter after Mad Swede opened, the World Center for Birds of Prey approached the Larsons about hosting a fundraiser for building repairs. The result was the first Birds & Brew event, featuring "live music, live raptors, and lively beer and food," according to its Facebook page. Mad Swede's brewers even complimented the event by doing what they do best: brewing a beer in honor of the occasion.

For Susie and Jerry, it was the fulfillment of a long-held dream.

"It was an ideal fit for us really, because we love raptors. Ever since both of us were kids we've had a fascination with birds of prey," Susie said.

Since the first Birds & Brew, Mad Swede has continued to partner with the World Center for Birds of Prey and other ecological-focused groups and events, including Pure Water Brew Boise in 2018 (when it used Boise's recycled water to produce beer) and an event with the Nature Conservancy in fall 2019—not a bad track record for a pair of HP engineers turned eco activists and brew masters.


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