Hometown Brewing

Powder Mountain Press
By Kristen Pope, Photography by Camrin Dengel

Idaho is the nation’s top barley-producing state, and in 2018the Gem State surpassed Oregon to become second in nationwide hops production(behind only Washington state). While a lot of Idaho’s barley and hops are shipped out of state, much of both stay within our borders, going into the more than 90,000 barrels of beer produced each year in Idaho’s craft breweries, which number more than five dozen. Four of those breweries are located right here in Teton Valley.

Just a year ago, the valley was home to only two beloved and longstanding breweries—Grand Teton Brewing and Wildlife Brewing. Two more joined the roster in the past year: Citizen 33 Brewery and Teton Thai Brewery. Now, residents have four local craft-brew options where they can wet their whistles, and each has its own unique local touches.

Grand Teton Brewing operations director Chris Furbacher mans the canning line.

Grand Teton Brewing was the valley’s first brewery. It got its start over the hill in Wilson, Wyoming, in 1988. Its original name was OttoBrothers’ Brewing, named for Charlie and Ernie Otto, who started the original210-square-foot facility. It was “the very first modern microbrewery inWyoming,” according to brewery operations director Chris Furbacher, though he notes it’s obviously not in Wyoming any longer. The brewery launched its flagship Teton Ale in 1989, soon followed by Old Faithful Ale and Moose JuiceStout. However, Wyoming law didn’t allow retail sales by breweries at the time, so the Otto brothers spent three years working to change the law. In 1992 they were finally able to open a brewpub in Wilson, and they began bottling that same year. The brewery also re-popularized an old tradition: growlers. They updated an old European design to create a 64-ounce glass growler that peoplecan get filled and refilled with beer straight from the tap, opening up an array of beer options to drink at home that aren’t available in cans or bottles.

In 1998, the brothers decided to move their brewery overTeton Pass and set up shop near Victor. In 2000, they changed the name to GrandTeton Brewing to appeal to a wider audience, and then, in 2009, Steve and Ellen Furbacher purchased the brewery. Operations director Chris Furbacher is their son.

The brewery is ever-evolving, and just this year it rebranded and modified its logo and design to better embody the local national parks theme. “So much of who we are is national parks,” Chris says. “We sell a lot of beer in Yellowstone, a lot of beer in Grand Teton, and we have visions of going to some other [national parks].” The brewery also recently switched from glass bottles to aluminum cans so people can better enjoy the beer outdoors. Chris says the move was motivated by the fact that cans are easier and safer to take hiking, boating, and camping. Aluminum cans are also more environmentally friendly and beer is said to retain better flavor in cans versus glass bottles.

Grand Teton Brewing’s local mindset goes beyond the neighboring national parks. It uses mostly Idaho-grown base malt, with much of it coming from Mountain Malt near Idaho Falls. For the past five years or so, they’ve also used Idaho hops.

Chris enjoys the cooperative nature of the local brewing scene and how the breweries work together to help each other out. “[It’s a]good community of a lot of old friends and new friends,” he says. “For a small community of brewers, some of the highest quality beer in the country comes out of here, I think. … I’m a little biased,” he adds with a smile.

Just up the street from Grand Teton Brewing and within the city limits of Victor, Wildlife Brewing began operations in 2003. Just three years later, the brewery, owned by Ric Harmon, started offering takeout pizza and growlers, then built a dining room addition in 2008. The enterprise continued to expand and in 2016 it began canning. Management also installed a single-fill “crowler” machine, which gives them the ability to can any beer on tap.

Wildlife Brewing head brewer John Able preps the hops to begin brewing.

“It’s nice because you don’t have to worry about bringing glass anywhere,” head brewer John Able says. “With cans, you take it wherever you go in the wilderness … pack it in, pack it out.”

John, who learned how to brew in Denver, uses local growers when he can, including Mountain Malt for base malt barley and pelletizing plantMill 95 near Wilder, Idaho (west of Boise) for some hops. “It’s just being creative, trying to find different ingredients, and trying to create something unique that is going to get someone to drink your beer,” John says.

Sales manager Rene Ceja appreciates the thriving local beer scene and the brewers involved. “The Teton Valley brewery scene is great because we share an appreciation of camaraderie,” he says. “We have great working relationships with the surrounding breweries, including those over the pass, and often help each other out if we get stuck in a bind. By supporting one another, our local breweries have won medals, grown regionally, and been successful at playing our part in growing Teton Valley’s reputation and economy. ”

While Wildlife and Grand Teton have been brewing beer for years, the local beer scene doubled in the past year as two new players entered the scene: Teton Thai and Citizen 33.

Teton Thai’s restaurant has been a mainstay in Driggs since2010, but its brewery just opened in October 2018. Like Wildlife’s John Able, brewmaster Sam Sisk moved up from Denver, where he was lead brewer at RockBottom Brewery. He and his team began transforming a former office space adjacent to the restaurant in downtown Driggs’ Colter Building into a small but efficient brewery. Starting from scratch, they worked to properly outfit the space, including cutting a floor drain and wrapping stainless steel around the walls before introducing a system with just two fermenters—a number that has quickly risen to six.

“It’s very intimate to be making that small amount of beer with that small amount of people,” says Sam. “It’s a very small project, andI’m in love with the feeling, like a ‘science experiment kind of feeling’ in the brewery.”

The brewery’s first batch was Money Penny Pale Ale, an English-style ale that is still their top seller. Sam describes it as “super drinkable, low alcohol, [with] a little bit of caramel sweetness to it.” The brewery has tried a number of other styles, as well, from a nitro milk stout to a raspberry sour to a Mexican lager.

For a few months, the taproom space adjacent to the brewery also served as a small sushi bar, but it’s currently offering beer on tap and a small pan-Asian menu from the Jackson-based sister restaurant Teton Tiger. People can now enjoy Teton Thai Brewery’s beers inside the taproom or at its namesake restaurant down the hall. Owner Ryan Haworth, who also owns TetonTiger, plans on distributing the beer there as well, and at his new Missoula,Montana, restaurant called Zoo Thai. Eventually, the brewery plans on expanding production and distribution and introducing either a canned or bottled line.

Finally, Citizen 33 Brewery borrowed its name from the state highway that runs through the valley, connecting all of the county’s residents.The moniker underscores the importance of all things local. “We’re on Highway33, and Citizen 33 means we’re all citizens of this valley,” head brewer Nick Farney says. “We’re trying to keep things really local: local minded, localized production.”

Inside the new restaurant and brewery, Nick says he creates his beer “backwards,” first looking at what ingredients are available locally and then basing his beer selections on those ingredients.

“A lot of breweries look at a beer they want to make, or a recipe, and then they’ll go get those ingredients and make that beer,” he says.“We look at what ingredients we have versus what beers can we make. There are a lot of beers I won’t make or a lot of styles I can’t make because those ingredients aren’t grown in Idaho. … We’re really trying to make a unique product that’s all Idaho. Idaho grows some of the best beer ingredients in the country. We’re really trying to showcase that.”

While Nick acknowledges that it would be easier to select his beers in a more conventional manner and outsource whatever ingredients he needs, he says it’s worth it to put in the extra effort to use local ingredients.

“On my end, it would be really easy to go online and order some hops from New Zealand or other ingredients from across the country,” he says. “But I choose to seek out the limited ingredients that are grown here inIdaho that I have to choose from.” He points out that this methodology produces a smaller carbon footprint and is easier on the planet. “As we go about in the future, we need more localized production, whether it’s beer or food,” he says.

Nick moved to Jackson in 2013, then relocated over the hill to Teton Valley. He was trained in environmental engineering before transitioning to commercial brewing. He says the same detail-oriented skillset, with a focus on mechanics and science, is an asset in both engineering and brewing.He started working with Citizen 33 two years before it opened its doors in June2019, helping Citizen 33’s owners—including Forage Bistro owners Christian andLisa Hanley, Tatanka Tavern owner Kelly Williams, and Moterra Camper van company owner Gabe Aufderheide—plan and put the brewery together.

All the brewery’s base malt and hops are grown in Idaho, though some specialty malts are sourced from locations elsewhere. They useMountain Malt for barley, most of it grown in the Snake River Range, South Fork of the Snake River, and Henry’s Fork areas. This fall, Nick traveled to the previously mentioned Mill 95 to select the hops he will use to brew future beers.

Mill 95 is a hops pelletizing facility that opened in 2017, and now works with a number of regional breweries, including local ones in bothTeton Valley and Jackson Hole. With so much hops production taking place in the state, it seemed a logical decision to build a local pelletizing and cold storage facility, thereby avoiding shipping hops out of state for processing and then back into Idaho to brewers.

“Traditionally, every single pound grown in Idaho left the state to be processed elsewhere, primarily the Yakima Valley in Washington,”says DJ Tolmie, Mill 95’s director of operations.

Now, the hops are processed right here in Idaho. This year is the mill’s third processing season, as it works with nine farmers in southwestern Idaho to produce a variety of hops, including the very popularIdaho 7.

Every harvest season, the mill also provides a unique opportunity for brewers like Nick to hand-select their hops. In the collaboration center, they can examine a “brewer’s cut,” which is a cylinder taken from a dried hop bale, for a variety of characteristics to see how each one differs, then select the perfect one for their projects. For example, Idaho7 exudes more of a pineapple aroma the longer it has been on the plant, so lots picked late in the season have a different aroma than lots picked earlier.Brewers can select the lots that best serve their needs.

“We provide traceability of field to glass,” says Mill 95spokesperson Amaya Aguirre-Landa. “We can tell you everything from what was sprayed on the field at what times, to when it was trained and when it was harvested. All that information really trickles down from our quality to the quality of the brewer.” She points out that using local ingredients is a source of pride, not only for the local ethos and the efficiency it provides, but also in supporting local farmers and being able to provide “farm to pint traceability.”

“We’re already seeing Idaho being one of the top ten states to visit for brewery tourism,” Aguirre-Landa says, “and we’re seeing a lot of high-quality beer being brewed within the state.”

With ready access to local, high quality ingredients such as hops from Mill 95, Teton Valley’s brewers are sure to continue luring people into the state to sample some of the Rocky Mountain West’s finest cold ones.