Four years ago, Boise Weekly got a first look at Payette Brewing’s dazzling new 32,000-square-foot facility on Pioneer Street near the Boise Greenbelt. At the time, it was an ambitious reach into bar taps and store shelves; but amid the pandemic, when asked if all that space and brewing capacity has sometimes felt like more of a liability than a boon, Payette Founder and CEO Michael Francis simply said “yes.”
“Big ideas are great,” he said with some disappointment in his voice. “But you have to execute on big ideas.”
It’s worth noting that Francis’ moment playing in a minor key is understandable and pretty relatable, considering that for months, the government shut down one of Payette’s most significant distribution channels, bars, which basically stopped buying kegs of beer in the early months of the pandemic.
“Overnight we went from one-third of our beer being in draft to zero of our beer being in draft,” Francis said.
Drinkers themselves turned to more portable options like cans. While that hasn’t made up the difference for Payette, it certainly helped, and on Sept. 25, the brewery launched a rebranding of its most popular beers, released a pair of fresh-hopped beers and announced improvements to its expansive patio area. It’s all part of a refresh of its image: a move in a new direction that happens to look a lot like a return to its roots.
For background, Payette Brewing got its start in 2010 and 2011 out of a brewery in Garden City. At the time, there were certainly other breweries in the Boise area, but its early adoption of canning and aggressive distribution strategy made it a star of the show and kicked off a Boise beer renaissance that has lasted to this day.
Part of the aforementioned renaissance has been a collaborative spirit, which has bolstered brewers’ fortunes overall and been a boon to Payette as it and others have navigated the pandemic. Earlier this summer, Boise Weekly told readers about a scramble at Lost Grove Brewing, was able to quickly transition to canning its beers thanks to a partnership with Payette. It also helped Meriwether Cider can its new line of Meri Spritzers and brew for NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip’s new brewing company, Michael Waltrip Brewing.
Beyond working well with others, Payette has tried to make its changes palpable. In the past, its taproom was a bustling place, but that facility shuttered for three months during the pandemic. As more customers have opted to drink out-of-doors, Payette has installed a bocce ball court, a mobile bandstand, fake grass, shade and a 10-foot fire pit to make its expansive side yard more attractive (and four-season-friendly) to customers.
“This gave us a chance to take a step back and take advantage of the downtime,” said Payette Marketing Manager Paige Francis, who is also Michael’s wife.
On an October evening, that side yard, as much as it could within the bounds of responsibility, positively bustled. Customers stood at appropriate distances in line to buy beers out of an open window, and couples sat in lawn chairs and at park-style benches talking amongst each other. The occasional dog leaned at its master from its leash. The light of day waned as the mood waxed, and the sound of chit-chat and the thump of a game of corn hole seemed to grow.
A new visual style was in the works before the pandemic hit, but executing that change in the midst of one forced Paige and Michael to consider what kind of story they wanted to tell about Payette Brewing. In some ways, the pandemic directed those considerations. Payette’s cattle brand logo and circle-P symbol have not changed, but the can art has, and the brewery’s most popular, longest standing beers are now contained in a Greatest Hits 12-pack. They include the North Fork American Lager, the Sofa King Sunny Hazy Pale Ale, Recoil India Pale Ale and the Aura Guava & Hibiscus Sour Ale—a collection made to please the weekend warrior crowd.
More to the point, the brewery has released two fresh-hopped beers: the Wet ‘N Wilder Chinook Fresh Hop Ale and the Sofa King Fresh IPA, both of which are striking entries and cuts above the herd. Here are some notes:
Sofa King Fresh Hop IPA
Bright, grapefruit-y hops dominate the nose. There’s nothing stale or metallic about it, which is an all-too-common feature of IPAs. At first taste, this beer is session-ably smooth, and the citrusy hops linger, but don’t tarry, on the palate. It’s almost candy, but at 6.5% alcohol and coming in pint-size cans, more than a couple of these might pack a wallop, so check your sweet tooth. There’s also some pretty brilliant can art by Jennie Kilcup.
Wet ‘N Wilder Chinook Fresh Hop Ale
The ale is somehow a bit heavier than its IPA cousin, and it’s reticent on the nose, giving little hint of how hoppy it is. This stuff is made with Chinook fresh hops from Gooding Farms, and there’s a reason they’ve been given a brand name: They really have punch, with strong pine notes. The flavor description on the can also suggests you’ll taste citrus, and those are certainly there, but nowhere near the same degree as the Sofa King.