Boise Brewpub Tour

Highlands Hollow Brewhouse - Stick with the Standards

I only have one rule when it comes to brewpubs. To put it simply, if you make more than two kinds of beer, you MUST offer a sampler tray. This rule is non-negotiable. To violate it is to incur the wrath of this very dedicated beer lover, because forcing beer monogamy on your patrons is worse than wrong. It's like a kick to the pouch with steel-toed cowboy boots.

It is with this fact in mind that I tell you that Highlands Hollow makes around eight different kinds of beer, but for the longest time they did not offer a sampler tray. In fact, on one of my early trips to The Hollow, the waitress, while showing a complete lack of empathy, acted as if I were silly to ask.

"Just tell me what kind of beer you like," she said, "and I'll help you pick one."

She was obviously trained to say that, and when I pressed her as to why they ran their business that way, she replied, "We don't charge for samples."

You can imagine what my initial thoughts were. But instead of getting snooty, I merely said, "Then bring me a sample of each and charge me a buck apiece. I just want to try them all."

Again I was politely denied, leaving me thinking that a brewpub refusing to provide a flight of samples to a willing customer was a strong-armed insult to folks who might know a thing or two about beer and like all flavors. Sure, this was before Payette Brewing started the ongoing craft beer boom around town, which meant that the concepts of "beer tourism" and "ale trails" were still a foreign concept around town. But they should've known better, because it really chapped my Cajun buns during many a visit to their establishment. I'm still a little peeved about, in fact, if you can't tell.

Happily, the folks at Highlands Hollow finally decided to get with the program. On my most recent visit I went in with the resolve to get a sampler tray no matter what, but that ended up being all for naught. Yep, right there on the beer menu now is a notice that you can get a taster of any beer for $1. Imagine that. What a concept.

I'll get off my soap box now, but don't let my bygone grievance with the place give you the wrong impression. I like the place, and it's well worth a visit because it's about as North End as North End gets. Obviously its location means that it caters to the Columbia-fleece North-End types as well as skiers on their way down the hill. The inside even has the feel of an old alpine ski lodge. There's a round fireplace in the middle of the room and rows of old beer cans on top of the exposed wooden rafters. There are also old rustic signs on the walls, a few TVs that no one seems to watch, and some pretty decent food. It all succeeds in creating a rather cozy environment.

Now about the beer.

Highlands Hollow has a standard group of brews that have been around a long time, and the result is that the recipes are solid and the beers are good drinkers. Among them, I think Doolie's dark ale is the best. It has a nice malt presence in the taste and aroma, but whatever hops they are using balances it well. Before looking up the beer on their website I guessed they were using portions of Munich or Vienna malt in it, but their own description states that they use "three different specialty malts that are roasted in varying degrees, to stringent specifications" in it, which probably means three different kinds of crystal malt. Whatever they use, the result is delicious, and I highly suggest you try it.

Four of their other standard brews can also make you quite happy. The Spoon Tongue, which they describe as a light ale, has good hop flavor to go along with its hazy appearance. The Lone Pine golden ale I found to have a good malt flavor and hop aroma, with good balance. The Fiegwild is a nice English-style pale ale that is easy drinking, and the Hippie Shake is brown ale-ish in taste, deep gold in color, with a slight bitter aftertaste.

A lot of the ladies out there will be familiar with another Highlands Hollow standard, the Berry Good Wheat. I don't know exactly how much fruit they put into this beer, but it's a lot. I taste at least a sip of it every visit just to see if they've changed the fruit in it or the overall recipe, and every time I end up thinking that even on the hottest summer day it would be too darn fruity for me. Still, I'd have to label it as the best girl beer in town, which is an accomplishment in its own right.

If you're looking for novelty, the Hollow also makes the only ginger beer in town, a true 'ginger ale' if you will. This beer has also been on the menu as long as I can remember, and I've been known to get a pint every now and then. Half barley, half wheat, with a generous portion of fresh ground ginger tossed in for the noticeable ginger zing, this is a beer that opens your eyes to the myriad possibilities available for curious and adventurous brewers. We've become so accustomed to mainstream beers made with barley and spiced with hops that we forget that people were using all kinds of spices in beer for millennia until the modern brewery developed at the end of the 19th century. To hell with The Reinheitsgebot, I say. Something new every once in a while is good for the soul.

They had some new brews on offer recently, none of which really impressed me. A witbier, porter, and IPA were all unremarkable in my opinion, which makes me ever more confident in saying that Highlands Hollow has pretty well perfected their eight standard recipes, so if you stick with the standards you just can't go wrong. This is especially true if you're quaffing a Doolie's while relaxing in the shade on their outdoor patio on a hot summer evening, enjoying the flickering coolness from the overhead misters. That's a wonderful experience in itself, but it turns into a unique Boise evening if you're doing it after a stint of ice blocking down nearby Simplot Hill.

Brewpub: Highlands Hollow Brewhouse

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Flavors on tap: The regular lineup includes Lone Pine golden ale, Gingerwheat light ale, Fiegwild English-syle pale ale, Doolie's dark ale, Full Moon Stout, Hippie Shake, Berry Good Wheat, Spoon Tongue light ale.
Cost: Pint is $3.75. Growlers are $13.20 initially and then $8.50 to refill.
My rating: Slakes even the mightiest thirst