Boise Brewpub Tour

Brewed Awakening - The Birth of Payette Brewing, Part 1

Originally published 02/09/2010

Mike Francis is like a lot of young men who live in Boise's North End. He's the outdoorsy type, doing a lot of biking and skiing. He also likes good beer. He likes good beer so much, in fact, that he's willing putting everything he owns, including his good name, on the line to start a company whose business is good beer. A lot of people consider taking risks like that, but the costs involved and the tremendous amount of effort and hard work required to make such a project successful usually mean that most would-be entrepreneurs never get past the what-if stage. In Mike's case, he's dead-set on starting a brewery this year, and his goal for 2010 is to start making beer by the fall and get his suds on tap at thirty local bars by the end of December.

At this point I should mention that he currently has no commercial facility or equipment; he is merely a veteran homebrewer who knows how to brew beer and wants to take it large scale.

Knowing that, you would be correct in thinking that his goals sound rather ambitious and overly optimistic at this point. But no one can say Mike doesn't have the vision and the confidence to make it work, just like our friends Adolph Coors and Auggie Busch back in the mid 1800s. And if you think the idea of starting a brewery in little Boise, Idaho right now might be a tad crazy, you're also correct. But a lot of people probably called Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi crazy in 1979 when they started Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, California, and that's turned out pretty good for them.

Mike has a few things going for him. Although he was born in Chicago, he grew up here and graduated from Boise High School, so he knows the area. He also has an industrial engineering degree from the University of Washington, which he put to use for two and a half years working on all kinds of fancy airplane things at Boeing. While he was in Seattle, he started homebrewing and hanging out at local brewpubs and breweries like Georgetown Brewing, Hales Ales, and Schooner Exact. He hung around Schooner Exact so often, in fact, that they eventually let him work there on a kind of unofficial unpaid internship, allowing him to see how the brewery business works. All this fueled his interest in brewing and made him start thinking about getting in the busines for himself. But it was the older guys at Boeing who really convinced him that he needed to do it.

"I met a lot of 40- and 50-year-old guys at Boeing who said, 'Man, I wish I would've done that when I was young'," Mike says. "That's when I realized I needed to do it while I can. I'm not married, so I have very few committments." After this awakening, he quit his job at Boeing and enrolled in the Master Brewer program at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. When he graduated from their program after 6 weeks of comprehensive study on the theory of brewing, he moved back to Boise to get things rolling.

Perhaps his greatest advantage at this point is the simplicity of his business plan and his initial distribution strategy. Unlike the other places in town that make their own beer, Mike has no plans to set his business up as a brewpub, at least initially. That means he doesn't have to worry about kitchens, waitstaff, pint sales, and everything else that comes along with the food side of that business. Instead, he's putting all his effort into brewing beer, and his finished product will be kegged and sold directly to local bars and restaurants.

Sounds easy, huh? Not quite.

As Mike can relate, there are a lot of things to be considered when opening a brewery. You obviously need to buy or lease a large facility, and you need to purchase commercial-grade brewing equipment to put in it. There is also an array of permits, licenses, and other legal crap to get out of the way. And then you'll need to set up a dependable and cost-effective means of obtaining your raw materials and distributing your finished product. That's a lot to get lined up, but it can all get done quickly enough if you have the cash. Although Mike hasn't reached his goal for start-up capital yet, he says he's pretty close -- close enough, at least, for him to push the project forward and look for some real estate while he's waiting for the final few investors to put him over the top.

While all of that stuff plays out, Mike's main focus, and rightfully so, is on developing the recipes for the three to five beers that will becomes the standards of Payette Brewing. Since he doesn't yet have a full-scale facility, he works with a pilot brewery set up at his house. When he's not subsitute teaching during the week or ski instructing at Bogus Basin on the weekends, he's brewing beer, racking beer, dry hopping beer, kegging beer, bottling beer, tweaking his beer recipes, or visiting the local homebrew-supply shops, where he gets his ingredients. He says he's getting close to nailing down the recipes for three of his beers: a pale ale, an IPA, and a brown ale. The recipes for an amber ale and a stout are also coming along nicely. He knows that they'll all have to be good, even great, to compete in a market that already has fine local brews like Sockeye's Dagger Falls IPA, Highland Hollow's Hippie Shake, and Table Rock's Nut Brown Ale. Mike says his best beer right now is his brown ale, which unfortunately was not available for sampling when I chatted with him. However, as a public service, I did sample some of his other works in progress. The results were inconclusive, which means that I will probably need to sample much, much, much more of it before I can form an educated opinion. There's no need to thank me for this; everything I do is for you, my cherished readers, so stay tuned. You'll want to see how all of this turns out.

Brewed Awakening - The Birth of Payette Brewing: