Boise Brewpub Tour

Brewed Awakening - The Birth of Payette Brewing, Part 2

Originally published 05/13/2010

April 14, 2010 was a significant day for Mike Francis and his fledgling brewery. That was literally the day of no return. On that day, all the talk, thought, and preliminary planning finally gave way to something concrete: he signed a lease for a piece of real estate that will eventually house the Payette Brewing Company. In poker terms, April 14th was the day Francis became "pot committed" to this dream of his, and even though there is so much to do now and only one man to do it, he is still determined to be making beer on a commercial scale by the end of the year.

Francis took possession of the building, a cavernous Garden City warehouse at 111 W. 33rd Street that used to be the home of Boise Hydraulics, on May 1st. The fact that the previous tenant worked with machinery, some it being quite large, has its benefits. The building has a large garage bay at each end, which will make it easy to get commercial mash tuns, fermentation tanks, walk-in coolers, and a lot of other stuff inside the building. That's the good part. The bad part is that the remnants of hydraulic work — dirt, oil, dust — are painfully present in almost every corner of the building, and it will be no small task to scour them clean so the walls can be a proper home to a business that is utterly dependent on good sanitation practices.

But at least now Francis has something tangible to start molding into a real brewery, piece by piece.

"The first day, I came in here and sat down," says Mike. "And then I was like, what do I do first? I could do this; I could do that. There's so much stuff to do. Some days it's been a bit overwhelming."

Despite the daunting task before him, Mike has a plan, just like he's had from day 1. For starters, he's talking with construction contractors about some physical modifications to the building. The large, open rooms that will contain the mash tuns and the fermentation tanks will need some serious floor work to create the sloping floors devoid of cracks that are best for wet environments that must be easy to clean. And the front entrance of the building, including the 2nd floor loft that overlooks the future fermenting room, needs major work to make it into a comfortable and convivial tasting room where Francis can showcase his beer and welcome its devotees.

To make that beer, however, Mike still needs equipment. Although he's moved all of his current homebrewing equipment, refrigerators, and cornelius kegs to the new site, they are obviously only good for small pilot batches. To go commercial, he knows he needs to think in terms of barrels instead of gallons, and he's settled on a 15-barrel system to start, which will include a 15-barrel mash tun, two 15-gallon fermenters, and two 30-gallon fermenters. The problem right now is finding that system.

"I've been looking on the Internet and everywhere else to try to find some existing equipment up for sale," he says. "I've also been talking to suppliers about new equipment. There's not a lot of stuff floating around out there right now because there are a lot of breweries opening up across the country. At this point, I still don't know which way I'm going to go, but I need to know by June 15th."

If he can find used equipment by that date, he'll save some money and time. In the event he doesn't, which seems more likely at this point, he's looking at a 2 to 2 1/2 month wait for the equipment to be fabricated and delivered. Although there will still be plenty of construction-related work to take care of during that time, a September delivery could easily put a crimp in Mike's target date for production, but this is one case where he's really at the mercy of the beer gods.

In the meantime, Mike continues to fine tune his recipes, although he's now doing it in his new digs and with the Garden City municipal water to which he's now married. It might not have the same panache as the Tumwater River ("It's the water") or Coors' famed Rocky Mountain water, but a little carbon filtering and water additions should make it work just fine. It's really too bad he couldn't just tap into a line from the Rocks Water folks up toward Idaho City. I think that's a marketing partnership that could definitely sell beer.

So if you want to talk to Mike these days, I think you'll know the best place to start looking for him. And when you find him there, I'll wager a fair sum that one of the first things he does is offer you a draft beer, even if you work for the city, county, state, or federal government and are intentionally or unintentionally making his business venture a tad more difficult to get started. In the end, all brewers know that good beer makes everything go a little more smoothly, and a whole lot of smoothness is what Mike Francis needs in the next four months.

Brewed Awakening - The Birth of Payette Brewing: