Boise Brewpub Tour

Brewed Awakening - The Birth of Payette Brewing, Part 4

Originally published 04/11/2011

It doesn't smell like beer yet in the Payette Brewing facility, but if what you can see and hear is any indication, the scent of suds can't be far away.

New outside signage

When we first met with owner and brewmaster Mike Francis back in January of 2010, his goal was to be brewing commercially by the end of that same year. It was an ambitious goal, considering he had nowhere to do such brewing, no permits, and no equipment. At this point it's pretty obvious that he didn't make his goal, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.

As December of 2010 faded, Francis was still looking at an empty brewing room, other than the 5-gallon pilot system he'd been using from the beginning to formulate his recipes. In preparation for the big tanks that were supposed to be there by then, the brewing room had been painted months ago. The floor had been refinished and sloped so gravity would take liquids to the new drainage system that had been constructed. Concrete curbing had also been laid to keep liquids from overflowing into the non-wet areas of the room. But there were still no shining silver vessels to be seen, and no piping, no hoses, and no control boards. The room still had much of the cavernous look it had since day one.

Keg stickers

   Custom tap handle

After months of waiting, the commercial equipment that Francis had ordered in the summer of 2010 simply never materialized. Despite Mike's patient impatience with the equipment manufacturer and distributor, he eventually realized the stuff he ordered was not going to show up in this century, and that he needed to go to plan B. In January he canceled his initial order, opting to start over again with a different manufacturer. In years past it wouldn't have been such a big deal to find some different equipment, but one of the few downsides to the explosion of craft brewing, at least for aspiring brewmasters, is that things like 15- and 30-barrel fermenting tanks have become impossible to find on the resale market. But this is where Mike finally caught a break, sort of. The new equipment company said they had a set of equipment that he could buy, but it wouldn't be available until after it was used as a display model at the Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco in late March. Francis didn't blink. Sure it would mean another three months of waiting, but given what he had already been through, he seized the opportunity and laid down some cash. He knew it was for real when he went to the conference.

"It was kind of cool to walk into the room and say, 'Hey, that's my equipment'," he says.

His wait finally came to an end on Monday, March 28th. That's the day the first large truck pulled up outside the Payette Brewing facility with real, actual, honest-to-goodness brewing equipment. Mike says that with the help of a crane, it wasn't much of a task to get a mash tun, boil kettle, 15-barrel fermenting tank, 30-barrel fermenting tank, and a brite tank into the brewing room and in their proper upright positions.

For Mike, stainless steel never looked so good

   30- and 15-barrel fermenting tanks

This is where some of his preparation finally paid off. In order to get the layout right and have no surprises, Mike had previously sent the equipment dimensions and a CAD drawing of the building to his architect, who mapped it all out. The end result is that it all went into place without any problems, and the room actually looks like a brewery now instead of a big empty warehouse. Perhaps more importantly, it's also filled with the sound of equipment being adjusted, configured, and connected.

At this point Mike has a little help. In addition to some friends he has drafted into doing whatever needs to be done, a technician for the equipment manufacturer flew in to help with the logistics and finer points of getting the equipment up and running. As you might guess, Mike's trying to push through this process as quickly as possible and be making beer for real by May 1st, although the local government still must have its final say as to the readiness of the gas, water, electrical, sewage, and HVAC systems before he's technically in business. And everyone knows how cooperative those folks can be.

Mike and friend configure the mash tun and boil kettle

There's still work to be done, yes, but with the finished look of the tasting room, the custom tap handles installed at the bar, the pallet of grain in his mill room, the stack of empty kegs, and those big, beautiful vessels now overshadowing it all, the scent of a good beer is coming. There's no denying it now.

Brewed Awakening - The Birth of Payette Brewing: