Boise Brewpub Tour

Sockeye Grill & Brewery - A Good Place to Get It in the Can

It's easy to overlook the Sockeye, and I've been guilty of doing it for many a year. It's tucked away on Cole in between Fairview and Ustick, and my initial impression of their beers years ago was that none of them really stood out as exemplary or downright craveable. They're well known for their Dagger Falls IPA, and their web site even proclaims it as "Idaho's #1 Beer". How this assessment was made is beyond me, but I know for a fact that a lot of hopheads in these parts love that particular beer, and they love it even more now that they can get it in cans. Personally, I prefer to keep the enamel on my teeth intact, so I enjoy my IPAs either more toward the English side like Bridgeport IPA or more toward the smooth side like Bell's Two Hearted Ale.

In the name of equal time, I recently decided to revisit the Sockeye to see if their beers or my tastes have changed in the last three years or so. The short answer to that question is no, which still leaves me confident in saying that on the whole their stuff is solid but not spectacular.

I was extremely pleased that two beers they offered on a previous visit -- the Purple Haze Espresso Stout and the Off-Kilter Scottish Ale -- were not on the sampler. You had to really, really, really love coffee/espresso-flavored beers to like their espresso stout, and you can probably tell that I don't. And their Scottish ale was so smoky you couldn't taste the beer behind it, which is always a thumbs down in my book.

Unfortunately, one of the new beers on the sampler turned out to be just as disappointing. Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic, but when I'm presented with something that purports to be a dry Irish stout, I expect something at least vaguely reminiscent of Guinness. The Sockeye's interpretation of the style, dubbed the Deadwood Stout, did not meet these expectations. The mouthfeel was lacking and gave a watery impression. The roastiness was moderate at first but grew overbearing when the sample started to warm. I don't expect all dry-stout brewers to add sour beer or lactic acid to every batch to give it a twang like Guinness does, but in my opinion any good dry Irish stout has to have a palpable body to it, almost as if you can chew it.

But enough with the negative stuff. There are good libations at Sockeye, and the best of the regular lineup is the Powerhouse Porter. Looking back on my notes from my first visit long ago, I had forgotten that I had previously dubbed this beer the best of the bunch as well. This just goes to show that A) their porter has been solid for a long time, and B) my tastes haven't changed much when it comes to Sockeye's beers. The Powerhouse has some faint fruity notes, it's not too roasty, and the mouthfeel is lovely -- no too light and not too heavy. Overall, it's a great beer with the perfect amount of sweetness, and I'm overjoyed that they recently started putting this beer in cans. If you're going to drink a dark beer at the beach, Powerhouse Porter is what you want.

I'm also a huge fan of their maibock, which is a seasonal brew they put out in the spring of 2013. This beer is nothing short of awesomeness, and I wish they would make it year round. The malty character of the beer is superb, and there are days when I crave it around 3 o'clock in the afternoon when I'm trying to hang on until quittin' time. Their maibock's a little darker than you might expect, but don't let that fool you; it's pure beer nirvana in a can. If you're lucky enough to be at sockeye when they've got it, consider yourself lucky and order a pint or two. You will most definitely thank the goddess Ninkasi.

Their lighter-colored beers are also agreeable. The Woolybugger Wheat, an American wheat beer, is a solid brew. It avoids the most common flaw of that style, which is a purposeful lack of discernable flavor that caters to the bland palate of mass consumption. Although the Sockeye's wheat beer doesn't have any of the banana or clove flavors common in tasty German-style hefeweizens, there is still some malt and yeast flavors to be found in it. Moreover, their cream ale has a nice creamy mouthfeel, and my ugly wife took down a pint of it with unusual gusto. Their Galena Summit Kolsch Ale, while lacking a bit of what I consider the signature kolschy taste you get in the best examples of the style, is still a nice clean ale that you might be able to pass off as a lager to some of your uneducated college drinking buddies.

When it comes to sampler trays, the Sockeye is very close to the ideal. First of all, I love the fact that the sampler is only $6. The individual sampler glasses only look to be about two ounces, but if there are ten or so beers on the sampler you're still getting a pretty good deal. Even more remarkable is the fact that the price of the sampler hadn't changed since the last time I was there in 2009. That's unheard of these days.

As for the presentation, the sampler glasses are placed on a colorful description sheet, which is laminated to keep things nice and neat after any accidental spillage. There are small circles on it for each glass, with the name and description of each beer nearby. The problem is that for the non-standard brewer's whims (of which there might be four or more), you are told verbally what each is and are expected to remember based on that. Perhaps you have a better memory that I, but I prefer some labeling, even if it's from a ballpoint pen. If there were only one unmarked brewer's whim, no problem. Two would be pushing it. I firmly believe that the key to a good sampler tray -- besides having one -- is that each beer must be clearly identified. It's not that hard to do, and it makes a big difference to those of us having a good time and sampling all the offerings. After all, my memory's not what it used to be, probably from having too many samplers. I figure I should at least know what's doing the damage.

As far as the non-beer stuff goes at Sockeye, they used to have live music on Tuesday and Friday nights, so you could listen to some live music while enjoying your libations. I think they still have music occasionally, but it doesn't appear that they're doing it on a regular schedule anymore. Also, you're really doing yourself a disservice if you don't try some of their food. My ugly wife is absolutely enamored with their sweet potato fries, calling them the best she's ever had. Believe me, she's eaten enough fries of all sorts to know. Also, you can't go wrong with anything they do involving salmon. Their coho cakes are especially delectable, and the Sockeye is the only place I know of around these parts that uses salmon in their fish-and-chips plate. Believe me, it was quite a pleasant surprise the first time I discovered that fact.

The Sockeye is making a big push to get most of their beers in cans, thanks to their new production facility at Cloverdale and Fairview. They recently released four more beers in cans, including a barleywine and the aforementioned maibock, so they're definitely doing their best to get noticed and establish their place in the market. My advice: pick up a few different cans to pique your interest, and then go to the brewpub and sample it all. You're sure to find something you like.

Brewpub: Sockeye Grill & Brewery

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Flavors on tap: Hell Diver Pale Ale, Dagger Falls IPA, Wooly Bugger Wheat Ale, Powerhouse Porter, plus numerous seasonals and brewer's whims
Cost: Sampler tray of 2-oz samples is $6. Pint is $3.75 or more. Growlers are $18.75 initially and then $14.00 to refill.
My rating: Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick