Boise Brewpub Tour

Table Rock Brewpub - Time Tested Tastiness

Every time I go to Table Rock, I end up telling myself that I should go there more often. They have tasty pub food and the place is conveniently located close to downtown, which makes it an ideal place to slake your appetites before a game or a movie. They also have a popcorn machine that tends to be full of fresh, hot popcorn that you can help yourself to. But more than anything else, I love Table Rock for the beer. I've had many a discussion with fellow beer-swillers in this here valley, and I always proclaim that, in terms of overall variety and quality, I think Table Rock is the best brewery in town.

Table Rock has a good sampler tray, just don't get hung up on the presentation. You'll get 3-oz. samples of whatever they've got on tap, with each small glass placed on a paper grid that indicates which beer is which. Some squares come pre-labelled with the beer name, but there also might be a scribble or two for their seasonals and one-offs. Although it's not the prettiest sampler tray you'll ever get, the important part is that they are all labeled so you don't have to play the game I call Beer Memory. The end result is that comparing brews is easy.

On a recent visit, I discovered the downside of the fact that Table Rock makes the greatest variety of beer in these parts: unfortunately, they don't have all of their beers on tap at the same time, which means you never know what you'll get on the sampler tray. One of my favorite beers of theirs, the Winter Cheer, was no longer available. It's a big dark beer that certainly takes the chill out of a cold night, and it's rumored that they'll likely cut you off if you try to have more than two pints of the stuff in a single drinking session. It's understandable that the beer was no longer available, considering that winter was beginning to give way to spring. But there was also nary a wheat beer in sight, which is unusual considering that the White Bird Wheat has always been a fixture in their lineup. Also missing was a pale ale, a regular IPA, or any of the Hopzilla-type concoctions they've become known for over the years.

I chalked up these omissions to a bit of bad luck, and I was also willing to go with the flow because I appreciate a chance to sample some new stuff. One of their newer concoctions, a spring/summer seasonal named Orange Blossom Special, I'd sampled the previous summer and found to be thoroughly delightful, so I enjoyed the chance to revisit the novel concoction. Despite being served with a huge orange slice and being brewed with orange blossom honey and orange peel, the orange flavor and aroma is subtle and very enjoyable, and I'd take a pint of it on most any occasion. Interestingly, they'd been playing around with the hopping for this beer, and an additional beer on the sampler was the Orange Blossom Special with Galaxy hops. The addition/substitution of these assertive New Zealand hops added an extra dimension of fruitiness to the beer, but the sample I had was woefully undercarbonated and was nearly flat by the time I finished it. Tisk, tisk.

Another of their beers to hit the taps in recent years has been their Idaho Gold, a German-style light lager. I enjoyed this beer on its own, with it light crispness and lovely hop flavor from good ol' noble German hops, but it became even better when paired with their Banger and Mashers dinner and its heaping helping of sauerkraut. Those darn Germans might just know what they're doing when it comes to the lager-and-kraut combo, but we've still got to keep our eyes on them, lest they start another world war. I can think of many a hot summer day where a growler of the Idaho Gold would've hit the spot and then some.

Although the Idaho Gold currently serves as Table Rock's light lager, I kinda miss a former light lager beer of theirs named Woodpecker Light. I don't miss it because it was a great beer or anything -- it was very reminiscent of the prominent adjunct-riddled products that spew out of St. Louis and Milwaukee. No, I miss it because it reminds me of a story. One time I was at Table Rock with an acquaintance who had a problem with the Woodpecker Light, calling it worse than Budweiser. I took this as a personal insult, because my well-known credo is that you can urinate in any microbrewed beer and it would still be better than Budweiser. I posited that, yes, they probably use some flaked corn or rice in the beer to lighten it, but there was still quite a bit more taste that a macrobrew. In the end, we decided to settle the dispute in our normal fashion: he had two minutes to get our waitress to say "nut muffins" without instructing her to do so. When our waitress came back to the table, he tried his darndest to get her to say those very words, but the best he could do was get her to say "We don't have muffins here." So he lost, which proved that the Woodpecker Light was not worse than Budweiser.

Some of Table Rock's other newer beers I'm not a fan of, and it's not necessarily because they're poorly made. Their so-called 'Cascadian dark ale', while perhaps a fine example of the style, still can't overcome the fact that the style in question is an absolute abomination. Mouth-puckering bitterness and intense roastiness don't go together like hippies and patchouli, no matter what some people in the Northwest say. This is a style that needs to go away quickly because I'm tired of it occupying taps that are better used for beers that aren't merely showing off a fancy dark label and prolonging a stupid fad.

Speaking of which, I've got a similar rant for the whole Gluten-free beer thing. Table Rock, perhaps to complement their gluten-free food menu, or perhaps to cater to the untold masses of celiac-averse folks in the area (yeah, right; the place is just crawling with them), created a gluten-free beer which was available recently. The truth about gluten-free beers is that there is no such thing as a good gluten-free beer; there are only degrees of suckiness. Go to a brewpub that makes a gluten-free beer and look around at tables when people leave. If someone ordered a sampler at that table, the gluten-free beer will always be about one sip short of a full glass, and the remaining sampler glasses will be empty. Always. I've tasted a gluten-free beer that won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, and it was a bad, bad beer that sucked a little less than all the other gluten-free beers I've ever had. But it was still bad. Every gluten-free beer has what I call a grape Kool-Aid taste to it, and Table Rock's is no different. But Table Rock's also has an unwelcome bitterness in the aftertaste. Gluten-free beers should probably be prohibited by law, because all they do is give sick people false hope. If I had celiac disease, I would never, ever, ever crave a beer enough to think that drinking a pint of gluten-free beer would be a good thirst-quenching dietary decision, and I would resent anyone who made one and tried to peddle it as beer.

But enough of the soap box.

If you're the sort of person who cares about ambiance when you drink, you might have a problem with the layout and decor of Table Rock. Personally I think the ambiance of the place is fine, and again it's really about the beer first and foremost. But looking over the various online comment boards, some people have a real problem with the place's tidy appearance and wide-open feel. If this is your primary concern, you should probably drink more and you'll eventually forget that you're sad the place isn't a dive bar. At the very least, you should remember that the place is a brewery and a restaurant, both of which should be clean and neat for the sake of the product. If you want to drink in a dive bar, just head up the road to the Cactus Bar and be wary of the spirochetes under the bar stools. I'll happily take my hand-crafted ales in a sanitary environment, thank you

As you're imbibing Table Rock's fine products, remember to take a good look through the glass windows behind the bar. That's where the brew kettles loom large, and it's also where the magic happens.

Brewpub: Table Rock Brewpub

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Flavors on the sampler: They make a bunch of different stuff, depending on the season, the moon phase, and the brewers' moods. Be ready to be surprised.
Cost: 3-ounce samples are $1 each. Imperial Pint is $4.25 or more.
Our rating: Yummier than yummy, as long as the beer is made from malted barley