Brew-ha-ha: Biking to breweries in Boise

September 26, 2016

Mike Francis, a University of Washington graduate and former Boeing engineer, is the beer baron of Idaho. His five-year-old Payette Brewing Co. was Idaho's largest brewer in 2015.

BOISE, Idaho — You’ve got to love a little Kickstarter-funded brewery such as Boise Brewing, with a mezzanine where you can sip an IPA and play foosball while beer is brewing in stainless-steel tanks below you.

And what’s not to like about the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt, a system of paved riverfront biking trails through the city’s center where honking geese and wading herons may be your only company?

Combine the two and you can happily bike between Boise breweries while barely breaking a sweat in this flat expanse that locals call Treasure Valley.

Last time I was in beer-soaked Bend, Ore., brewers there said Boise was the next happening beer town. Now, almost 20 brewers ply their craft in Idaho’s capital city, with more on the way.

Here’s a sample cycling tour taking in three breweries.



Start at Boise Brewing (521 W. Broad St., It’s on the edge of downtown, a few short blocks from the Greenbelt. Tour with a friend or two and tasting flights are the perfect thing (in quantities that won’t make you a hazard to other trail users). You get six 4-ounce pours for $8 here.

New to brew touring? This is a great time to get a tutorial from Erin Hicks, the assistant bar manager. On the board listing beers on tap, ABV stands for alcohol by volume (4 percent is low in a craft ale, 8 percent is high) and IBU stands for international bitterness units, a measure of a brew’s tongue-rousing quality from hops, on a scale of 0 to 100.

Choices on this visit include brews such as the best-selling Hip Check IPA, Snowboarder Porter and Seven Crane Cream Ale. Visiting on a Tuesday? All pints are $2.50.

Hicks can also satisfy your curiosity about the taproom wall covered with brown and blue mugs hanging from pegs.

"All the blue mugs are for people who contributed to our Kickstarter campaign," helping the brewery to open in 2014, "and the brown mugs are for our owners."

With 13 employees, "We’re still small, we all do a little bit of everything," Hicks says.



Ride a block northwest to Capitol Boulevard and follow the sidewalk southwest (street traffic runs one way, against you) until you reach the Greenbelt trail — about four blocks.

Heading northwest along the river, stop in one block to ponder the moving Idaho Anne Frank Memorial, at the end of Eighth Street. Dedicated to human rights worldwide, its stone walls are carved with meaningful quotes from Anne Frank to Chief Seattle.

Continue a half-mile on the path and watch for a right turn to Pioneer Walk. It leads a half-mile through a neighborhood and back into town, depositing you near the cross streets of Myrtle and South 11th. Follow 11th one block to West Front Street and turn left to find funky little Woodland Empire Ale Craft (1114 W. Front St., Employees: 7. Output: about 1,800 barrels a year.

Here you get six 3-ounce pours for $6. Most popular is an IPA called City of Trees — Boise’s nickname.

"It’s a young and lively beer scene in Boise, with a lot of room to grow," says co-owner Keely Landerman, who emphasizes local ingredients for flavoring. That means foraging in the Boise Foothills for rosehips or fruit woods.

Grab lunch from the guy with the ZZ Top beard at Manfred’s (, a recently opened restaurant inside the brewery building, with choices such as the $8 Tacodilla (steak asada, melted cheddar, lime-pickled onion and cabbage, with avocado crema). Let your food settle, then it’s time to earn your final beer stop with an honest bike ride. Where are you going? To prison.


It’s an easy half-hour ride on the Greenbelt southeastward from downtown to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Fans of movies with the word "nightmare" or "Freddy" in the title will love this antique edifice of sandstone and eerie lookout towers nestled among sagebrush at the base of the Boise Foothills. (Visit in late October for the — no kidding — "Frightened Felons" Halloween tour;

Getting there, as the trail skirted the riverbank, I watched Canada geese bodysurfing on spurts of white water. At Warm Springs Park, where the trail edges a marsh, red-winged blackbirds clung to cattails.

Here, go left on a spur trail that skirts backyards and connects with Warm Springs Avenue, just across from Old Pen Road.

The Idaho Historical Society manages the penitentiary, long in disuse. The 1872 structure is open for touring ($3-$6), with attractions ranging from solitary-confinement cells to the old gallows.

Next door, a more family-friendly attraction: the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Follow the trail back, or better yet, get a taste of Boise’s highfalutin’ past with a ride toward downtown on bike-friendly Warm Springs Avenue, a historic district that includes palatial old homes. In about 1.5 miles, turn left on Broadway to return to the Greenbelt.



End your day at the 32,000-square-foot, $4.5 million riverside home of Idaho’s biggest brewer, Payette Brewing (733 S. Pioneer St.,, which relocated here in May. (You passed it earlier, just off Pioneer Walk, a few pedal twirls from the Greenbelt.)

Payette’s owner, Mike Francis, was a Boise boy who went to the University of Washington and then worked for Boeing before choosing a hoppier future. He studied beer making in Chicago and worked at Seattle’s Schooner Exact Brewing before heading back to Idaho to open his own brewery in 2010.

At age 32, he’s the beer baron of Idaho, producing more than 10,000 barrels last year.

His beer is canned, not bottled, "because it fits the Idaho lifestyle," Francis explains. "We like to run the river and you can’t take glass on the river."

Here, sample a food truck while you sip a North Fork Lager and chat up a local about your next Boise adventure: mountain biking the foothills.



Renting bikes

A few rental options in Boise:





Greenbelt map

A map of the Greenbelt is on the city parks website:

Coming event

Boise Brewing hosts Hoptober Freshtival, focusing on fresh-hopped beers from 30-plus local and regional breweries; Oct. 1, noon to 8 p.m., Sixth and Broad streets, Boise;

Mountain biking, too

For more Boise biking, the Ridge to Rivers system includes more than 190 miles of mountain-biking trails in the Boise Foothills;

More information

Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau:




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