I enjoyed a recent trip back “home” to St. Louis, where I remember the fact that STL’s brewing scene is among the best and deepest in the country. While new entries into the market have seemingly slowed in the COVID era (after a decade of non-stop growth) the town continues to make great, varied beer within the same market as the birthplace of Anheuser-Busch.
Arriving in Salt Lake City in 2022, I’ve become a semi-regular at Proper, Epic, RoHa, Fisher, TF Brewing and Kiitos quickly enough, with single passes through a large number of other spots— just last week, I finally checked the downtown location of Shades off of the list, after visiting Strap Tank the weekend before. So many brewpubs, so little time! Without any knowledge of Salt Lake’s brewing scene prior to arrival, these trips have been a welcome way to learn the city and its neighborhoods, while sampling from food trucks all along the way.
If you enjoy craft beer, making a pilgrimage to cities great and small is a nice way to find yourself finding pockets of a town you might not consider otherwise. Over this past weekend, our car was pointed north, heading to the southeastern Idaho towns of Pocatello and Idaho Falls. With parts of three days to enjoy the two cities with 50,000(ish) population, we sampled the wares of a half-dozen microbreweries, as well as the in-house food options at some. As a caveat, my pen wasn’t out at all times, preferring to live in semi-vacation mode, so we’ll skip the IBUs, AVBs and price points, while still giving at least a little color on the vibe of each location.
Star Route Brewery (218 N. Main St., Pocatello, 208-252-1591): Arriving in town on a Friday night and with an AirBnB booked on the edge of town, it seemed smart to head right into the action of downtown. So we alighted to Pocatello’s historic Old Town, where we were greeted by a largely-intact group of facades and storefronts—the ravages of disinvestment that’s affected many American small towns may’ve touched this place, but a lot less so than other li’l cities. This was a cool landing spot to begin a weekend.
Star Route’s affiliated with a restaurant under the same roof, Villano’s Italian, which provides food service for the brewery. As the name suggests, the fare here is pizza-centric along with sandwiches and a small selection of salads. The barroom’s also attached to a large patio—on this night, the Aaron Ball Band was playing to a good-sized audience, with the patio doors kicked open on a beautiful summer’s evening. The bar itself serves from in-house brews, as well as popular favorites, with beers from across the light-to-dark spectrum represented. The beer was fine, the food was okay, the environment was fun enough. I wish this’d been a home run, but it was a solid, line drive single, at the very least. So, Star Route was a solid way to start the evening and a simple hop-skip from…
Off The Rails Brewing (228 S. Main St., Pocatello, 208-904-0212): With a small patio out front, Off The Rails Brewing makes itself known along the main drag of Old Town. Unlike their neighbor down the block, which features outdoor live music, this spot has the sounds emanating from inside, with a local group called Sons of Bannock bringing their country- and rock-tinged bluegrass to a good-sized audience on this night. Like Star Route, the hours at these Pocatello brewpubs are relatively short, so keep an eye on last calls if you’re hitting town during the evening hours, lest you go without.
As we’d eaten at the friendly competitor down the block, we passed on food and went directly to the tap handles, where about a dozen house brews were available—a fridge next to the bar offered some as take-home canned options, as well. We opted for a round apiece, then decided to share a quick one before close. That vanilla cream ale turned out to be the best beer of the evening. With good service, music at a conversational volume and a location that allows for a leisurely walk down Main, this choice worked out quite nicely.
Portneuf Valley Brewing (615 S. 1st Ave., Pocatello, 208-232-1644): Located in an industrial section of town near the railyards, Portneuf Valley’s tucked away from the main action in Pocatello, though in a town of this size it’s really only a few minutes from the other breweries. As we’d eaten a pretty large late brunch at an old-school diner named Elmer’s, we passed on the little-bit-of-everything menu and sat at the pub’s small bar for a single round and impromptu conversations with the staff and customers.
As the place crams a lot of elements into a relatively-thin space, the pub’s got a kitchen, production house, dining room, bathrooms and bar all tucked into a slim, shotgun-style layout. Like the other locations we visited, this brewery aims for a bit of everything, with options from across the taste spectrum, often giving a slightly-naughty naming flair. The beer was fine, service was quite friendly and the space was a pleasing, dark, cave-like vibe on a super-sunny afternoon. This would be a decent location to alight if you visited the nearby Museum of Clean, which provided plenty of discussion fodder.
Idaho Brewing Company (775 S. Capital Ave., Idaho Falls, 208-534-7232): Located not far from the Snake River and Idaho Falls’ downtown, this smaller brewpub was a bit tricky to find. The GPS looped us through some under-construction gravel streets before we landed in the parking lot. The initial trickiness was offset by a friendly bartender and a mellow patio scene, some of which is under-the-stars, some within a greenhouse-like canopy. There was no live music on this night, but a stage was outside and we sensed, from eavesdropping on our neighbors, that a band may’ve canceled. Alas.
The lineup here was, once again, covering all the basics and the house porter was a decent choice for a single round here. On another night with less ground to cover and a bit more social activity taking place at IBC, another pint might’ve been ordered. A picture-perfect night, though, called for one more, which was enjoyed at…
Snow Eagle Brewing & Grill (455 River Pkwy., Idaho Falls, 208-557-0455): If Idaho Brewing is close to the Snake River (which you can kinda sense is near, though you can’t quite see the real splendor), then Snow Eagle significantly ups the ante. A couple of outdoor tables are just yards away from the site of Taylor’s Bridge, the Snake River-spanning 19th-century marker that accelerated this town’s growth of yore. From the exterior of the place, you can hear the roaring, namesake falls. And even if those tables are occupied, you’ve got a big, multi-use dining room to sit in, featuring everything from brewing tanks to an open kitchen; a sushi bar and giant Christmas tree festooned with American flags; countless sports flags and an immaculately-clean bartop fish tank. There’s a lot happening here!
We opted for the very different options of Japanese rice lager and a barleywine and both delivered. Because we arrived close-ish to the 9 p.m. closure, the staffers dipped out for a pre-close smoke, so a second (and probably unneeded) round wasn’t ordered. This actually gave us a chance to cross the bridge and wander downtown, which was a perfect way to wrap the night in a beautiful, busy little corner of Idaho Falls.
Jim Dandy Brewing (305 E. Lander St., Pocatello, 208-240-0470): Heading back south after a lazy morning in Idaho Falls, it made perfect sense to find ourselves at one more brewpub before arriving back in Salt Lake City. And Pocatello’s Jim Dandy wound up being the highlight of our trip. Located in a pocket of downtown called the Iron Triangle, Jim Dandy was just a tad off-the-beaten-path, but was super-worth the trip, especially as a Pocatello-based food truck called Thanks A Brunch was onsite to provide perfectly-right-on breakfast sandwiches.
A crazy breeze sent us inside after a few minutes of dining on the well-appointed patio, but even 10 minutes outside convinced us that this was probably among the best spots to sit, chat and enjoy a drink in this town. Inside, too, was a nice barroom, with plenty of seating at the bar and at two- and four-tops. In combination with the better-than-expected food, the beer here was the best that we’d enjoyed over our three-day weekender and we’d give a pair of thumbs-up to the IPAs here. Every spot on this trip offered at least one cool element (whether music, views, beer, et al.). This place, though, hit all the right notes.