Brewery Business Growing in Idaho

The recession did not curb the growth of alcoholic beverage manufacturers in Idaho. Breweries, distilleries and wineries were already making a mark 20 years ago in the state, but the business has taken off in specific regions since.

Southwestern Idaho has the highest payrolls and average employment for wineries and breweries, but the distillery business is still strongest in the eastern part of the state where fermented potatoes are made into vodka.

Southeastern Idaho is the only region without any alcoholic beverage manufacturing on an industry scale.

North central Idaho is gaining ground in both brew pubs and wineries. It is working through the process of obtaining an American Viticultural Area designation – a federally recognized wine grape-growing region.

The state had an alcoholic beverage manufacturing payroll of $8.7 million in 2013, up 22 percent from just one year earlier.


According to the Brewers Association, Idaho ranked 37th in 2013 in the nation for production of craft beer. Where Idaho stands out is the number of breweries per 100,000 drinking-age residents – ninth in the nation. Microbreweries and craft beer are the trend both nationally and in Idaho. Even growlers, the half-gallon brown-tinted bottles, are being refilled from rotating selections of craft beers at convenience and grocery stores throughout Idaho. The Brewers Association, an advocacy group for the country’s 2,300 craft brewers, defines a microbrewery as independent operations producing 6 million or fewer barrels a year of beer made traditionally with fermented grain. Most craft beers incorporate local fruits, herbs and, in some cases, organic produce to set them apart even more. The majority of brewpubs and breweries in Idaho produce several hundred barrels a year while some with regional distribution turn out up to 2,000 barrels annually.

Brewer infographic

(Click on images for a larger view.)

Supply Chain

Idaho sells most of its barley to large brewers like Anheuser Busch, Corona and Coors, which have malting plants in Idaho. According to the Idaho Barley Commission, the state is the largest barley producer in the nation at 58 million bushels in 2013. Three-quarters of that production was malting barley. Craft beer brewers reportedly use 25 percent of the nation’s barley.

Northern and southwestern Idaho also produce hops, which add that tangy or bitter flavor to beer and act as a stabilizing agent binding the ingredients together.


Brewery table 1

Twenty-five- to 34-year-olds, often known as millennials, seem to be most interested in craft or specialty beer, and they are also often involved in the locavore movement that favors food grown locally. The breweries tend to use many locally grown ingredients in providing regional and seasonal tastes for their beers – pumpkins, cherries, apricots, wheat and herbs.

In employment reports filed with the Idaho Department of Labor, businesses in northern and southern Idaho have identified themselves as brewers for as long as 22 years. Eastern Idaho, where much of Idaho’s malting barley is grown, joined their ranks a decade ago and saw employment in the sector double in 10 years.

Southwestern Idaho has the largest concentration today with three new breweries opening in 2013, bringing the total to eight. In addition there are businesses classified as full-service restaurants that also brew their own beer but make a majority of their money from food.

A side benefit to some of the businesses has been brewpub and winery tours.

Brewery pie

Brewery Jobs – Staffing Patterns

The types of jobs created by a brewery are similar to any manufacturing business – moving raw products in, processing them into a value-added product and then transporting the product to wholesalers and retailers. In the case of microbreweries, farmers’ markets and specialty grocery stores attract consumers who enjoy sampling new products and being educated on products and their ingredients. Most of these jobs pay more than Idaho’s median wage of $15.14 an hour for all jobs, and they are expected to increase at a rate faster than the economy overall.

Brewery table 2

Growth prospects for breweries over the next 10 years are strong as craft beers continue growing in popularity, expanding offerings and reaching into nontraditional markets., regional economist
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