Craft Beer Event: Brew at the Zoo

Craft Beer Event: Brew at the Zoo, 5.0 out of 5 based on 5 ratings
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Craft Beer Event: Brew at the Zoo

There are a few staples that come with a beer festival. Tons of local breweries, reps handing out schwag, some limited releases and specialties, etc. The venue is usually fine, but rarely a highlight of the event. However, when you change that up and bring the beer to an already fun place, it just gets that much better. And when you subtract the presence of children, you can have a pretty awesome time. Late this summer the IBU set out to create such an event with Brew at the Zoo.

Brew at the Zoo is new to the Treasure Valley this year and, as such, I had some skepticism going in. Ticket prices were a bit on the high side, though the event included unlimited tastings as well as “small appetizers” which certainly helped justify the bill. They also offered a 6 pack that knocked $10 off of each ticket if you could find 5 friends to tag along. The event was put on by IBU (Idaho Brewers United), which is an organization that has shown itself to be focused on the beer and the brewers instead of a quick buck. So on the surface it had some serious potential.

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No Beer for You Mr. Goat

When we arrived at Zoo Boise (my wonderful wife was kind enough to take the designated driver ticket, which included root beer, the small appetizers, and of course, zoo time sans kids) the newness of the event became more apparent. The line was long and a tad unorganized, snaking through the parking lot which was slowly emptying of zoo patrons and refilling with drinkers. Luckily everyone was courteous and once the gates were opened an orderly progression into the zoo began.

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Festival Goers in the Main Zoo Corridor

I showed my ID, donned my giraffe print wrist band, picked up my small (~4oz) plastic taster cup, and proceeded into the main corridor of the zoo. My wife grumbled and showed me her hand, on which one of the IBU reps had drawn a frowny face to indicate that she was a DD. I hope they rethink that next year, as designated drivers should be lauded and high-fived, no bad vibes needed. The lines in the opening area were long and immediately a bit off putting, but as we walked deeper into the exhibits, the advantages of the layout became immediately apparent. There were 32 total breweries that were split up into a number of different areas, which meant the lines shrunk to almost nothing with a few short minutes of walking. I picked up a sample of Woodland Empire’s whiskey barrel aged mild and started hunting for food.

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Don’t Mind that T-Rex

The aforementioned small appetizers were actually fairly generous, multiple locations had them available and they included a mashed potato bar, bruschetta, and chicken kabobs which miraculously morphed into chicken nuggets later in the evening. Laugh all you want, chicken nuggets slathered in teriyaki sauce are bloody delicious. Bittercreek Alehouse also brought some food, including some very tasty Thai meatballs. All in all plenty adequate for a beer festival, though I’ll admit I made the mistake of not having a big enough meal beforehand.

The beers were varied, the bigger breweries were perhaps overly cautious and brought beers that can easily be purchased at most local stores, but the smaller guys really brought their A-games. Salmon River Brewing had 4 beers on tap that I hadn’t even heard of, much less tasted. Their ginger plum ale was very unique and quite tasty. Laughing Dog brought De Achtste Hond, a wonderful apricot sour. The Deschutes guys didn’t even blink when I asked them to pour me a half and half of Mirror Mirror and Not The Stoic. Each brewery had at least 2 beers on tap, but many brought up to 4, putting the total available at somewhere near 80.

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Thirsty Serval

All of this leads me to my one minor gripe, which is also a compliment: all of the taster pours I had were the full 3-4oz of the taster mug. For the majority of the unlimited tasting type events I’ve attended, pours would be 1-2 oz to keep people from being overserved. These larger pours were obviously not a terrible thing, but did make me quite happy I had a designated driver in tow as I was not in any shape to drive by the end of the festival. I did manage to talk my way into a nice No Li sign on the way out, which is pretty awesome. Apparently I’m a good negotiator when I’m buzzed.

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Giant Flemish Rabbits.  Seriously, Google them.

The beers and food were great, but the zoo aspect really sealed the deal. Without any kids running around, the whole place was just a blast. There were zoo volunteers throughout the facility that were quite friendly and informative. They were happy to discuss the animals and the exhibits and they were great sports in dealing with the hordes of less than sober patrons. The animals were mostly out and about, and from what I saw the festival goers were quite respectful of them. We did leave a bit before the official end, but with any luck that trend held and the zoo didn’t have to deal with any drunk animals after the gates closed, human or otherwise.

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One of the Many Occupants of Butterflies in Bloom

A special bonus was the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit, this was the last weekend it was open and the zoo was kind (and trusting) enough to keep it open for the festival. The exhibit is set back in a dead end area so it wasn’t crowded at all, we were able to get right in. Again, the volunteers were great, standing by to answer any and all questions about the butterflies while politely keeping anyone from getting too rowdy and hurting the little guys. I’ve been through this exhibit before with kids in tow, and though that was enjoyable, it’s just so much more relaxing to have place to yourself.

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Eyeballing that Tasty Tree

Aside from a few minor growing pains, this was an awesome brew fest. It felt genuine, like the organizers were in it for the beer, not the money. It also highlights what I hope becomes a trend, the combination beer festival. It’s great to go to a festival that’s all about beer, but adding another aspect to that takes it to the next level and makes it both a wonderful event and a great date. I really hope this festival sticks around and becomes an annual staple, because I’m certainly in for next year. Until next time, Skål.


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