Good things come in small packages, and this is not untrue in the brewing world. Unique perspectives and the most creative recipes often transpire from starting small and utilizing on-hand resources. One humble example is Bear Island Brewing in Boise, Idaho, which was established in a two-car garage.
CEO and CBO — chief brewing officer — Beth Bechtel has always been an entrepreneur at heart, and felt called to start her own brewery when she returned home from her career in the Navy – making Bear Island one of the few female-veteran-owned breweries in the country. Though brewing from home hasn’t always been a breeze, Bechtel is constantly inspired by her resourceful nature, her background in service and one of her favorite sayings from Navy training: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
Many of us dream of working from home but Bechtel admits the catch is that you never truly get to “go home” after work. “That is the heart of an entrepreneur anyway and how things get done, but it does make it hard to have a personal life and separate [it] from work,” she adds.
But while the journey to a brewhouse has taken time, working from home has provided invaluable opportunities. Bechtel reaps the benefits of being able to grow her business without debt and instead, focus on the quality of the beer she brews. “We have been able to put profit to good use instead of having to pay back loans or lines of credit,” she says.
Also being put to good use are Idaho’s number one crop: potatoes. Bear Island’s flagship beer is the Idaho Potato Ale, which Bechtel invented from her bedroom while on deployment in the Middle East. With genuine entrepreneurial spirit, she employed what was available – potatoes – when she ran out of barley and needed a replacement starch for her recipe. “Being an Idaho girl, I immediately noticed the russet potatoes at the market across the street and I-P-A became ‘Idaho Potato Ale,’” she recalls.
Bechtel’s Idaho roots inspired her first brew abroad and they continue to influence the brewery back home in Boise. Family – many of Bechtel’s relatives help out at the brewery – and community play a significant role at Bear Island. The team utilizes local ingredients whenever possible and is constantly building relationships with nearby businesses. Fun brews like Lady M, an imperial lavender chocolate stout, and Carriage Ride, an imperial Belgian-style pumpkin ale, are crafted with Idaho produce from Red Chair Lavender Farms in Eagle and Wagner Farms in Meridian. “The relationships we gain are valuable and truly become friendships,” Bechtel says.
Befitting Bear Island’s appreciation for family and community is the brewhouse and taproom, “Firehouse 2 Brewhouse,” which will be housed in an old Boise firehouse and opens later this year. We’re “excited to make it a community haven that honors first responders,” Bechtel says. (Read more about how Bear Island gives back here.)
Even though growth is inevitable once the brewhouse opens, Bechtel is devoted to staying “purposefully small” so that Bear Island can continue to brew quality beer and serve the community first, just as the self-proclaimed “Boise’s Biggest Little Brewery” has from the beginning.