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This story originally appeared as a feature in the 2024 Official Idaho Travel Guide.

The Gem State is dotted with many breweries, taphouses and pubs worthy of a stop—or a session, as brewmasters say. Behind the scenes of some of Idaho’s top breweries, you’ll find talented women in craft beer who are developing unique flavors coupled with stellar vibes. Four remarkable connoisseurs are crafting the future of brewing in Idaho, from intriguing beverages to inviting taprooms.

A woman touching beer brewing equipment.
Penny Pink, Portneuf Valley Brewing, Pocatello. Photo credit: Citizen North.

Penny Pink

Portneuf Valley Brewing | Pocatello

Penny Pink may lovingly call herself Idaho’s “grandmother of brewing,” but her legacy as the state’s first female brewer ensures that Portneuf Valley Brewing isn’t your grandma’s typical watering hole. When Pink and her husband moved to Idaho in 1986, she gifted him a homebrewing kit and then took over the operation when his first round exploded. “Once he discovered the broken glass all over his power tools, he said, ‘You are the one with a degree in microbiology and chemistry—you brew the beer!'” she laughs.

After building her first brewing system out of scrap metal in her driveway and bootstrapping her way into growing the business, Pink unveiled Portneuf Valley Brewing’s first commercial pour in July 1996. Today, the space is equal parts brewery, restaurant and community hub. While you might come for the atmosphere, live music and great food, the diverse beer lineup is undoubtedly the shining star.

Portnuef offers six flagship beers—all of which Pink developed—and a host of seasonal and rotating brews.

“One of the reasons I have brewed a lot of different styles over the years is because I like a diversity of things,” she says. “In the summer, I want light and crisp, and in the winter, I want dark and satisfying. I bring a range of beers to the tap.”

Of her flagship beers, Ligertown Lager and Belligerent Ass remain Pink’s personal favorites. Ligertown is a classic all-malt, all-American pilsner known for its balanced flavor and light body. Belligerent Ass is a nut brown ale that was lovingly named for her husband (a fact he’s quite proud of, Pink confirms). It is brewed from six types of malted barley and two varieties of hops that create a rich, well-rounded beer.

Two women clinking glasses with beer in them with beer brewing equipment surrounding them.
Beth Bechtel & Hailey “Alex” Alexander, Bear Island Brewing Co., Boise. Photo credit: Citizen North.

Beth Bechtel & Hailey “Alex” Alexander

Bear Island Brewing Co. | Boise

Beth Bechtel came to brewing by way of serving her country. After a successful career in personal training and professional boxing, she was looking for her next chapter and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Throughout her travels, she became fascinated with the breadth of beers abroad. “I became a beer geek. The best brown ale I ever had was in Rome, where I had an epiphany that I needed to learn how to brew.”

Fast-forward to 2014, when Bechtel—along with her husband, business partner and fellow Navy veteran, Steve—evolved from brewing in a two-car garage to founding Bear Island Brewing Co. Today, it is housed in the historic Firehouse #6 building in Boise and offers a welcoming “community living room” vibe, Bechtel says. “Beers brings people together. It is our job to craft community.”

Bechtel, who is the CEO and CBO (chief brewing officer), works alongside Hailey “Alex” Alexander, the site’s head brewer. Alexander got her start in the wine industry but soon gravitated toward crafting beer. “I kept finding myself at breweries, learning about beer and drinking beer,” she recounts. “I just love the atmosphere of brewing.”

When it comes to her approach, Alexander explains, “I want to create something that is unique but sessionable, which means you can have more than one, and you want to have more than one.”

While both women gravitate toward Brewhouse #6—a Euro-style pilsner—their go-to brew of choice is Idaho® Potato Ale, the brewery’s flagship IPA. Bechtel crafted this beer out of necessity. “While I was on my final deployment in the Middle East, I ran out of barley and needed a replacement starch to make beer,” she recalls. She describes this juicy, tropical and approachable IPA as “Idaho in a glass.”

A woman standing in a brewery with her arm on a table holding a glass of red-hued beer.
Ginger Cantamessa, Black Lodging Brewing, Coeur d’Alene. Photo credit: Citizen North.

Ginger Cantamessa

Black Lodging Brewing | Coeur d’Alene

Ginger Cantamessa is a self-described beauty-school dropout who found her way to brewing. “The first really good beer I made was a stout,” she says. I realized that (much like processing hair) temperature matters more than you think it does. The adjustments on your grain mill matter—all the things really matter—and everything came together perfectly for that batch.”

Cantamessa had worked at a variety of bars, wineries and pubs but found herself gravitating to the production side. Getting in the weeds with recipes, science and logistics suited her, and a dream of what would become Black Lodge Brewing Brewing took hold. Cantamessa and her husband, Josh, opened the brewery in Coeur d’Alene in 2021, creating a spot that pays homage to the Davide Lynch TV show, Twin Peaks.

“I am a huge David Lynch fan, and I wanted [the brewery] to have [the show’s] ethereal, dreamy pop vibe,” Cantamessa admits. “It’s a very chill, low-key place where you can enjoy good food and good beer.”

A small but mighty brewery, Black Lodge always has one of Cantamessa’s recipes on tap but also serves up a rotating list of other regional craft beers. While you never know what she’s brewing or what you’ll find on tap when you visit, you can be certain it’ll be a nice, clean beer with funky flavors. “I like sours, I like dark beers, I like [beers that] have more depth,” she asserts. “I like some complexity to [them].”

These remarkable women in craft beer have made an indelible impact on the landscape of Idaho brewing, infusing it with their expertise, creativity and hospitality. They inspire others to redefine the craft beer scene in Idaho, while engaging brew enthusiasts and fostering a lasting sense of community.

After you’ve checked out these creative female craft brewers, you can discover more of Idaho’s impressive craft beer scene at breweries across the state.

Kate Hull is a travel and lifestyle writer and editor. She is the co-publisher and editor-in-chief of Powder Mountain Press—the publisher of Teton Valley Magazine based in Driggs. Hull lives in Victor with her husband and young son and enjoys biking, baking and exploring the Teton Mountains.

Published on March 14, 2024