Bear Island Finds Growth Through Garage Brewing

You may wonder, why start a brewery in a residential two-car garage?

Well, why did New Belgium Brewing start in its basement? Why did Apple, Amazon, Disney, Google and Harley Davidson (to name a few) start in their garages?

The reason is so they could begin.

Developing a business for your first time based on a passion, while having very little capital, points to a creative solution equals our garage start-up.

Bear Island Brewing Company is a 3.5-barrel brewery operated out of our two-car residential garage in Boise, Idaho. We like to call it “Boise’s Biggest Little Brewery.”

It is owned and operated by my husband Steve and I, both proud U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Veterans (aka Navy bomb squad). We fully funded our operation with our savings and continue to add on to it via sales.

While Steve runs the day-to-day brewing operations as the Lead Brewing Officer (LBO) so that I can do sales, distribution, events and other business, I am the Chief Brewing Officer (CBO).

My experience comes from almost six years of homebrewing, an apprenticeship, the Siebel Institute of Technology and continuing education through conferences and literature.

Bear Island specifically started in our garage to afford the opportunity to develop our brews and brand to create a public following.  After being a successful operation for a year and a half, we are currently in search of the right commercial location for expansion. Craft beer continues to surge in our country with about two breweries opening each day so keeping up with the competition requires growth. However, keep in mind that there are more than 8,000 wineries in the U.S. so there is still quite a bit of room to grow, especially in the local scene.

To stay relevant in the market and pursue our dream further, Bear Island is planning the upcoming brewery move to include a taproom and packaging.

We also have unique events and special release beers in the bank to create excitement as we go along.

We are extremely ambitious to collaborate and compete with fellow breweries to do our part in helping this wonderful craft beer industry grow further, utilizing the quote: “A rising tide raises all ships.”

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Our garage brewery is a great start and a unique operation, but it cannot house the bear in hibernation forever.

The main inspiration for recipe formulation usually comes in odd forms.

Bear Island’s signature IPA, “Idaho® Potato Ale” comes from when I ran out of grain on deployment (yes, I was brewing in my room) and out of necessity held to my Idaho roots by using Russet potatoes as the starch base.  After seeing what the potatoes could contribute, when back home I began trial batching with the proper addition of grain and hops to come up with the perfect balance for our IPA.

Our autumn seasonal is a Belgian Imperial Pumpkin Ale crafted from my grandma’s pumpkin cookie recipe. Our Pale Ale has a subtle hint of jalapenos because I brewed it for a Navy BBQ and wanted it to go well with food.

There are other upcoming brews that were inspired by something that smelt lovely or an interesting sauce that my cousin threw together for a wing-off competition, etc.

You never know where the inspiration can come from, but once it’s found, we’ve got to go with it.

After being inspired to create recipes and turn those ideas into great beer, it is imperative to communicate it to the public.

Bear Island’s garage brewery doesn’t have a taproom because of our city’s legal restrictions. This provides a challenge to maximizing our profits as well as getting in front of the consumers.

However, we do not let it deter us from getting our story out. I run all over town to introduce bar managers and patrons alike to what Bear Island Brewing is all about. Our story of who we are and what we stand for is also communicated in our logo: It’s a dog tag shape to indicate we are Veterans; the Idaho State symbol resides in the background behind the bear to signify our locality; and the name ‘Bear Island’ comes from a family story which is explained on our website (

We seize the opportunities to introduce everyone we come into contact with to our brand. Marketing is as easy as communicating your story to the public and getting them as excited about it as you are, and then quality beer really backs that up.
We’ve found that our local community has been very supportive in who we are and what we are trying to accomplish.

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