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2017: The year in beer

Clockwise from top left: Hayden's Bombastic was one of a handful of breweries to launch in Spokane and Kootenai counties; Millwood Brewing looks to become the first newcomer of 2018; Orlison brewer Rachel Nalley receives a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival; the local brewing community was shocked by the untimely death of Iron Goat co-founder Paul Edminster.

The past year in local craft beer saw more breweries opening and in progress (along with a few closures), some new approaches to brewing and continued recognition regionally and nationally:

• The number of breweries nationwide soared past the 6,000 mark, and Spokane and Kootenai counties chipped in with a handful of newcomers – though none followed the traditional stand-alone taproom model.

TT’s Old Iron became the third brewer sharing space in Spokane’s downtown brewery incubator and adjoining Steel Barrel bar. Genus launched as the in-house small-batch brewery at the Nu Home Brew supply shop in Spokane Valley.

Beers by another pair of smaller new Spokane breweries, Four-Eyed Guys and Bottle Bay, are available only at select bars and restaurants on an occasional basis.

And in North Idaho, Hayden-based Bombastic introduced its creative lineup through limited distribution and bottle releases while launching a membership-based barrel-aged series.

• New breweries haven’t abandoned taprooms. After more than a year of distribution to build its brand, Whistle Punk opened its downtown Spokane location in May, and more are on the way for 2018.

Millwood Brewing aims to open sometime next month in the former Cunningham photo studio just west of Argonne on Frederick, while Mountain Lakes looks to launch by March downtown at Riverside and Browne.

Grain Shed also plans a March opening as part of a bakery/brewery complex in the South Perry District using locally grown grains. Snow Eater is shooting to open by summer in Liberty Lake.

In North Idaho, Rathdrum’s Westwood Brewing plans to add a brewery to its current restaurant operation next spring, while work continues on home-based Bent Tree in Athol. And two new breweries, Matchwood and Utara, are taking shape in Sandpoint.

• While  the number of breweries keeps climbing, the growth in craft beer sales is slowing down – leading to predictions of a shakeout as competition increases and the market tightens.

Since mid-October, three area breweries have closed their doors for various reasons: Slate Creek in Coeur d’Alene, Downdraft in Post Falls and New Boundary in Cheney (though Downdraft is teasing an apparent reopening).

River City announced it will close its downtown taproom at year’s end to focus on distributing its beer and beginning to bottle. But while taproom traffic was down, the brewery says, overall sales are stronger than ever.

• India pale ales remain king across the country but sour beers keep growing in popularity, a trend that continues to take hold here. Most local breweries have produced quicker kettle sours – typically fruit-flavored – while a few, including Iron Goat and Young Buck, have launched longer-term barrel-aged sour programs.

IPAs have their own new wrinkle with cloudy, juicy New England-inspired versions. The “haze craze” also has caught on locally, with some brewers offering unfiltered variations on more standard recipes and others experimenting with special yeasts and techniques for a more authentic East Coast approach, like Perry Street with its yearlong series.

And IPAs of all sorts saw a new layer with the introduction of lupulin powder – concentrated hop oils and resins, marketed as Cryo Hops – which provide pungent aromas and flavors.

• Bellwether boosted locally grown and malted grains with festivals featuring Purple Egyptian barley in February, Scots Bere in August and both in November with the help of a half-dozen guest breweries. And it continued to educate its audience about Old World styles with its Gruitfest in February and Braggotfest in June.

• For the second straight year, a local brewery brought home a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s biggest beer event.

Orlison earned top honors among English-style brown ales for its Boulder Garden Brown, following in the footsteps of Perry Street, which won gold for its Session IPL (India pale lager) in 2016. Only two other area breweries have accomplished the feat since the competition began 30 years ago: No-Li in 2012 and the former Coeur d’Alene Brewing back in 1988.

In other competitions, Inland Northwest breweries bagged nine medals at the Washington Beer Awards, including two golds for River City and one each for Orlison (for Boulder Garden), Bellwether and Kettle Falls’ Northern Ales.

At the annual North American Beer Awards in Idaho Falls, Laughing Dog, MickDuff’s and Wallace Brewing won gold while Wallace and Selkirk Abbey snagged silvers.

No-Li continued its international success with a bronze from the Brussels Beer Challenge, and silver and bronze at the Australian International Beer Awards.

And Manito Tap House was named Washington’s best beer bar in an online poll conducted by the Brewers Association.

• Local beer festivals kept growing. The Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival had another record attendance in its fourth year at Avista Stadium (and eighth overall), while the Spokane Brewers Festival featured an expanded lineup of 40 breweries and cideries for its second year at the Spokane Arena. No-Li’s FrostFest small-batch festival moved to the Arena for year two and drew more than 2,000 people with its winter carnival atmosphere.

• A pair of Spokane craft beer bars got brighter new looks under new owners, with The Viking reopening after extensive renovations and the former Jones Radiator reborn as Community Pint. In North Idaho, Coeur d’Alene Brewing founder T.W. Fisher got back in the game with his Midtown Pub.

• And on a final, sad note, the local beer community lost a quiet but significant pioneer with the passing of Iron Goat co-founder Paul Edminster from complications of cancer at age 51.