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The final Downdraft

Downdraft is preparing to close its doors after one last fling starting Friday.

Owners of the Post Falls brewery announced a month ago that they couldn’t afford the extra time and money it would take to succeed in an increasingly competitive craft beer market.

So they’re wrapping things up this weekend beginning at 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with more of the beer and merchandise specials that have been offered on a daily basis leading up to the grand finale.

Darker beers and the Project Pale are all gone, but there’s still some Anonymous Amber, Seltice SMaSH, Third Channel IPA and India Rad Red along with a few smaller specialty kegs.

Music will be provided Friday starting at 6:30 by Fair 2 Middlin’, who’ve been around since the brewery opened three years ago. “They told us, well, we’ll have to close down with you guys,” co-owner Aimee Brayman says.

Saturday will feature the Las Brasas Mexican Grill and Iverson’s Smokin Pig BBQ food trucks.

Customer reaction since the closure was announced has been gratifying, she says: “The people that we’ve heard from have all just been super kind. That’s always nice to hear when you’re making a tough decision like that.”

While Downdraft had its best year so far, Brayman says, taproom traffic is unpredictable and it’s hard to nail down tap handles at bars and restaurants with so many breweries in the market.

The biggest issue, she says, has been finding time to make it all work with everyone relying on other jobs as well. (The brewery is listed for sale in case anyone else wants to give it a shot.)    

“None of us has the ability to quit our day jobs and go full-time with the brewery,” Brayman says. “That’s really what you need to be successful. It’s been exhausting – it’s been great, but exhausting.”

They’re particularly proud of the Third Channel, she says: “We’ll put that up against any IPA on the market.”

And they’ll treasure the relationships with other brewers – “We have some great memories sitting in back rooms talking about beer and life” – and with customers.  

“A lot of them have become good friends,” Brayman says. “They’re people who are very important to us.”

Open-and-shut case?

Customers crowd Slate Creek's taproom for its closing night last Wednesday. (Carolyn Lamberson photo)

Two weekends ago, No-Li’s John Bryant participated in a panel discussion at the Great American Beer Festival about the challenges facing breweries today.

“In this room, we can look left and right, and we probably all won’t be here in three years,” he told fellow brewers in the audience. “I hate to take the romance out of what we’re doing, but we’ve gone from a couple thousand breweries (nationwide) to coming up on 6.000 and it’s getting really crowded out there.”

This past week, Bryant’s words hit home with the announced closures of two North Idaho breweries, Coeur d’Alene’s Slate Creek (already shuttered) and Post Falls’ Downdraft (final weekend Nov. 17-19).

They’re the fifth and sixth local breweries to hang it up over the past four years, following BiPlane (Post Falls) in 2013, Ramblin’ Road (Spokane) in 2015, and Budge Brothers (Spokane) and Zythum (Fairfield) last year.

Declaring trends can be tricky. Most of those decisions have involved personal and family issues beyond any business concerns, and each brewery has its own financial needs and goals.

Downdraft, the only one to publicly discuss its reasons for closing, said it simply can’t afford to invest the time and money it would take to succeed in an increasingly competitive market.

“From a business perspective, we had our best year this year, so we’re really proud of that,” Downdraft’s Aimee Brayman says. “We’ve just been burning our candles at both ends working full-time jobs on top of running the brewery.”

And with competition continuing to grow, she says, “Sadly, I think we won’t be the last to make this type of decision.”

Five years ago, there were nine operating breweries in Spokane and Kootenai counties. Now, even without Downdraft and Slate Creek, there are 33 with at least nine more in various stages of progress.

“Unless there’s a burst in the population of craft beer enthusiasts, every time a new brewery opens, there’s a brewery somewhere else that struggles,” says Jeff Whitman, owner of Kootenai County’s oldest brewery, Selkirk Abbey, which opened in Post Falls in June 2012.

“It’s a tough business,” Whitman says. “We’re struggling. I know a lot of other people are struggling. It comes down to who can stay the distance until things shake out.”

North Idaho can be a particularly challenging market, he adds: “There are still a lot of fizzy yellow beer drinkers over here.”

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Downdraft announces closure

North Idaho is losing its second brewery in the past three days.

Downdraft said in a Facebook post this morning that it will close its Post Falls brewery the weekend of Nov. 17-19 after three years in business. Regular operations will continue until then.

Coeur d'Alene's Slate Creek on Sunday announced without explanation that tomorrow is the final day for its taproom.

"As we have grown, we've found the market to be far more competitive and time-consuming than it was only five years ago when we contemplated this venture," Downdraft said in its announcement.

"As all of our partners work full-time, we realize that the nurturing and additional funds required to break through in the market have increased substantially. After evaluating our current position, future growth prospects, and how we would define success, we determined that it's best to press pause on Downdraft, for now.

"This has been a hell of a ride that has enriched our lives in many ways. We love and will miss our customers, many of whom have become friends, and thank each of you for support," it continued.

"Last but not least, we have had the honor to work with some of the industry's best and we thank our friends in our local craft community for the laughs and shared knowledge. Simply put: we came, we saw, we drank, and we are ready for our next chapter in life to begin. Thank you for making this venture so rewarding and memorable!"

Downdraft becomes the sixth area brewery to close in the past four years and the third in North Idaho, along with Post Falls' BiPlane in 2013.

Remaining breweries in Kootenai County include Daft Badger and Trickster's in Coeur d'Alene, Bombastic and Mad Bomber in Hayden and Post Falls Brewing and Selkirk Abbey in Post Falls.

Downdraft grows up, and down

Heading into its third year of operation, Downdraft has its sights set both big and small.

Last month, the Post Falls brewery began a series of small-batch (five-gallon) releases with a cranberry spice pale ale.

Four more will be tapped for Saturday’s second anniversary party: a Mango Jalapeno IPA, Golden Raisin Rye Pale, Cappuccino Tiramisu Brown Ale and Pumpkin Spice Amber Ale. They’ll pour one at time starting at 4 p.m., with a new one tapped as the previous selection runs out.

The vanilla stout that was introduced at last year’s anniversary party will also make its return in a half-barrel (15-gallon) batch.

Beyond the beer, food will be provided by the Mac Daddy’s Gourmet Grub truck starting at 6, with live music by Fair 2 Middlin’ around 7. Doors open at noon.

Downdraft will have a more steady food truck presence for year three. Las Brasas Mexican Grill, which has been stopping by on Fridays, will be parking next to the brewery Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting next week.

“We’re super excited to have them,” says Downdraft’s Aimee Brayman. “We’re working on some fun recipes together,” such as a taco platter designed to accompany taster trays.

Along with recently expanded hours – to seven days a week, with the addition of Mondays in September – Downdraft has been increasing its social media presence. A recent Instagram series took viewers behind the scenes at the brewery, and Facebook live sessions also have launched.

The latest, on Monday, invited viewers to vote on December’s small-batch release; you have through today to cast your ballot for a porter, double IPA or sour cherry rye.

“It’s really important for people to know what’s going on at the brewery, and who we are,” Brayman says. “There are so many choices out there these days that you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

“We’re trying to provide a more personal touch,” she says. “We want our customers to feel like they’re more than just customers coming to a store. We want them to know that we value their opinions.”

Another focus for the coming year is expanding the brewery’s presence in Eastern Washington, Brayman says, building on the recent addition of a sales representative.

“We want to do more events and become more a part of the Washington beer scene,” she says. “That’s the goal for 2017. We want to keep expanding in North Idaho, but Eastern Washington is going to be a huge focus for us.”   

Turning one, turning west

Having established a foothold in North Idaho in its first year of operation, Downdraft is setting its sights on Spokane.

The Post Falls brewery, which celebrates its first anniversary Saturday, has signed with KBI Craft for distribution in Eastern Washington. The first kegs shipped Thursday and a sales push starts Monday.

“That kind of hits home for us,” says Aimee Brayman, a partner in the brewery along with her husband, Nick; co-brewer Nolan Garrett; and Nick’s parents, Dee and Jerry Brayman.

“We all live here in Spokane, so once we see those first taps pop up around here, it’s going to be like, whoa, we’re actually a brewery.”

With new accounts to supply, adding more tanks to boost production is a priority for the 10-barrel brewery’s second year. Longer-range goals include canning, and possibly adding some small-scale food offerings at the taproom.

And while the focus so far has been on the core lineup, Downdraft also hopes to produce more small-batch beers for its Winds of Change pilot tap. Another arrives Saturday for the anniversary party, a Vanilla Stout infused with vanilla bean pods.

There also will be a full-batch seasonal Gingersnap Stout, with candied ginger, molasses, cardamom and cloves. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Downdraft brewed a five-gallon test batch last December that was a taproom hit.

And the Project Pale will be pouring over orange, cinnamon sticks and cloves through the brewery’s newly installed Randall.

That all starts when the doors open at 1 p.m. Things hit full stride at 6, with the arrival of live music by Fair 2 Middlin’ and food from Nick’s Shameless Sausages.

Also look for free homemade soft ginger cookies and pumpkin bar bites with cream cheese frosting, while supplies last.         

Summa cum hoppy

It might seem a bit early in the season for graduation parties, but Downdraft is throwing one tomorrow – for a beer.

The pilot IPA previously known as Winds of Change 1.0 will officially join the regular lineup as Third Channel, in honor of the Post Falls dam.

Third Channel (7.5 percent alcohol by volume, 102 International Bitterness Units) – full of Cascade and Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus hops – was originally brewed as an alternative to the brewery’s flagship IPA, the smoother, Chinook single-hop Seltice SMaSH  (7.2, 70).

“People were asking, when are you going to do an IPA with more punch-in-the-face type hops?” says Downdraft’s Aimee Brayman.

A second batch, with a few tweaks, is in line to be tapped tomorrow. “It’s spot-on, more hop forward,” Brayman says.

Third Channel will be on special for $3 per pint, and $8 for a growler fill. Each pint purchase between 4 and 8 p.m., when the King of Tacos food truck also will be on hand, earns a raffle ticket toward some schwag.

Meanwhile, more beers are in the works for the experimental Winds of Change series, including an India red ale and something lighter like a session IPA or pilsner for summer.

Pouring into 2015

Area brewers are gradually getting back into gear with the holidays in the rear-view. Among today’s developments:

- River City just tapped the latest in its Experimental Series of pilot recipes, this time a single-hop Palisade Pilsner (6 percent alcohol by volume, 40 International Bitterness Units).  

Palisade hops, known for fruity, floral notes along with an herbal, grassy character, also were used along with Citra in the first three experimental releases, a series of IPAs. These are quarter-barrel batches, or about 8 gallons, so be warned – they don’t last long.

- After two months of operation, Downdraft Brewing is expanding its business hours starting this week.

The Post Falls brewery now will be pouring Tuesdays and Wednesdays, along with Thursdays, from 4 to 9 p.m. And it will be open an hour later on Fridays, from 4 to 10 p.m., and Saturdays, from 1 to 10 p.m.

- Twelve String has put together its latest barrel-aged creation (as pictured above): Harmony Honey Wheat in a tequila barrel along with grapefruit and lactobacillus, a bacteria used to produce sour beers.

The summery-sounding concoction should be ready by May or June, by which time all this fog and slush will just be a distant memory.  

Ray of sunshine

Sometimes, all you really need is a calm, comfortable refuge for taking shelter from life’s storms.

Downdraft Brewing (formerly Cloudburst), which officially opens today in Post Falls, is shaping up to be just that sort of place. It’s the painstakingly shepherded project of two homebrewing couples, Nick and Aimee Brayman, and Nolan and Andrea Garrett.  

Tucked into a rear corner space in the Treaty Rock business plaza on Seltice Way, the taproom is cool and inviting with its gray walls, black furnishings and plentiful windows. Silver ductwork runs overhead, while a structure made from copper tubing frames the sparkling black granite-topped bar.

A large three-dimensional logo sign hangs over the taps on the wall behind, with hanging lights wrapped in chicken wire adding an unusual touch.

The initial beer offerings from the 10-barrel brewhouse are just as clean and straightforward as the surroundings.

The lightest, Project Pale (5 percent alcohol by volume, 36 International Bitterness Units) – so named because of its experimental nature – gets its bready, slightly sweet body from Maris Otter, Munich and caramel malts, and finishes dry with hints of Summit and Cascade hops.

An Anonymous Amber (AA, for short; 5.5, 38) is equally easy-drinking, with a lightly hoppy character from dry-hopping with Cascades.

The more distinctive Seltice SMaSH India pale ale (7.2, 70) – that’s the beer-geek acronym for “Single Malt and Single Hop” – is all pale malt and Chinook hops, with fruity, floral notes on the way to a big piney finish. It goes down deceptively smooth for its strength.

While seldom seen around Spokane breweries, brown ales are more common in North Idaho, and Exit 5 (6.2, 33) doesn’t disappoint. Named after the freeway turnoff for the brewery, it’s fairly dry and toasty for the style, with a hop presence that’s likely to get dialed down a bit in future batches – so if that sounds like your sort of thing, get it while  you can.

Rounding out the regular lineup is Black Beryl Stout (6.5, 50), full-flavored with some creamy smoothness and the requisite coffee and chocolate notes.

Downdraft has a red-colored tap handle that’s designated for experimental or one-off brews. First up is Half Cracked Stout (4.7, 50), which was the first attempt at the Black Beryl – except half of the chocolate malt didn’t crack properly during grinding, reducing its contribution to the finished beer. The result is a sort of session stout with the stronger flavors of black malt and Irish roasted barley coming to the fore.

Other styles under consideration for future brews include a light Belgian grisette, a porter, an India red ale and a more malt-balanced IPA.

But for now, the Downdraft crew is just happy to finally get the doors open. Check it out today from 1 to 9 p.m., with the Shameless Sausages food truck due to arrive at 4:30.

Blowing into town

After a bit of a drought, the Inland Northwest is about to add another new brewery.

Downdraft Brewing in Post Falls has announced its grand opening next weekend, Nov. 1 from 1 to 9 p.m.

The project of a pair of homebrewing couples, Downdraft originally was planned for the Spokane Valley as Cloudburst Brewing, but later changed the location (to the Treaty Rock Center business plaza on Seltice Way), and the name (because of a trademark issue).

Launching with a 10-barrel system, it will focus on straightforward styles including an amber, pale, IPA, brown and stout.

Downdraft will be the first brewery in Post Falls proper since the closure of BiPlane Brewing last November. (Selkirk Abbey has a Post Falls address, but is much closer to Coeur d’Alene.)

It’s also the first brewery opening in the area since Perry Street Brewing in March, following a string of six openings in five months in late 2013 and early 2014.

More are on the way. The 238 Brewing Company is awaiting final federal approval before becoming Green Bluff’s second brewery, while construction continues at Black Label in downtown Spokane and Daft Badger in Coeur d’Alene.