Salmon River Brewery: Putting the ‘funk’ in ‘functional’
On the shores of Payette Lake in McCall lies the unlikely medley of three passions: beer, welding and the Salmon River. The aptly named Salmon River Brewery is the love child of owner Matt Hurlbutt’s three lifelong hobbies that he never could choose between—so he didn’t.
Named after his love of Idaho’s longest continuous free-flowing river, Salmon River Brewery began as a garage brewing operation and tasting room 10 years ago in Hurlbutt’s home. Five years ago, the tasting room moved to a building on Railroad Avenue that fittingly served as a train depot in the 1920s.
The beer, however, did not.
The brewery’s 1,100 annual barrels of beer are still brewed out of Hurlbutt’s home, at least until an expansion project at the restaurant is complete next summer. He may eat, drink and even live beer—literally—but even that is not Salmon River Brewery’s claim to fame.
“There’s just a lot of funky stuff going on in here,” said Hurlbutt, a self-taught welder who co-owns the brewery with his wife, Jennifer. “It’s just kind of stuff that you start making and let your creative side take over and make it up as you go along.”
Every wall of the eclectic brewery is plastered with Hurlbutt’s hand-crafted trinkets, odds and ends and, of course, prevalent salmon motif. For instance, a metallic salmon skeleton with a glowing deep blue hue emanating from behind steals the show. Metal sconces with salmon designs plasma-cut into them line the walls. Original kegs used by the brewery and welded into classic brewpub light fixtures dot the ceiling.
“I put on my welding hood and just started making stuff for a few months before we opened,” Hurlbutt explained.
“Functional art,” as he calls it, is the hallmark of the brewpub. Even the most seasoned beer drinkers are startled to come face to face with an actual “eye-PA,” complete with glossy eyeballs gazing out of the tap handle. Some tap handles are glass blown by local artist Jesse DeMoss and enclose morel mushrooms, others are welded by Hurlbutt and fitted with interchangeable magnets, but one thing remains consistent: Small-batch brews like the classic northwest Shiver IPA and the soul-warming Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter continue to attract Idaho’s many craft beer connoisseurs.
Drinking an SRB beer and surveying the brewery’s unorthodox gallery while wolfing down a Black-N-Blue Elk Burger is a popular combination, but Hurlbutt is a man who likes to outdo himself. Each year for the McCall Winter Carnival, Hurlbutt hauls large blocks of ice out of Payette Lake up to the brewery before spending a week sculpting his frosty masterpiece.
“We make a bar and pour beer off of it,” he grinned. “Once again, functional art.” Come Jan. 25, ice-cold beer may never be quite the same, but true to Salmon River Brewery’s heart and soul, Hurlbutt continues to brew up new ways to funk-up Idaho’s craft beer scene.