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What I Did On My Summer Vacation…Toured Laughing Dog Brewery.

On my recent foray up to Northern Idaho we took a day to tour the lakes region, which includes the areas around Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, Idaho.  Well one of my favorite Idaho Breweries just happens to be located just outside Sandpoint, Idaho in the small town of Ponderay.  The Laughing Dog Brewery is a 3000 barrel per year operation, which is a far cry from the 60,000 barrel per year operation that Jim and I visited in Victory Brewing back in April.  Seeing the difference up close and personal gives me a great appreciation for the work that they do here.

See unlike Victory that has a bottling line, a dozen fermentation tanks, refrigerated hop freezer, computerized brewing technology, three mash tanks, state of the art mill, and every other room it seems is refrigerated this operation is all in one smallish room.  Still they make some of my favorite beers.  That is just so impressive to me, they are really doing something right here in Idaho…

So why this tiny northern Idaho town?  Plain and simple: its the water, man!  Lake Pend Oreille has almost the same chemical composition as the water used in Czechoslovakia to make Pilsner Urquell.  This glacier fed lake provides the building block that makes some great brews.

I sampled a couple of their brews at their rather rudimentary brew pub, which by the way is “Dog Friendly!”  See they don’t serve food, other than chips and pretzels which are complementary served in what else, dog bowls!  So they can get away with letting the pooches in the pub.

The brews I sampled were their huckleberry Cream Ale, and their regular Cream Ale.  Both were outstanding and not a bit refreshing on that hot 90+ degree day.  I ordered a Pint of their regular Cream Ale.  It was golden malty treat that was balanced with the perfect amount of hop bitterness.  Its mouthfeel was great too, not a big creaminess that you can get with stouts, but beyond medium bodied for sure.  A great refreshing and chewy brew!  I then proceeded into the brewery for a tour that had just begun.

Lest Laughing Dog be outdone they have electronics too!  Not sure what this little gizmo does but it has something to do with temperatures.  They are really concerned with making sure beer is at the right temp.  This thing provides feedback to a cooling unit to keep the brew fermenting at optimal temp.

Every one of the Laughing Dog fermenters could fit inside one of the large fermenters we saw at Victory Brewing.  Again a testament to the great spirit of the independent brewer.

This picture shows the fermenters, the labeling machine, their water system, and their bottling tanks.   Again their entire bottling system was smaller than the one tank that was full of Prima Pils at Victory, but great beer is made by men and women of spirit, not just size.

Here is their small bottling machine.  It fills 12 oz bottles they have another similar one that fills 22 oz bombers.  It is hard to believe the labor that must go into getting product into bottles in a small brewery.  On bottling day they sit at these machines and feed in bottles that have been labeled by hand down the ramp.  It is a laborious process but it was clear to me from this tour it is a labor of love.  They take great care and great pride in what goes into their bottles for market.

Here is a picture of Bruce, our most excellent tour guide for the afternoon.  Here we are in their temperature controlled stock room.  The room is kept at a constant 54 degrees, the optimal storage temp for their brews.  In the back of this picture you can see the top of a couple of carboys sticking up from behind the pony kegs.  These are “experiments”.  I’m hoping one of these Experiments works out and we all get a taste.

My brother Jim will be glad to see that they have taken to the barreling of some of their brews.  Three of their beers actually spend some time in barrels.  Their Devil Dog Imperial IPA spends time in Oak, as well as their St. Benny’s Belgian Quad, and their barrel aged Dogfather Imperial Stout.  I noticed that their barrels were from Heaven Hill Distilleries, and I asked what bourbon was aged in the barrels, and unfortunately Bruce didn’t know, and their brewer wasn’t there to answer that question.  I would have loved to know what flavor is being imparted to their brews.

They have several barrels waiting to go to fill orders around the country.  Funny for such a small brewery they are already in 19 states and have plans to expand into 17 more.  I know some of you have had their Alpha Dog IPA, a  seriously hoppy treat.  They have orders for over 5000 cases of their stouts going to the east coast so many of you will have an opportunity to get a taste.  Believe me its worth it.  These guys know how to brew.  I asked about expansion to beyond their current 3000 barrel per year capacity and Bruce said it would happen, but slowly.  They want to control the process and not let quality suffer.  They gave the example of Ninkasi from Eugene, Oregon.  They recently expanded from 7000 to 20,000 barrel capacity and it almost ruined the brewery.  They had all sorts of Quality Control issues, and that is a headache that Laughing Dog would like to avoid through good planning and slow growth.  We’ll see.  Demand is getting greater and it might just force the issue sooner than they were thinking it might.

All in all, I really appreciated my opportunity to tour Laughing Dog, and if you have the opportunity to pick up one or more of their brews, do so.  You won’t be disappointed.  BTW their Cream Ale will be my personal replacement for Dales as my house beer, since Dale’s is no longer available in Idaho.  And yes the Cream Ale was that good.  It might have replaced it anyway, even if Oskar Blues never pulled out of the state.  I’m a believer, bring on the Laughing Dog!

-Don

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11 Comments on “What I Did On My Summer Vacation…Toured Laughing Dog Brewery.”

  1. August 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    I’ve had the Alpha Dog and the Dogfather and both were very good. I love how a small place can crank out big brews and get them all the way to New Jersey. Can’t wait to taste more when I’m ou there.

    • Don
      August 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

      I picked up the Rocket Dog, their newer IPA, a CSB (Crotch Sniffing Beer)(everything is dog related) it is their Extra Special Bitter, and a Dogzilla, their take on a Black IPA, and in my book the best I’ve had to date of the style. So that should hold us over for the first hour…I guess we’ll have to take a run to Brewforia. And unlike Oskar Blues, I’m pretty sure they won’t pull out of their home state!

  2. Rob Crozier
    August 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    Its funny that when I read your post, I breezed through it quickly not being familiar with the Laughing Dog name. When I read Jim’s and your responses, the names Dogfather and Dogzilla jumped out – I remember seeing them at the store and never paid it any attention because I thought they were “joke” beers. Its funny how a name can be silly and giving the perception that the beer inside is not serious. I will have to pick up some Laughing Dog now that I know its the real deal – sad that I would have passed it over just because of the name. That’s why I love reading blogs like yours…

    • Don
      August 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

      Don’t pass these guys up Rob. They will surprise you, in a great way. But this is the age old argument, and despite what people say the labels do make an impression and begin to tell a story about what is inside. Even if it isn’t true our perceptions get in our way all the time. Pick some up, you won’t be disappointed.

      • Rob Crozier
        August 5, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

        Thanks, I will give it a try.

      • Rob Crozier
        August 6, 2010 at 8:29 am #

        Picked up AlphaDog Imperial IPA last night – you ain’t kidding, that beer was the bomb diggety! I can’t remember a beer that I’ve tasted that changed from sip to sip like this beer. I was very pleased and look forward to trying the other LD’s I can find – thanks for the review and recommendation!

        • Don
          August 6, 2010 at 10:47 am #

          Glad you liked it Rob. It was actually created on a lark. The Owner’s wife was a big HopHead, so he set out to create a brew with a big hoppy flavor profile. I say he did pretty well. Look for the Dogzilla. That is their Black IPA. Its awesome.

      • Rob Crozier
        August 6, 2010 at 11:48 am #

        Another goofy name for a beer but this time I will take it very seriously.

        • Don
          August 6, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

          Can’t beat it. Enjoy.

  3. August 6, 2010 at 12:36 am #

    I’ve enjoyed their stuff several times…especially when in Idaho. How far north is it (hours away from Boise)?

    • Don
      August 6, 2010 at 10:44 am #

      It is about as far north as you can get and still be in the state, It is just about 50 miles south of the Canadian border. Just under 500 miles from Boise. So it is about 10 hours away, but the good news is you pick up an hour in Riggins, ID when you cross over the time zone boundary, that hour is all gravy man! 😉

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