POCATELLO — It took a significant leap of faith for the early settlers of Pocatello to step off the rails of the Union Pacific Railroad and into their new beginnings.
Four Pocatello residents — Bill Coryell, Hunter Rodriguez, Sterling Davie and Steve Wright — have undertaken a similar plunge into the unknown with the opening of their new downtown brewpub on South Main Street, Off The Rails Brewing, whose name pays homage to those who helped shape the Gate City into what it is today.
“Pocatello is a railroad town,” Coryell said. “I mean just look at (the Union Pacific rail yard) right behind us. When I first came up with the business plan I was going to call it Pacific Union Brewing, which I thought was cool because it made the acronym PUB. But people always said the railroad would probably sue me even though it’s called Union Pacific. So we just came up with the idea of Off The Rails.”
Rodriguez added, “Steve’s dad was a longtime railroad guy. When my grandfather came from Puerto Rico he started working for the railroad in New York and Ohio and my two uncles still work for the railroad today.”
Located at 228 S. Main St., in the same building that Chopstick Cafe had called home for eight decades, Off The Rails Brewing is Coryell’s brainchild, he said, something that has been a work in progress since he started experimenting with homebrewing about a decade ago.
“I brewed my first batch of beer from an extract on the kitchen stove and quickly migrated to all grain batches after that. Ever since then, I’ve been learning and tweaking the recipes,” said Coryell, who moved to Pocatello in 2012 from southeast Oregon. “But I didn’t want to do this by myself. Not that it would be too overwhelming, but I appreciate the input and ideas from the rest of the guys. Bringing Hunter, Steve and Sterling in has been a tremendous help.”
With the capacity to serve just under 100 guests inside their 4,200-square-foot space, which has undergone an extensive remodel and overhauling since first acquired in October 2018, Off The Rails will begin serving customers with a soft opening on Jan. 31.
Coryell said they anticipate being open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday.
For Off The Rails, the railroad tie is the equivalent of the Nike Swoosh as its likeness is branded into the backs of every one of the brewpub’s custom-built wood and rebar chairs and into all the tabletops and is also welded into the supporting arms of the bar and bar stools.
Ryan Babcock, an Idaho State University associate art lecturer and gallery director, designed the brewery’s logo, which depicts the silhouettes of two pioneers near an old steam engine on railroad tracks. A large rendition of the logo adorns one of the brewpub’s interior walls.
Off The Rails will initially open with 16 tap handles stocked with beer from other distributors, including an array of hard-to-get commercial craft favorites as well as crafts from regional brewers such as Wildlife Brewing Co. in Victor, Coryell said.
“One of the Wildlife Brewing team members helped us out tremendously when we were building our brewery in the back, so we definitely want to support them,” Coryell added. “After we’re open and have our team trained and ready to go, then we’ll start brewing (our own beer). As our brewing process develops we’ll slowly take over all the taps.”
Coryell said Off The Rails intends to brew three or four staple beers from its brand new $225,000 brewing system that will remain on tap consistently, and then use the remaining taps for seasonal and specialty batches.
“At first, we’re going to do our best to put stuff on tap that people know but rarely get to drink around here,” Coryell said. “Then I’m planning to brew a blonde ale that we’ll use to make sure our automated brewing machines are dialed in and running right. I also have recipes for a stout, a nut brown and a special recipe to Pocatello that I call a blood and honey ale.”
Coryell said he would like to see the first Off The Rails brews hit the taps toward the end of February, but he won’t put out a rushed product that isn’t perfect.
Originally, the Off The Rails partners included Coryell, Davie and Wright. Rodriguez, who worked as a bartender at Hooligan’s in Pocatello for 12 years, joined the crew in May 2018.
During the summer of 2017 Rodriguez was visiting his father in Missoula, Montana, and noticed that city had numerous new breweries, cider houses, wineries and distilleries.
“Missoula has about the same population as we do here, yet we don’t have the same options when it comes to beer and wine,” Rodriguez said about Pocatello. “When they approached me (to be an Off The Rails partner) I was already thinking something like this would have success.”
Rodriguez knows the ins and outs of operating a beer-based business, he said, and had previously met Wright at Idaho State University.
Wright, who works in the Sponsored Programs and Support Department at ISU, brings to the table a marketing and finance background. And Davie is the only one of the four who was born and raised in Pocatello, so he has the local connections and network necessary for the success of a small local business, Coryell said.
While craft beer will serve as the menu anchor for Off The Rails, the building was once home to one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in town. Considering such, the Off The Rails team couldn’t let the building’s kitchen go to waste.
They decided to serve food at Off The Rails and began modernizing most of the kitchen’s equipment.
“This old kitchen was disgusting with all the grease that had gotten everywhere,” Coryell said.
Rodriguez added, “Grease had solidified into what almost looked like obsidian rock. I was on the roof and I was shattering it with a sledgehammer. I probably should have kept some of it and burned it as a fuel source.”
In addition to a new state-of-the-art ventilation hood and brand new fryers, the kitchen boasts an open flame grill from Matt Spencer — the owner of The Office Bar and Gypsy Tattoo Co. on East Center Street — a flat top grill from Angeline and Greg Underwood — the owners of The Melt Food Truck — and a pizza oven from the Junction Service Station in Sugar City.
“We want to keep it simple, so our menu will include regular bar food at first — burgers, fried food, pizzas, salads and wings,” Coryell said. “We are going to have a specialty deep dish pizza, too, because you can’t really find that anywhere around here.”
The brewpub will also serve a variety of wines but doesn’t have the intention of acquiring a full liquor license to serve spirits and hard alcohol.
As opening day nears, Coryell and the team are brimming with excitement. Though the craft beer scene in Pocatello has been buzzing recently, Off The Rails looks to bring something new to the table, while incorporating elements of Gate City’s history.
“We know the craft beer scene is exploding by the brewfests in Pocatello and I can see the amount of beer being sold each month by Portneuf Valley and Jim Dandy,” Coryell said, referring to the Gate City’s two current microbreweries. “I’m excited to bring my take on craft beer and help make downtown Pocatello the place to go.”