The years have been good to Laughing Dog, which every summer celebrates the growth of what started — like many craft breweries — as a hobby coupled with a desire to make a change in life.
"I assume this is what we imagined," says Fred Colby of the brewery he created with wife Michelle in 2005. "It was always a moving target, and we were never sure if we would hold at a level or continue to push it forward."
It turns out they'd do the latter, growing the 10-barrel operation to its 4,000 square feet of industrial space just north of Sandpoint in Ponderay, with a capacity of 200 barrels per year. They brewed eight beers, including Hop Dog, which won first place at Yakima's Fresh Hop Ale Festival in 2008.
By their five-year anniversary, Laughing Dog had increased capacity to several thousand barrels, begun national distribution, and snagged numerous awards. They'd also outgrown their doghouse.
In 2010 they'd relocated to a 10,000-plus-square-foot facility in Ponderay and repeated the cycle: new beers, more awards, a bigger distribution.
Ten years in, the brewery named after the Colbys' smiling Labrador, Ben, is still going strong. Of Laughing Dog's 15 or so regular beers, nearly all have won awards in competitions including the North American Beer Festival and Great American Beer Festival. Their selection varies from the Pilsner-styled 219-er to the tawny, multifaceted hoppiness of the India Pale Ale to the malty black Dogzilla. Their beers — including the recently released Trail Ride, a lower-ABV session beer available in cans — continue to find their way onto grocery store shelves and taps across the country.
They've also exceeded capacity. Again. They needed more room for production — adding 90- and 120-barrel fermenters to their current 30- and 60-barrel tanks — as well as a new canning line, says Colby. So while the current facility will be converted into an alehouse, still dog-friendly, with a family-friendly food menu, plans are underway for a 19,000-square-foot production facility on nearby Schweitzer Plaza Drive.
Even as they plan their eventual relocation, the anniversary party is in the works. For the first time, Laughing Dog Brewing is bottling its anniversary release. Since this is their 10th year, it's going to have teeth — it's a 12-percent imperial dark rye aged in rye whiskey barrels.
Be on hand for the Aug. 22 anniversary party and you might be able to get your anniversary bottle autographed — the 150-case limited run of bottles also will be individually numbered — by Colby, who's still mulling over future plans.
"If the sky was the limit, I would open a chain of alehouses right now," he says. "The brand and image lend themselves to that, and I think they would be wildly successful." ♦