Lawns and Lagers: Crooked Fence Launches Estate-Style Brewery
“This was used as a wine production area,” said Crooked Fence co-owner Kelly Knopp, pulling open a creaky, castle-ish door to reveal a cool, dark room dotted with wine-stained barrels. “There’s still a lot of wine stuff here, we’re just kind of playing nice with the guy we bought it from. We’re not going to be able to move our brewery out here until winter.”
Knopp was showing off Crooked Fence’s latest conquest: a lush, five-acre palace formerly known as Woodriver Cellars. Though the microbrewery only opened its Garden City tasting room two years ago, it has grown exponentially since then. In the summer of 2013, the brewery debuted Crooked Fence Barrelhouse, a brewpub off Chinden Boulevard and Glenwood Street. And in late March of this year, it launched Crooked Flats, an estate-style brewery off Highway 16 in Eagle with a tasting room, a restaurant, a giant beer tent, a stage and a sprawling manicured lawn primed for hosting outdoor concerts.
Brushing past the wine barrels and ascending a staircase, Knopp continued his tour.
“As of now this is a bride’s quarters up here,” said Knopp, gesturing a large, sun-lit room glistening with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. “We’ll probably turn it into more of a green room for bands. So we’ve got a sink and a mini fridge, but we’ll definitely have to un-bedazzle it.”
In fact, there will be quite a bit of un-bedazzling happening on the property, which was primarily used as a wedding venue in the past. In the coming year, Crooked Flats plans to drastically reduce the number of weddings hosted on the premises.
“We’re getting rid of most of the weddings moving into next year, so we’re fulfilling all those promises from last year and making good on those promises, but going into next summer it’ll be a lot more concerts and special events,” said Knopp.
From the balcony of the bride’s quarters, you could just make out local promoter and Treefort Music Fest founder Eric Gilbert surveying the wooden outdoor stage.
“Going into next year, we’re going to be working closer with Eric and when big touring bands are on his radar coming through town, we’re going to see what we can do to snag them and put them out here,” explained Knopp.
To accommodate music fans who want to stay the night after a big show, Crooked Flats plans to construct three yurts that can be rented out near the croaking frog pond. They’re also working on adorning the grounds with eccentric sculptures and building some “cool, saloon-style” bars nestled in the trees where people can grab a brew or puff on a cigar.
This concept might sound oddly familiar to anyone who’s visited any of the 65 McMenamins locations scattered around Oregon and Washington. The eclectic chain is known for converting elementary schools, Masonic temples and other old buildings into brewpubs, hotels, music venues, spas and theater-pubs.
“We’ve always been kind of an art/music style brewery anyways, but we’ve definitely taken notes from that sort of McMenamins style,” said Knopp.
While Crooked Fence’s local beer peers are focused on output—getting their brews on as many shelves and taps as possible in the region—Crooked Fence is taking a different approach.
“Sockeye and Payette, they’re going for the fences. They’re gearing up; they’re making a ton of beer, which is awesome,” said Knopp. “Our business model is staying relatively small. Making sure we’re local. We just turned down Walmart and got a bunch of shit from it, just because our brand needs to feel local. We want to be the brand that you stumble upon and discover and tell your friends.”
To do that, Knopp and co-owner Kris Price want to make sure Crooked Fence’s brews remain “a little bit unusual”—recent releases include everything from the tongue-in-cheek Little Bitch Otter India Brown Ale to the Sins of Our Fathers Imperial Stout—and that the Crooked Flats compound feels like your friend’s backyard.
“What we really want to do is just make a really comfortable environment where you might come out for lunch and be relaxed enough and have nice beers and nice wines where you might stay towards dinner,” said Knopp. “You could spend a whole day out here. Obviously you have to drive out here a ways so we want to make sure that people feel like it’s their place to hang out.”
But there’s still a lot of work to be done before they get to that point.
“We’re still just trying to get our heads wrapped around mowing the lawn and making sure it doesn’t die,” said Knopp, with a laugh. “But once we hit our stride, that’s going to be the focus is just making this place really cool.”
As for why Crooked Fence has made so many big investments in such a short period of time, Knopp says it was always a part of the five-year plan. The pieces just fell into place sooner than expected.
“This is something that we heard it went up for sale and were like, ‘Goddamnit, that’s got to be so expensive,’” said Knopp. “But we’re also willing to take risks if it’s in the direction that we want to go and cross our fingers. So this is a lot of work, it’s a lot of maintenance, but it’s exactly where we wanted to be from the start.”
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