GARDEN CITY — If you didn't know it was there, Crooked Fence Brewing on Chinden Boulevard in Garden City would be easy to miss.
The 14-month-old brewery is in the middle of a strip mall that has offices for a mining company, maid service, insurance agent and optical company. One thing that may draw second glances from commuters whizzing by is the brewers' black-and-green "am-brew-lance" - an ambulance-turned-beer delivery truck parked out front.
The location may not sound ideal but the brewery is thriving - and so are two other breweries and five wineries that have begun production at facilities on or near Chinden in the past five years.
Kilted Dragon Brewing "jumped in with both feet" because of the area's burgeoning beer market, said Jeremy Canning, co-owner with Cory Matteucci.
Kilted Dragon opened in December a couple doors down from the DMV in a strip mall on Chinden. They were welcomed and supported by fellow brewers at Crooked Fence and Payette Brewing, who sometimes share grain or hops or other help.
"There's an amazing feeling of camaraderie," Canning said.
Garden City has become a fertile ground for fledgling beer and wine producers for several reasons, including variety and affordability of facilities, central location in the Valley, commuter traffic on Chinden and cheap water.
"The water is included in utilities," Canning said. "I heard through the grapevine it was the reason that others had landed here as well. It's a pretty big savings for us."
Don't be surprised if others pop up soon.
"I've definitely given Garden City a good look - and I still have one location on my short-list for the brewery," said Collin Rudeen of Bogus Brewing, who is working on launching a brewery after soliciting investors using social media sites.
"Garden City is really starting to turn into a liquid destination," Rudeen said. "There are starting to be enough breweries and vintners to make a great pub crawl down the Greenbelt. And, who knows, we may well end up as one of those breweries on the Garden City ale trail."
Vineyards in the West Treasure Valley make Caldwell an attractive location for some wine makers. But Garden City offers advantages for others.
"We're so close to our customers and our home," said Boisean Melanie Krause, who launched Cinder with husband, Joseph, in an old produce warehouse on 44th Street in 2008.
The couple work full time for the business and have five other employees. Cinder has expanded to fill the warehouse, and now subleases space to two other wineries, Telaya Wine Co. and Coiled Wines.
Krause and city officials say they've been looking for a way to promote Garden City's artists, breweries and wineries as a group.
"We've been tossing around names of what we should call ourselves," Krause said, noting that they had not settled on anything yet.
The locale intrigues many.
"There's a perception that it's autobody shops and car lots, not hand-crafted boutique wines," said Earl Sullivan, who owns Telaya Wine Co. with his wife, Carrie.
Sullivan, a native Kentuckian, is a biochemist and works part time as a pharmaceutical consultant. Carrie Sullivan is a veterinarian.
"Industrial chic" is how Kat House, who operates the wine-testing lab and education business Wine Wise at the 44th Street warehouse, describes it.
"We try to be more chic than industrial, but that's not always the case," House said with a laugh.
The enologist and viticulturalist came to the Valley from Seattle in 2010, after her physician husband took a hospital residency in Boise. She does testing for more than 20 wineries.
Mike Crowley's Syringa Winery started in the 44th Street building, but has since moved to 3500 W. Chinden. The winery sublets to another, Split Rail.
"Mike owns the equipment, and we only use it a month out of the year," said Boisean Jed Glavin, an urban planner who owns Split Rail with his wife, Laura Heffner-Glavin. She works in the pharmaceutical industry.
Glavin said the couple bought grapes in Caldwell and made wine in their garage for four years before deciding to take their hobby to a new level.
"We want to make wine a little more accessible to the younger population, rather than it being stuffy," Glavin said. "People think too hard about wine sometimes."
The "ale trail" pioneers are growing fast.
Payette Brewing Co., which opened in 2011, broke ground this week on a new cellar and packaging area. The company made 2,300 barrels of beer last year and is on track to produce 7,000 this year.
Its main focus is supplying 170 restaurants and bars, and 45 grocery stores. But the brewery's tasting room has been surprisingly popular.
"People want to go to a brewery to see what it is," owner Michael Francis said. "Even if it's a little out of the way, people like to find it."
TASTING ROOMS, NOT BARS
Payette is south of the Asana climbing gym on 33rd Street, across from the Reuseum. It closes at 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, in part because the brewer doesn't want to compete with the bars and restaurants he supplies.
The other Chinden breweries are taking the same approach.
"We want to keep it a tasting bar and not a bar where people go and get drunk until 2 in the morning," said Crooked Fence marketing director Kelly Knopp.
Crooked Fence was in the black within a couple months of opening, Knopp said.
NEW RESTAURANT, TOO
It produced 1,300 barrels last year and expects to make about 2,000 to 2,200 this year. Crooked Fence is now working feverishly on a new project - a 7,300-square-foot rustic Western-style restaurant and bar in the strip mall near the Revolution Concert House and Event Center - near Chinden on Glenwood Street. They hope to open as soon as June.
Knopp, a graphic artist whose office walls feature colorful skateboards, said it's likely Crooked Fence's two sites will be consolidated into one some day. The owners don't have big aspirations when it comes to production - more isn't necessarily better.
"We're all in it for having fun jobs and making good beer," he said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413