One of the biggest obstacles to starting a brewery is those pesky little green pieces of paper we call money. Or rather, a lack thereof. Renting a building, acquiring a proper brewing setup and buying the supplies for beer is very expensive, and unfortunately many breweries don’t experience a financial return on their investments until quite some time after opening. Shiny new equipment isn’t always an option, and recycling and reusing used brewing setups can provide a more budget-friendly alternative, especially in a brewery’s early days. One brewery in particular has embraced this approach wholeheartedly, even going so far as to name themselves after the hodgepodge of refurbished and recycled brewing equipment they used to start making their brews.
Thats right, folks, I’m talking about Boneyard Brewing.
Established in Bend, Oregon in May of 2010, Boneyard Brewing met the challenge of producing good beer in large amounts without huge sums of money in a creative way. Named for the secondhand brewing equipment obtained from the “boneyards” of 13 different breweries, Boneyard has achieved success and become a staple in Central Oregon’s craft beer scene in a remarkably short amount of time.
Bend is home to over 20 breweries, is very supportive of craft beer. But with a plethora of new breweries opening up in the city and the surrounding area every year, it is important for breweries to find their own niche and offer something unique to the craft beer consumer. So what sets Boneyard apart from the rest? It turns out there is more to their success than just a thrifty approach to brewing equipment.
According to the brewery’s founder and owner, Tony Lawrence, Boneyard’s success comes from a combination of good decisions, staying true to themselves, and a whole lot of elbow grease.
Having moved to Bend as a snowboard bum in the late 1980’s, Lawrence became friends with one of the head brewers at Deschutes Brewery and got a job cleaning and filling kegs. A fast learner and a hard worker, he quickly progressed to working in the brewhouse, as well as learning about quality assurance, quality control, and manufacturing techniques and practices. In 2002, Lawrence left Deschutes and went on the work for a handful of breweries throughout the country, including a stint at Firestone Walker Brewing in California, as the head of the packaging department. After leaving Firestone Walker, he spent the next five years welding, building and installing breweries around the country, as well as spending lots of time talking to brewers about raw materials and usage rates, as well as brewery production techniques and equipment. Lawrence credits this time with fine-tuning the many skill sets that would prove to be so valuable in starting his own brewery, as well as being exposed to the nuances of different beer flavors in various regions of the country. Inspired by these experiences, he decided he wanted to bring a new flavor to the Pacific Northwest, and moved back to Bend to open Boneyard Brewing.
Boneyard’s approach to beer sets them apart from other breweries in a variety of ways. With many breweries in today’s craft beer scene focusing on innovation and one-off experimental brews, Boneyard instead follows a philosophy of, in Lawrence’s own words, “Balance and quality first, and interesting last.” That isn’t to say that they don’t produce interesting beers -in fact, I would argue quite the opposite. Boneyard instead chooses to focus on producing a set number of beers, brewing what they call “occasional beers” (as opposed to “seasonal beers”, since they are not released at particular times) only when their brewing schedule and capacity allows for it. The brewery’s focus on hoppy beer styles, and its reputation for having a clean, balanced, and consistently good product has made it not only a favorite in Bend, but throughout its distribution territories in Oregon and Washington. So much so, that even after their much-anticipated expansion to a 40-barrel system this past year (also refurbished, in keeping with their name), the brewery can barely keep up with demand. (I can think of worse problems to have.) In fact, the brewery has been so busy recently that plans to start canning and distributing their beer this past year had to be set aside in order to keep up with their draft obligations. They ended up selling their canning line to their neighbors, Bend’s Goodlife Brewing, who now distribute two of their flagship beers in cans.
Some of Boneyard’s best-selling beers have reached a sort of cult status, selling out almost as soon as they are put on draft. These include hop bombs such as their Hop Venom double IPA (One of my all-time favorites and a staple at The Yeasty Beasty), Notorious Triple IPA (So drinkable and balanced its almost dangerous), as well as their big, rich imperial stout, Suge Knite (Yep, just like the infamous gangsta rap producer).
With the recent growth of the craft beer movement in Central Oregon, there can sometimes be a sense of competition between some of the new and previously established breweries. Boneyard, however, seems happy to be part of the industry’s overall success. When it comes down to it, Lawrence says that he believes that the reason Boneyard has been so successful as a brewery is their commitment to being true to themselves, working hard, and doing what they are passionate about: making great beer.
To enjoy and sample a lineup of eight different Boneyard beers, join us tonight (3/24 @ 6:30pm) at the Yeasty Beasty for our Boneyard Brewing beer promo event & Tuesday Night Trivia. Cheers!
For more information and for resources used to write this article, check out the following links: Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher, Boneyardbeer.com, thefirebellychronicles.com (Interview with Tony Lawrence), beeradvocate.com, ratebeer.com, and newschoolbeer.com.