Tony Lawrence just had surgery on his hand for a tendon issue. He is having trouble typing, but that’s OK because he would much rather talk than type and his hands are already busy mashing in the latest batch of his ultra-popular RPM IPA at Boneyard Brewing in Bend. Since opening in April 2010, Boneyard has exploded onto the Oregon beer landscape in a quick ascension not seen since the rise of Ninkasi Brewing. Similarly, Boneyard’s IPA has captured taphandles across the state like no other beer since Ninkasi’s Total Domination IPA. All of this comes from a small garage nicknamed Boneyard for all the auto parts and motorcycles that Tony and his partner Clay work on at the brewery. Boneyard has been maxed out in its production for over a year, and even with some new, larger tanks, there isn’t time to brew most of the standard lineup or anything other than IPA, Double IPA, Triple IPA, and maybe a very hoppy Skunk Ape IRA. The question on everyone’s mind has been, when is Boneyard expanding and when are cans coming out?
When I visited Boneyard Brewing almost 2 years ago, Tony excitedly showed me prototypes for the tallboy cans and talked about the new 15,000 square foot warehouse the company was purchasing for expansion. He already had the canning line sitting up in dry storage above the bikes and kegs in the small brewery building. So what’s taking so long? After the last year and a half of trying to play catch up and fulfill commitments to Point Blank Distributing and an ever-growing list of draft accounts, Boneyard has finally started build out of the new location, but lost one thing along the bumpy road to get there: the canning line.
(RPM IPA prototype can)
If all comes together, Boneyard will be brewing on a new brewhouse and in its new building by the beginning of 2014, minus the canning line. “It’s been a long bumpy road for the new brewery . We are now back on track,” said Tony as we spoke the other day. The loss of the canning line will surely disappoint many fans who were eagerly anticipating picking up an RPM tall boy, but the decision was made to keep up with draft obligations first. It’s really a smart business decision; even with increased production, the brewery surely wouldn’t be able to keep cans on shelves as well as draft beer flowing to all of its accounts, and draft is more profitable. So, with some likely hesitation, the canning line was sold to fellow Bend brewers GoodLife Brewing, which now offers its tasty beers in 6 packs of cans. But, Boneyard does plan to bottle its first brews in a specialty package sometime next year; more on that later.
(Getting ready to pour the concrete at Boneyard’s new production facility)
In true Boneyard fashion, the company has purchased the old brewhouse from Bert Grant’s in Yakima, Washington–a cool factoid that brewery history buffs will appreciate for that brewery’s important place in craft beer history. Purchased from an unnamed brewery in Mexicali, Mexico that didn’t end up needing it this is an old 40BBL 4 vessel system, and with it Boneyard needs some fermenters to fill up. So, the company is also adding four 100 and two 200BBL fermenters purchased from Sweetwater Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia “So it will be a total Boneyard again !!”
(Boneyard’s new brewhouse getting ready for delivery)
With the new building and brewery, what is to become of the old place? Beloved by locals for its cheap growler fills, the current location has a tiny but fun tasting room which will have to find a new home. The relocation will take the brewing work to a part of Bend without much foot traffic–the industrial area near the 10 Barrel Brewing production facility. Tony is not sure what’s to become of the taproom or the old brewhouse. It will live on for a while, co-operational with the main brewery as a one-off experimental brewery, or could possibly even moved west to be by the beach… With the added capacity, I was curious to hear if Boneyard would be experimenting with any new beers, particularly because I know Tony has a fondness for cheap but well-made American lagers. (See my video interview with him and John Harris.)
(Removing the 40bbl brewhouse from a brewery in Mexicali, MX for shipping to Boneyard)
You may have seen a few new beers from Boneyard lately. The single-hop series called Shotgun and the new Bone Lite are recent additions, and it turns out they are similar. The Shotgun series was conceived of as an American Session Ale project to highlight different hops, and it’s similar to an American lager (only it’s an ale). About eight different versions of Shotgun were brewed with single hops until the brewers settled on Mosaics, and the beer has now become Bone Lite. The original name was supposed to be “Deschutes River Woods” as an inside joke, which is the name for an area 5-10 miles outside of town where a lot of yokels, i.e. rednecks, live, but right around the same time that beer was coming our Deschutes Brewery was launching its River Ale session beer. Even funnier, the original creation of Bone Lite was as a blend of Boneyard’s Notorious Triple IPA with Busch Light to make it more sessionable.
Why not a Boneyard American Lager? Tony doesn’t believe Boneyard can compete in this realm with the macro brewers. What about the lagers of Heater-Allen and Chuckanut, I asked? “I am the worst beer geek in the world, I haven’t had any of those.” But the sentiment makes sense. Boneyard is sticking to what it knows best, and that’s crowd-pleasing hoppy beers on draft. Despite being a terrible beer geek, Tony Lawrence sure does know how to make them happy, though; sometime next year the brewery will put out limited edition bottles of some of its beers, likely in 750ml bottles that are caged and corked or wax dipped. A new version of the sour beer The Funky Bunch is out now, and Tony says he hopes to experiment more with sour and barrel-aged beer in the new year. These bottle releases will be tiny and only available in specialty shops. For the most part the Boneyard expansion project will allow the operation to make more of the beers it hasn’t touched in a while, like Backbone Coffee Stout and Black 13 Black Ale.
Concrete is getting poured at the new brewery this week and the new brewhouse is being shipped, so it shouldn’t be too long before the operation is open.