If Tony Lawrence needed a sign that his new brewery, Boneyard Beer, was going to make it, he got that the moment he checked out the backside of the warehouse in which he and his partners set up shop. When he looked in the alley behind the out-of-the-way building nestled between the Bend Parkway and Hill Street, he found hop vines snaking all over the back wall, extending over to a nearby telephone poll and reaching almost 20 feet above ground. The building where he'd be brewing beer, competing in one of the most crowded and respected markets in the country, was literally covered in hops."If there was a sign, that was it," says the bearded Lawrence, standing next to the building, wearing a seasoned Trail Blazers jersey, bearing Brian Grant's number 44, and looking up at the telephone poll. This fall, he says they'll harvest the cones from the vines and brew a fresh-hop beer.
Since opening only a little more than two months ago, Boneyard Beer has gained a following in Bend and beyond, placing their beers in bars and restaurants throughout the area, and all this was done while operating the business in a manner that, for the most part, defies the conventions breweries have developed in this region. Boneyard is like the pirate ship of the Bend brewing fleet, keeping with low-key, black-and-white branding, using all recycled equipment and making their beer in an off-the-beaten path location, with no pub, just a tasting room.
The operation is hardly tiny, but still small scale with Lawrence expecting to produce around 1,000 barrels this year. By way of contrast, Deschutes Brewery has the capability to brew as many as 220,000 barrels per year. And in those barrels comes creative brews like Girl Beer (named after the song of the same name by the Hazards), a light ale flavored with cherry puree that might sound sissy, but is actually one of the more creative concoctions you'll find in Bend's breweries.
The Boneyard team also includes Clay and Melodee Storey, who were previously operating their construction business out of the warehouse before deciding to make a career shift. The Storeys had never worked in the brewing industry, but that's where Lawrence came in, providing more than a decade of brewing for Deschutes Brewery before striking out as a consultant for other breweries, something he still does on the side. In all, he's got 22 years of brewing under his belt.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the tasting room is crowded with Boneyard fans who are pouring into the cozy space, standing on its checkered floor and waiting gleefully for Melodee, one of the co-owners, to fill growlers for six bucks - it's their weekly Wednesday special, and one that's catching on. Although located in a mostly residential area, Boneyard does get its share of visitors. Melodee estimates that the new Bend Ale Trail sends them between 40 and 60 beer fans looking for tasters each day. Some of Bend's beer geeks wondered if Boneyard might be testing the limits of the local brewery market, but the Boneyard crew thought otherwise as they worked over the course of the past year and a half to get the operation rolling.
"Is [the market] saturated or is it enough to make it a national draw? If there were only two breweries in Bend, that might look like less competition, but there would be less talk about beer in Bend," says Clay Storey, leaning against the cooler that's equipped with the brewery's four beers, including the new IPA and the Bone-a-Fide pale ale.
As brewmaster Lawrence explains, the road that led to making Boneyard a reality was a long one. He originally planned on opening up a small operation in a 300-square-foot space behind Parrilla Grill under the name Brewtal Brewing. But he held off on that, eventually uniting with the Storeys and acquiring tanks and other equipment from other breweries (hence the Boneyard name), rolling with the punches that are tossed at new business owners and all the while focusing more on making good beer than trying to take over the Oregon beer market.
"For a project like this, you might overthink it. I just believe in doing it and making it happen and, most of all, not getting stagnant or bored," says Lawrence.
Boneyard, although pacing itself in terms of business practice, did, however, burst out of the gates, providing the only beer brewed at June's Beard and Moustache National Championships. And it was a hell of a coming out party, Lawrence says, as they poured out 32 kegs, effectively dropping the brewery's reserves to zero.
"That was fun, but when we got done, I was like, 'We better brew some more beer,'" says Lawrence.
Minutes later, the phone rings. It's someone from the Tower Theatre and they want a keg for that night's concert. And just like that, Boneyard gains a new account, meaning one more person will sip this beer and, as Lawrence and the Storeys hope, come in search of the warehouse brewery.
37 NW Lake, 541-323-2325, boneyardbeer.com.
$6 growler fills on Wednesday night