Boneyard buys historic equipment

Boneyard Beer's new brewery in Bend will include pioneering kettle

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

Since it opened, Boneyard Beer’s name has, for some, conjured up images of rusted brewing equipment scavenged from a heap of broken, twisted metal, kept going only by the ingenuity of its brewers.

But step into Boneyard’s new brewing facility on Bend’s east side, and it’s obvious that image of dust and rust is far from the truth, especially when you see the brewery’s vintage copper brew kettle, a historic piece that once belonged to one of the pioneers of craft brewing in the Northwest.

“A lot of people want to say it’s our philosophy (to use old brewing equipment), but mostly to us, it’s a way of getting the job done,” said Boneyard brewmaster Tony Lawrence. “But it does fit into who we are, too.”

Boneyard recently acquired a large collection of used equipment to fill its soon-to-open brewery. All of the equipment — 11 pieces, including stainless steel fermenter tanks and a copper brew kettle — was once used at other breweries. About half of the pieces once belonged to Yakima Brewing and Malting Co., a company started by microbrewing legend Bert Grant in 1984 that was at the forefront of the craft-brewing revolution in the U.S.

“It was part of the beginning,” said Darren Waytuck, former brewmaster for Yakima Brewing. “From there, (craft brewing) built into the industry it is today. But back then people were like, ‘What are you making all of this beer for?’”

Bert Grant, a native of Scotland who died in 2001 at the age of 73, started the brewery when there were few beer options available outside of Budweiser. Living in hop-rich Yakima, Grant liked the fresh, bitter flavor that a healthy helping of hops imparted to beer, and, according to his obituary in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he carried vials of hop oil to make bland domestic beer taste better. He brewed his beer with this same hop-heavy attitude and consequently helped redefine the flavors of American craft beer.

“He was one of the first craft-brewing pioneers in the Northwest, if not the nation,” Lawrence said. “He was one of the first guys on the scene, so that definitely makes him iconic on some level.”

After Yakima Brewing closed in 2005, the brewing equipment eventually ended up in a warehouse in Southern California, where it has been sitting unused for several years. Lawrence saw the pieces listed on a brewing equipment forum last year and decided to purchase them before anyone else did.

“The industry is so hot that any used equipment that comes on the market disappears rapidly,” he said. “We bought it up right away.”

The crowning piece of the bunch is a 45-barrel-capacity copper brewing kettle made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works Inc., a company based in Lexington, Ky., that generally makes distilling equipment. Typically, brew kettles are constructed out of stainless steel, but this one was purchased specifically for its unique material.

“Years ago, the way you did things was to put the kettle directly on a fire,” Waytuck said. “Copper transfers heat quicker than stainless steel, so when we’d do a lot a batches throughout the day, it would heat up and cool down very quickly.”

The kettle, which Yakima Brewing purchased when it upgraded to a larger kettle in 1990, was used until the brewery shut down.

“I can’t speak to it on a scientific level, but some old purists think using a copper brewing kettle has its benefits over stainless steel,” Lawrence said. “For us, it really just came down to good timing and availability.”

Lawrence bought the used kettle for about half of what it costs to purchase a new one, he said. With shipping costs, however, it ended up costing about the same as a new kettle.

Though Lawrence didn’t buy the used equipment specifically because of its history, he says he’s looking forward to getting it back up and running again.

“We’re very happy to have acquired the equipment,” Lawrence said. “We’re really just trying to make good-tasting beer.”

Boneyard is planning to open its new brewery in the first quarter of 2014, Lawrence said.

Waytuck, who now works for Hops Extract Corporation of America, said he’s happy Yakima Brewing’s old equipment will be put to good use.

“It has a lot of sentimental value to me,” he said. “My family basically grew up in that brewery. My kids are in university now. It definitely holds sentimental value, and it’s good to see that a lot of it’s going to be used to make good beer again.”