Q&A: Tony Lawrence, Founder/Brewmaster
Tell us about Boneyard. What do you do?
Primarily, we manufacture high quality liquids: Beer, of course, and also a non-alcoholic CBD Elixir. In addition, we operate a pub in Bend. We brew in 50-barrel batches (1,500 gallons) and produce 30,000 barrels a year, or about 60,000 kegs. Until this year, you could only get Boneyard on draft at a restaurant or bar across the Pacific Northwest. Recently though, we pivoted the structure to include cans. Draft sales are down in 2020 due to COVID-19.
How did Boneyard get started?
I started at Deschutes Brewery in 1989 and never left the industry, working for decades in many breweries doing almost any tasks. While I mainly stuck with brewing, I was also interested in welding and the building of brewing equipment. For about five years I was able to make a living doing just that: Travel and help build breweries. I would be working at a brewery for a week or a month and come across used equipment or equipment that was no longer in service. Then I’d trade for my labor or purchase all these bits and pieces of equipment that were no longer useful to the breweries, take them home to store in my garage for a few years. Over the years I would tinker and reconfigure them until, in May of 2010, I was finally able to place all the equipment I had been hoarding in a small warehouse on the west side of Bend. Sometimes people in the restaurant or service industry refer to the place they keep unwanted or old equipment as their “boneyard.” I collected all this equipment from other people’s boneyards, reconfigured it, repurposed it, retooled it and brought it back to life to start my own brewery: Boneyard.
Tell us about your employees. Who works here?
All together, we have 40 employees. On the manufacturing side, the brewery, we currently have about 20 people and on the pub side we have another 20. These are people who have been in the industry a long time. Most of them are buddies from the old days at Deschutes Brewery in the 1990s. We all went our separate ways for 15 years and came back together at Boneyard.
What makes you unique?
I think what makes us unique is the liquids we produce. The brand is a little edgy too. We put a new version of IPA on the table in 2010. Previously IPAs in Oregon used an older template or format. So new flavors, fun branding, and good timing makes us unique.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?
For the past 10 years we have been an anomaly of sorts. Again, we only sold our beer in kegs. When COVID-19 hit, we lost about 50% of our revenue because bars and restaurants were closed. Because of that we made the decision to pivot toward packaging (cans). It is much more complex to fill a 12oz container than a 13.2 gallon keg. The number of people, machines, amount of cubic feet and complexity of it all is currently what we are wrestling with. We bought the canning line and now must have a dedicated space in the warehouse for it and store the consumables, which is space we would have used for the kegs. The other challenge we face is looking at how to scale – the path to chain stores has been opened, but now we do not have enough beer to supply it. Currently we are packaging about 4,000 cases a week and trying to scale to 5,200 cases a week with a new permanent spot for the canning line. However, through all our humble conversations with distributors, we need to be at close to 15,000 cases a week. We do not have the equipment or capability in our current space to get there right now.
What does the future look like for Boneyard?
Our brand has always operated from a scarcity standpoint. It has always been oversold and difficult to find. Unless a common place for you is a bar or restaurant, you didn’t really cross Boneyard’s path. Now, we are in Safeway, Fred Meyer and have partnerships in chain stores just as we enter our second decade. It is putting a lot of wind in the sails and fresh air to the brand. The pivot has been very difficult, but when our team holds a can of beer and looks at the artwork on the can it is truly something amazing for us. At the end of the day it is all super exciting for us. Now we need to find a way to scale.
How do you view the future of manufacturing in Oregon?
For beer and beverage, the future is to grow and diversify, hard seltzers or other beverage lines as an example. Companies have built these big beautiful facilities and the beer space is incredibly crowded with high quality products. The elephant in the room for all of us is what the economy will look like in 2021. We joke about it a little, but beer has a bit of a hall pass because it is usually in the budget for consumers. People always seem to find the extra few dollars for a pint at the pub or six pack from the store. In Oregon, I think the industry will recover and be just fine if you can diversify, not be over-leveraged, and really keep it simple.
What makes you proudest about Boneyard?
We have achieved way more than I ever imagined. I am wildly honored and proud how this happened. The consumer likes us and continues to come back year after year and pint after pint. We have been successful because the consumer has cast their vote that we are what they are looking for. To me, that is top-notch and what I desired to achieve. A lot of times people talk about this industry as a three-tiered system: the supplier or manufacturer, the distributor, and the retailer. I came out swinging and said it is a four-tiered system – we cannot forget about the consumer. It is the person who drinks the product that we try to speak to, and we did exactly that.