By: Matt Brasch, The Brewholder
About an hour and forty minutes west of Philadelphia, and just down the road from the Tröegs brothers’ brewery, Boneshire Brew Works is the newest addition to a growing brew scene in the Harrisburg-Hershey region. Although it had a soft opening last week, this Friday will be Boneshire’s official Grand Opening at 5pm, and the Boneshire crew is ready to welcome the public as Swatara Township’s local brewery.
We stopped in about two weeks prior to the Grand Opening to find out what Boneshire is all about. They had just finished the cleaning their tap lines and we were lucky enough to try the first batch of beer to flow through the taps – Boneshire’s “Tried & True Witbier.” After we toasted to the impending opening, we asked Boneshire’s founder and head brewer, Alan Miller, to tell us a little about his labor of love, Boneshire Brew Works.
Miller began home brewing in 2004, then in 2011 opened Millbock Brewing Company with Albert De Bock. After a few extremely successful years, they closed Millbock in 2014; but Miller wanted to continue brewing. Convincing his wife it was the right thing to do, he bought the Millbock equipment and brought in 10 business partners to get the Boneshire dream off the ground.
Set in a strip mall on Derry Street in Swatara Township, Miller explained that the Boneshire location was a blank slate when they first walked in. The building had been a machine shop 10 to 15 years ago; most recently it held batting cages, which was evident from the baseball that the Boneshire team found imbedded in the wall during their remodeling. As with most new breweries, the build out had its obstacles – they had to rerun all the electric, grind out old black mastic from the concrete floor, and meet water and sewer regulations. But a point of pride for Miller and co-owner Alex Govelovich – they did it all themselves, by hand, even though they both currently have other jobs.
According to Govelovich, their location seems to be a promising one. “Derry Street is pretty heavily traveled in the mornings and afternoons. People coming home at the end of the day – even before we’re open – they’ve seen us. They’ve been stopping by and asking questions, they’ve been telling their friends. We’ve got people who drive by every day – creeping by really slow in their cars – trying to see if we’re open yet!” Boneshire loves the surprisingly wild support that is spreading by word by mouth. Miller explained, “There aren’t that many places right around here on Derry Street where you can get a good beer. Behind us are tons of residential areas, and we are close by. We’re exited to see what happens once we get the doors open.”
Boneshire will initially focus on production brewing, rather than opening as a brewpub. And they are prepared for production – they have a 10 barrel system with a 15 barrel boil kettle. “We knew that we would eventually grow and wanted to find something that we wouldn’t have to reinvest a lot of money in. So we found a manufacturer in Colorado who modified the system so we can do both 10 barrel and 15 barrel batches. We saved money there by not having to purchase a new boil kettle when we are ready to expand.”
All the fermenters are 10 barrel, and the mash tun was originally a dairy tank. Miller says the mash tun is flexible – “We can do 15 barrel batches of 4 – 5% beer in it, but we’d be stretching if we tried to do that amount of higher alcohol beer. We can do 12% – 13% ABV for 10 barrels. So its got a wide range of things that we can do with it.”
They plan to sell beer in kegs and from the tap at the brewery; once they can anticipate the demand for their beer, they will begin to sell growlers. According to Miller, they don’t plan on buying a bottling line or canning system anytime soon, but they may have some bottles available by Christmas – but he is quick to add that those “bottles are not guaranteed!”
As far as food is concerned, they would like to serve snack foods – chips and pretzels – but Miller wants to put a southern twist on the experience and also serve pickled items – like pickled pigs feet and pickled quail eggs. Eventually Miller wants to serve southern BBQ – hence the pig in Boneshire’s logo – and even dreams of BBQ’ing “whole hog, whole animal; I’d love to BBQ a whole cow someday.” But in the meantime, there’s a pizza shop two doors down from the brewery, and there’s a Chinese restaurant close by; both would be easily accessible for someone who wanted to bring food into the brewery.
Miller explained that he wants to work with local restaurants and other businesses to support the local economy. “The beer community is helpful within itself – even though we’re competitors, we’re open and helpful with each other. I want to spread that helpfulness to other local businesses that have the same mentality. In fact, we’re working with a local baseball bat company – they created our tap handles out of old bourbon barrel staves. And we’re using their old wood – a lot of their wood is fine, straight grain, maple wood – so we split it up into larger chunks and aged them in bourbon then used the wood in one of our breakfast beers.”
They also plan to make non-alcoholic fruit sodas and mixers, but will have to wait until they can purchase a pasteurization system. Once they do – and thanks to the recent change in Pennsylvania law that allows them to sell Pennsylvania-made spirits – Govelovich looks forward to offering an “all-Harrisburg Moscow Mule, made from Boneshire ginger beer and vodka from a local distillery.” Govelovich, who grew up in Swatara Township, is excited to own a local business, “It’s really cool to have grown up here and now have a business here. Working here and helping folks out is really great.”
Miller is adamant about producing quality beer. “We don’t want to do 400 different styles of beer. We want to do what we do well – whether that is 3 beers, 4 beers, or more. Our focus is on producing a super-high quality product. A lot of breweries that are opening now have goals of getting the doors open and making as much money as they can right away by making as many beer styles as possible. I don’t believe that is a sustainable model – what I want people to realize when they come in is that we’re just like the every day guy. Things in the tasting room might look a little rough, but we want it that way.” Govelovich agrees, “We did everything in here with our own hands – from the front door to the back door – we did it. It’s a labor of love.”
The Boneshire name is a combination of Miller’s son’s nickname – ‘Hambone,’ and his dog’s nickname – ‘Shire.”‘ So the name holds meaning for Miller, but also, he explained with a laugh, “It was easily available for trademark, which is important so we don’t get sued the first day in operation!” The pig logo is a tribute to his family who raised pigs, but it is also because he wants to serve Southern style BBQ with his beer someday.
The soft opening of Boneshire Brew Works was on October 30 and saw several hundred people attend. On draft was their “Tried and True Witbier,” “Devil’s Burden Rye IPA,” and “Lazaris Unrobed Stout,” and food was served by Nomad BBQ. They also had a few variant firkins that were gone within the first 30 minutes! Needless to say, many are looking forward to the Grand Opening at 5pm on Friday, November 4, with their “Coconut Russian Imperial Stout,” “Peanut Butter Russian Imperial Stout,” “Tiramisu Russian Imperial Stout,” and “Strawberry Tried and True Witbier.”
So the next time you are in the Harrisburg area, put Boneshire Brew Works on your agenda. If you need a reason to go, Miller gives you three: “1. We make damn good beer. 2. It’s a kick ass place. 3. We’re all pretty cool guys.” You can find more information and directions on Boneshire’s Facebook page and their website, www.boneshire.com
Cheers and good luck to Boneshire Brewing!