On September 17, 1984, Kalama’s Hart Brewing Company poured their first brew, the copper-hued Pyramid Pale Ale, for friends, fellow brewers and a few beer writers, to rave reviews. A labor of love, the small family brewery quickly proved itself a high-quality microbrew trailblazer in the six years it was under the direction of husband-and-wife founders Tom Buane and Beth Hartwell (left).
It was just the fourth craft brewery to open in Washington State, and the second-ever to operate in Kalama. The first was the Schauble Brothers Brewery and that had made its final last call a century earlier. Like that pioneering predecessor, Hart was a thoroughly family affair.
Beth, one of the first female brewery owners in the U.S. since Prohibition, worked the business side of things while Tom ran the brewing operation. The couple had been inspired to make their own distinct, great-tasting beer because of the brisk sales of the bottled import beers they sold at a delicatessen they previously had operated in Seattle.
The original home of Hart Brewing was the cavernous 1890s mercantile building at 176 N. 1st Street (since torn down). “It had a concrete floor with a drain in it. So we were like, we can start here,” Beth recalled with a laugh. There was little signage to identify it, but the kegs stacked in the front bay windows left little doubt.
In the old downtown structure, Tom retrofitted while Beth made sales contacts and scoured the surrounding area for second-hand kegs. Once fermentation and refrigeration installation were complete, the shingle and advertising posters hand-painted and the recipe for Pyramid Pale Ale perfected, the couple was in business.
There was a collegial atmosphere among the area’s first craft brewers, especially in the Portland area (which stretched to Kalama) and included Mike and Brian McMenamin. There were many enjoyable get-togethers and dinners to laugh, commiserate and dream.
And this group of craft brewing pioneers helped one another out wherever possible, with ingredients and techniques to marketing and distribution options. The greatest challenge for these brewers may have been rounding up workable brewing equipment since most of it was not yet readily available in micro-size. Thus, dairy tanks were converted for brewing, and so forth.
Launching and operating a craft brewery is a monumental undertaking for anyone, but Hart was especially impressive considering Beth and Tom did it all with a baby in tow. Sterling, their eldest son, was born the same year they founded the brewery. As Beth recalls, “I was on the bottle line with a baby on my back for thirteen hours.”
As he grew, so did Sterling’s ability to help in the family business. Within a few years, he was stacking up bottles on the line and rolling kegs to the washer. As he remembers, “I’d just roll ’em across to my dad and he would wash ’em.”
After six years, Tom and Beth decided to leave behind the long hours and travel of the brew business for greener pastures…literally. They purchased a dairy farm northeast of nearby Woodland, selling the brewery to a group of investors. The business was renamed Pyramid Brewing, after Tom and Beth’s top-selling product, and operations moved to a new facility built along the riverfront, where the Port of Kalama office building stands now (just north of McMenamins). It remained operational ’til the late 2000s, at which point the business relocated to Seattle.