Built For Brewers: Oregon Welder Finds Niche In Beer-Making Systems

RealClear Staff

            

     Nearly 10 years ago, out in Eugene, Oregon, Aaron Keeney merged his art and a love of ale in order for his town to have a craft-beer welder who’s reliable and understands a commitment to quality. Today, Keeney’s Synergy Brewing Systems services Eugene’s home brewers, big breweries and a lot more.

[Keeney with a stainless-steel brewin kettle. | Photo: Dylan Darling] 

While Keeney’s and co-owner Josh Mathews’s collaborative makes the necessary equipment including three kettles and propane burners fashioned onto a rolling stand (an arsenal that can avail five to 30+ gallons of ale), they’re not just a mash-tools manufacturer—they create and repair brewing systems.

Because of Keeney’s welding background, he tackles the hard-to-cut-through tasks for outfits such as Oakshire Brewing, Ninkasi Brewing Co., Hop Valley Brewing Co. and Oregon-ale ensembles. He can go on site, or folks can roll to him for repairs. More than just a Mr. Fix-It for foamers, Synergy lets big breweries test their latest recipes in the shop’s smaller setups.

“[Keeney’s] something of an icon in Eugene, in terms of his stainless-steel welding skills and who he is in the community,” Oakshire Owner Jeff Althouse said. “He’s joining the metal together in exactly the way that it needs to be joined. There’s no additional material required. There’s nothing ugly about it. It’s clean. It’s consistent. They’re tight. Everything is square. There is just a meticulousness to his work that keeps us coming back.”

Fusing Together A Future

It was at the ripe age of 13 that Keeney cut into the welding world. A family friend loaned him the equipment so he could create a sprocket that increased the speed of a riding lawnmower—innovator! He also immersed himself in welding classes at Springfield’s Thurston High School. Upon him making a living off burgeoning bicycle parts via the school’s metal shop, that preparation propelled him into erecting a business.

[Aaron hard at work | Photo: Dylan Darling]

“Things kind of clicked, and I spent more time in the metal shop than I did in some other classes,” Keeney said in an interview.

To educate himself on business, Keeny took courses at Lane Community College. While he didn’t go through the motions of getting a degree, he acquired enough knowledge to start and sustain his company. By 2002, Keeny has saved up $20,000 from welding projects—a motorized hot-rod wheelchair for Burning Man. In 2003, Keeney launched Synergy Metal-Working, which specialized in all-terrain vehicles. By the time he reached his early 20s, he had his heart set on home brewing. From there, he simply combined his hobby with his professional craft—it was all ale efforts after that.

Two-thousand-eight marked the Keeney’s collaboration with fellow-welder and good-friend Josh Mathews. The two rented a 1,200-square-foot shop in 2009 located on West First Avenue. Their warehouse has more than doubled, but the staff has not—it’s still just Josh and Aaron.

Synergy makes its money through home-brewing help and servicing commercial clients. On a monthly basis, they roll out anywhere from three to 10 brewing systems—$3,000+ a pop! He also has some side hustles entailing repairs for breweries, restaurants and those with stainless-steel issue.

“I like to be able to help companies I care about,” Keeney said.

Because Synergy’s not big in size, their home-brewing setups are built at an almost-on-demand rate—when needed. This firm also outsources to subcontractors when they’re swamped in service orders. However, it’s just the welding wonders when things are slow.

“It’s feast or famine in the small business world,” Keeney said.

Development

Tackling the big-brewery projects meant refining service for home brewers—they can order their equipment through Synergy’s website.

“They are modeled to be on par with how a commercial system operates, but they are on a size-level that homebrewers can use them—as well as the breweries for testing (and) recipe development,” Keeney explained.

[You can't go wrong with stainless steel from SBS. | Photo: Dylan Darling]

Synergy Brewing Systems’ popularity has increased among both home brewers and big-ale outfits, but Keeney’s insistent on the company staying small. He even turned sell-out offers from corporate, national entities—Keeny’s keeping the operation at his own pace.

Jeff Althouse noted Synergy’s projects sustaining efficiency for Oakshire. More, Keeney took it upon himself to educate Althouse’s employees in the ways of welding. Althouse sees Keeney’s welding technique as a true art.

“People get to drink even better beer because of folks like Aaron behind the scenes, helping us literally build the equipment we need to build to make things happen,” Althouse added.

Clients will find no cheaply made foreign parts in Aaron’s arsenal—he’s committed to quality. Rather than resting on their laurels, SBS is always finding ways to make its site stand out among the rest—Keeney’s well versed in SEO.

And with them operating in Oregon, it’s not a shock to know Keeney has another company catering to the marijuana world. His machine, “Kief Thief,” extracts THC-heavy powder from pot that has been smoked, turned to hashish or used for cooking.

While that’s definitely an extra-money maker, Keeney personally prefers toiling in the brewing systems, as those allow clients to actually get creative. “The ultimate goal is to make tools for people,” Keeney said.

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