LAKELAND — Tim Schoen and Joey Redner pop a couple of cans of Cigar City Beer and pour them into tall glasses as they sit at a tall, sturdy wood table in the new tasting room at Brew Hub off Interstate 4.
As the foam creates a creamy head in the glass, Schoen, Brew Hub’s CEO, chats with Redner, Cigar City’s owner, about each beer’s style and how they’ll be brewed at the facility for distribution across Florida.
What they’re not talking about is the hand-hewn table where they’re sitting. Or the detail of the wood in the 80-foot-long bar behind them. Or the room’s warm trim work. Each of those things will have a story to tell customers when the tasting room opens next month.
Much of the wood in the 3,000-square-foot room has been repurposed or recycled from a barn built in 1898 in St. Clair, Missouri. Repurposed wood has become the hot decor signature in recent years in restaurants, bars and brew pubs as a subtle, rustic sign of handcrafted, artisan, folksy food.
As the farm-to-table movement picked up speed in the past five years, more tables started to come from farms and other places where wooden structures became dilapidated liabilities. Also, government tax credits rewarding ecologically minded builders for using recycled wood made it a profitable choice. So popular has the scrounging for discarded wood become that those who dumpster-dive for scraps have picked up the nickname “urban lumberjacks.”
If you’ve appreciated the cedar used in the bar, tap handles and benches at The Independent Bar and Cafe in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, you’ve seen repurposed wood first-hand. The pine bench and table in the tasting room at 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg were made with reclaimed material. The facade of Buddy Brew Coffee’s espresso bar is a mishmash of old wood pallets. The long bar and high-top table at Local Public House and Provisions in San Antonio were fashioned out of tall pecky cypress that had been submerged in a local lake. So was the power table at the soon-to-open Ulele restaurant in Seminole Heights.
“I definitely think [the reclaimed lumber] makes the beer and food taste better,” said Jimmy Farrah, founder and president of Rustic Grain, a St. Louis company that specializes in making repurposed furniture and interior decor.
Farrah’s company did the work at the Brew Hub tasting room using refurbished wood from the St. Clair barn and hay loft near the original Route 66. One different twist: Rustic Grain affixes tables and bar tops with engraved plates that allow customers to go online to see photos of the barn from which the wood was repurposed and read its story.
“We love the look and the feel of venerable old barn structures,” the website reads. “In them we see the past and we see their transformation into pieces of the future.”
Farrah started Rustic Grain in July 2013 after seeing a seemingly endless amount of old farm buildings during a cross-country trip to St. Louis from New York City the year before. A friend who had been using recycled wood from barns for garage projects joined him in the business. Most of the wood Rustic uses comes from farm owners who needed buildings removed in order to reduce their insurance liability. Once harvested, reclaimed wood must be refurbished to remove nails and other debris. Most owners give the wood away, Farrah said. One simply asked for a new table made from the scrap as compensation.
Giving those sitting at bars and restaurants a tool to trace the source of the wood was a way to add value, he said.
“Anyone can go buy reclaimed wood, but they can’t tell you what it had been used for,” Farrah said. “We have the ability — from the tin to the hardware — to tell you who owned it in 1857.”
For Diane Schoen, Tim Schoen’s wife and Brew Hub’s tasting room designer, the reclaimed lumber was a way to humanize one corner of a 50,000-square-foot concrete manufacturing building. Even the wood barrels mounted between flat screen TVs along the back of the bar were used once before for aging beer.
“We wanted it to feel lived-in and welcoming, and to be a place where you would meet friends or make new ones,” she said.
In Tampa, Devon Brady of LiveWork Studios is repurposing ceiling joists from Angry Chair Brewing’s facility in Seminole Heights. The joists got in the way of tall brewing tanks, so the owners wanted the bar surface and table tops made with the heart pine.
The old-growth pine trees used to make the joists have more resin and are resistant to pests. New lumber is less durable and has far less character. Plus, using the old pine keeps it from going to the landfill, Brady said.
“To me, it’s more attractive,” he said. “The wood has already lived one life. Now it’s a table. It’s not like something from Pottery Barn.”