Meet the Beerstream…
…a 1967 Airstream Overlander Land Yacht converted into a mobile beer and cocktail bar.
Last year wedding photographer Ely Roberts and his wife Abby (a labor and delivery nurse) relocated from San Luis Obispo, California to Bend, Oregon, where their new home offers two things they enjoy: outdoor recreation, and good beer.
“We’ve always dreamed of owning an Airstream and turning it into something fun,” said Roberts. “We had the idea of a backyard bar, but wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it. So we spent several months converting our 1967 Overlander into the Bend Beerstream.”
They bought the trailer in California from a Craigslist ad, and “it was in bad shape,” recalled Roberts. “All the appliances were rotted.” While they mulled over their next move, the Airstream stayed put on his father’s five-acre property in the California desert. In the meantime, Roberts continued to pursue his passion: home brewed beer. “I learned to do that with friends,” he said. “We’d all hang out once a month and brew a batch.” He started crafting IPAs, and now brews mostly stouts.
The idea for a mobile beer bar clicked “when we moved to Bend,” he said. “We figured, oh, it’s a beer town, perfect!”
Renovation of the Overlander was a family affair, with Roberts, his wife, and Roberts’ father all pitching in to build the rustic but upscale rolling bar. “It’s been fun to build and it’s fun to run with Abby—it’s a good time,” he said. Roberts relied on Hoffman Architecture restoration tutorial videos for help (especially the one on polishing), and his dad, who worked on aircraft for thirty years for the Navy. “He knew aluminum,” said Roberts.
The biggest task was building the open hatch on the side that flips straight up and out, installed with vintage light bulbs. The solid oak bar flips over from the inside to complete the serving area. “We just pull up, open it up, and start pouring,” said Roberts.
As a wedding photographer, he was familiar with the industry and started marketing the Beerstream to couples planning a unique out-of-the-way party without access to a bar, like in forest or on private property.
Hosts who rent the Beerstream and its staff pick and choose what they want to serve, and if they’re unsure, no problem; Roberts knows beer and he chooses what he likes, what he thinks others would like, and at least one popular new local product. “Right now everyone loves Boneyard’s RPM,” he said. “We also try to do a cider, a stout, and sometimes a kombucha,” (a fizzy, fermented tea drink). They also pour premixed signature cocktails selected for the event, and locally distilled craft spirits. “Our next step is to add more refrigeration,” he said. “And a coffee station, with hot water for tea. There are a lot of other beer trucks around but not one that serves cocktails, beer, wine and soon coffee. It’s really unique.”
It takes a specially-designed system to provide the variety of beverages on tap in the Beerstream. The Roberts’ originally expected to build a custom kegerator but luckily found one on Craigslist that fit perfectly in the space allowed and “was a killer deal,” he said. “It even fit through the door and we hadn’t anticipated that.” The multi-barrel system includes six taps for a variety of drinks, and six different regulators are built in to allow for the different densities of the liquids and push the beer through the lines.
The details are what make the Beerstream beautiful, like the tap handles—antlers Roberts bought in a yard sale in Morrow Bay. “Someone just found them out in the hills,” he said. His wife Abby installed them using a 3/8″ drill.
“The biggest problem now is keeping that polish on the aluminum,” he said, and the Beerstream stays in a storage unit in the off season. “But even when it’s a little dull, it still looks pretty.”
Tips for converting your Airstream into a bar
Want to attempt a similar project? Roberts is happy to help. “People are already contacting me,” he said, and he’s been consulting with Airstream owners in other states.
Check out Roberts’ photo essay, “How we turned our Airstream into a mobile beer bar”
If you plan to rent it for events, keep distance in mind. “You have to really stick to your territory,” said Roberts. “We have to make it worth our time and find price point that’s worth the travel. We like to stay within local county limit.” The Beerstream can travel up to 500 miles for an event, “but there’s quite a fee that comes with that.” This restriction is good news for others who want to build a mobile beer bar—many of them could be in operation across the country without direct competition.
By RG Coleman