With 9,118 craft breweries now operating in the United States as of 2021 (Brewers Association), it seems like each town, city, and village has one or two breweries on every block.
If you’re looking to open a brewery for the first time or even searching for a second location, finding the ideal place to set up shop will be one of the most important decisions you make. After all, as the old adage goes: It’s all about location, location, location!
So how do you determine the right location for your brewery?
We spoke to Finback Brewery in New York (with two locations and a third in planning) and Monday Night Brewing in Georgia (with four locations and a fifth in planning) to figure out how they found the best spots for all their taprooms and production spaces, what tips they have when looking at potential sites, and the crucial lessons they learned from making their own mistakes.
Above Photo: Monday Night Brewing Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Baker
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The First Step to Finding a Brewery Location
Finding the appropriate location for your brewery depends on the business model you want to run. Are you looking to just be a production facility, do you want to open up a taproom, or are you aiming for a combination of both?
The most important consideration here is to match the location to your purpose.
For example, Finback Brewery Co-Founder Basil Lee says in the beginning he and his business partner, Kevin Stafford, wanted a location that wasn’t “one hundred percent taproom or one hundred percent production, but we were leaning more to taproom…because we saw that model as the only way for small breweries to really work.”
That meant looking for a space close to public transportation and in an up-and-coming neighborhood, such as Gowanus in Brooklyn, NY.
For Monday Night Brewing in Atlanta, GA, Chief Operations Officer Rachel Kiley explains that, when the brewery first opened in Atlanta in 2011, laws prevented them from selling beer directly from the taproom to consumers. “[Our] only real route of profitability as a business was to go large scale manufacturing and make a brewery designed to go wholesale,” says Kiley.
So Monday Night looked for a location large enough to manage their production. And it’s a model they’ve continued to follow with each subsequent location with much success: looking for locations in medium to large metropolitan areas with higher traffic near dense population centers.
“That’s the trick,” says Kiley. “Finding high-traffic, dense urban area premium spots, but having enough space to hold onto raw ingredients and materials to run a manufacturing business.” It’s an approach that’s worked well for Monday Night Brewing, who now has four locations in three different states and will be opening a fourth in Charlotte, NC, in the first quarter of 2023.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right approach for everyone.
After two years of searching for a place in Brooklyn, Lee says Finback settled on a location in a quiet, residential area of Queens. Mostly because of the budget.
“All the things that make a neighborhood good are the same things that make a neighborhood expensive,” says Lee. Moving farther and farther away from Brooklyn, Lee says they finally found an old food manufacturing plant in Glendale that was relatively clean, had a roof, and was “two or two-and-a-half times bigger than anything else we looked at, but half the price.”
Of course, that also meant Finback set up shop in a very residential neighborhood, far from any accessible subway station. “When we ended up in that location, we were suddenly not sure,” says Lee. “It wasn’t this easy place to get to.”
But the quieter location actually became a boon for Finback. “We became a community space for that area…because there weren’t other spaces like us…where you could have a beer and hang out with people from the neighborhood,” says Lee. “We were off the beaten path and we had positive things come from that.”
Bottom line: The space you search for will depend on what type of brewery business you’re looking to build out. But you should also be open to being flexible. Sometimes things don’t always go to plan and still end up working in your favor.
Look for a Place Close to Where You Live
When Finback first opened, Lee lived in Gowanus and says they started out “looking for the best location for us, close to where we lived, in an area we thought was up and coming.” It didn’t work out at the time, but when Finback had the opportunity to open a second taproom, they went right back to that neighborhood.
At Monday Night Brewing, Kiley says they were able to open up close to where she and co-founders Jeff Heck, Joel Iverson, and Jonathan Baker lived. The first West Midtown Atlanta location was less than two miles from the original garage where Heck, Iverson, and Baker started homebrewing during bible study groups.
“It ended up being an awesome bonus because if you get an alert on the glycol system at 1am, you don’t have to traipse all the way to the other side of town to see it’s just a sensor issue,” she says.
Living close to the brewery was so important that, when Monday Night opened its second location only four miles away from the original one, Kiley and her husband, Monday Night Brewmaster Peter Kiley, actually rented a house one block away and lived there for a year and a half during the build-out.
“It was definitely the case that you got those late night calls or those early morning ones [saying], ‘Hey the driver showed up before our dock hours, can you let him start unloading,’” says Kiley. “If you’re able to live near your brewery, it’s a great idea.”
Understand the Laws in Your Area, Spend Money on the Experts
Every town, city, state, or even region will have different laws that could affect the location of your brewery or what your business needs.
“Get a good understanding of municipal and local regulations before finding a spot,” says Kiley. “You have your business model, your dream, your idea, [so] it’s one hundred percent worth spending the money to talk to an expert.”
Kiley says questions to ask include: What licensing do I need? Is this dream legal and executable and permissible in this market? “Whatever money you spend up front will be worth it every single time,” she says.
She suggests reaching out to your local Brewers Guild, who will likely have resources to help you.
Especially, when it comes to issues you’re not the expert on.
For example, in Atlanta there are specific wastewater treatment requirements that a manufacturer needs to adhere to. “Talking to your attorney or an architect gives you a good idea of must-haves from a utility perspective, so you can understand how that will impact the cost of the buildout,” says Kiley.
In New York, Lee says the city is a little more forgiving when it comes to the brewery’s impact on infrastructure. But he still ended up meeting with a contractor and bringing them around to potential location sites just to get a sense of their functionality. “Will this be a nightmare to deal with?” he says. “You want to go through and, before you get a space, make sure it works.”
Six Key Things to Look for in a Building for a Brewery
Behind the scenes, brewing is a manufacturing business that requires certain specifications. Similarly, in the front of house with a taproom space, you need to find a place that can accommodate things like a kitchen if need be, consumer restrooms, and more.
What to Look for in the Brewhouse
There are certain building features every functional brewery requires.
“You need some degree of ceiling height, there can’t be super low ceilings,” says Lee. Brewery equipment tends to reach a certain height, so having higher ceilings helps accommodate those pieces of equipment.
As a manufacturer of brewing and distilling equipment, Specific Mechanical advises that smaller systems of 5 to 10 barrels should take into account ceiling heights of 12 to 15 feet in the brewhouse and cellar sections.
Because of the higher volumes of the containers, microbreweries and production breweries will require additional ceiling heights.
Additionally, floors and drainage are extremely important. Breweries are wet environments by nature, so having floor drains is essential to any brewery setup. If your building doesn’t have them, you’ll need to install them.
Lastly, a convenient loading dock for deliveries and pickups can be crucial.
In fact, when we asked Kiley some of the best features to look for in a space, the first thing she said was, “A loading dock is really nice.”
When looking at a potential property, be aware of any additional tenants that use the loading dock. You should ask for a time to schedule a meeting to discuss shipping and receiving requirements.
Ideally, “you’re trying to find something that has a lot of decent infrastructure,” says Lee, cautioning that if you can’t find a space with all these requirements, you’ll have to add those in yourself.
The nature of brewing means that you will use a lot of utilities—water/sewer, gas, and electric, to be exact. When Wooden Hill Brewing Company in Edina, MN, looked for a brewery space, they documented their journey, sharing helpful tips from their own experiences.
They learned pretty quickly that determining the capacity of all these utilities was paramount. They recommend understanding the condition of the utilities in a potential brewing prior to putting in an offer.
In some cases, you may have to make certain upgrades, which will definitely increase your budget.
Water will be used everywhere in a brewery from the actual brewing process to cleaning and sanitizing.
Specific Mechanical Systems recommends that the main water supply to a brewery be 60 psi at 25-30 GPM.
One of the most important considerations when it comes to water is making sure you have a uniform flow. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re the only tenant in a building.
But if you’re one of many, you’ll need to understand how and at what rate you receive water because the supply to each unit could be less than the building’s water main.
There are options though depending on the situation. If the building’s water main has a high enough capacity, you can just run a new water line to your space, which will cost significantly less than running a whole new water main.
Wooden Hill indicates that running a new water line can cost around $5k compared to $10-$15k to run a whole new main.
Size also matters here.
The water main should be at least two inches in diameter. And the sewer main should be four inches in diameter.
One good thing to note: Depending on where you are, some cities may require filtering their water.
Lastly, it’s a good sign if a sprinkler system is already in place, because that indicates healthy water and sewer lines.
Similarly, a brewery uses quite a bit of natural gas to power a steam boiler or kettle burner.
Luckily, most commercial buildings probably already have a good gas supply. But you shouldn’t assume. Make sure you check with the landlord or your real estate agency about the state of the gas supply.
According to Specific Mechanical, standard electrical for their brewing equipment is 208VAC, four wire, sixty hertz, and three phase, which gives the most stable current for pieces of machinery that have electric motors.
Single-phase power, while technically enough to power smaller brewing systems, isn’t the strongest option here. Most equipment manufacturers require a three-phase power source to operate.
And here is the key: You need your own three-phase service. Don’t expect to use your neighbor’s.
The good news is that most industrial buildings tap into this kind of heavy power, but the bad news is that if you do need to upgrade, it will run you anywhere from $5k-$50k depending on how far you are from the closest three-phase power grid.
Additionally, you’ll typically need service between 200 and 400 amps.
But that can vary by brewery. For example, Wooden Hill’s build-out needed 800 amps for their 9,000-square-foot space.
One thing that really was beneficial for Monday Night Brewing was finding a location that allowed for extra storage.
“During the pandemic, order minimums were raised, leaving many brewers having to scramble to find places to store materials,” explains Kiley. “If I have to buy a six months’ supply I have the space to hold…onto all the raw ingredients and materials you need to run your manufacturing business.”
Having extra space can allow your brewery to grow with you over the years.
“You’re going to always be moving and growing in the space, so the criteria of a functional space will develop as the brewery does,” says Lee.
What to Look for in the Taproom
Food is a boon to any brewery business because drinking and eating go hand in hand. When Lee opened up Finback’s new spot in Brooklyn, he enlisted his mom to make dumplings to serve folks. “I love the idea of doing Asian snacks with beer,” he says.
At Monday Night, two locations already have a food program with a third and hopefully fourth to follow soon, according to Kiley. “If you’re able to be in an urban area, where are people going to eat?” says Kiley. “How will people stick around longer? How will you have the best possible hospitality experience at your location?”
If you want people to come hang out at your brewery, you either need to provide them with a space to park or give them directions for what parking is like in your area. Are there permit requirements? Is street parking sufficient? Will forgoing a brewery-specific parking option affect whether customers visit you? Consistent and accessible parking means it’s more likely people will visit you regularly.
Many warehouse locations weren’t built to be public facing, so they might not be equipped with restrooms for patrons. If you need to add bathrooms, you’ll need to build that into your budget. Plus, certain local codes might call for an exact number of stalls based on how many people your facility can hold. Talk to your attorney or architect or contact your local guild to find out more about the laws in your area.
If you want people to come and enjoy beer in your space, they need to be able to be comfortable in it. “Accessibility needs to be good if you’re trying to ask the public to come,” says Lee. Are you aware of ADA codes required for certain establishments that have to be met for people with disabilities?
When you’re ready to open a second location, check out our follow-up guide, which includes even more advice from Rachel and Basil.
The Unexpected Challenges of Finding a Brewery Location
The search for the best brewery location is not without its surprises and shocks.
Lee encourages any brewery owner to be patient and prepared as you make this large investment in your business.
Both Lee and Kiley learned crucial lessons from working through their own hurdles and challenges along the way.
Understanding Landlord Relationships and Leases
Entering into a lease is a large, long-term investment, so understanding what you’re signing and the landlord you’re signing it with is crucial.
When Lee signed the dotted line on Finback’s Ridgewood location, that was the first time he had negotiated a commercial lease. He said it was crucial “understanding what it meant and making sure the landlord understood what it meant to open a brewery.”
Finback wasn’t going to be a club open until two in the morning attracting a bunch of drunk people, but rather a functional community space.
He also recommended setting up a lease anywhere from ten to fifteen years. “You can get a five-year lease, but five years is nothing,” says Lee, noting that it took Finback at least two to three years to just find their momentum. “It’s important to think about the long term. How long is your lease? Make it worthwhile.”
At Monday Night, Kiley says they have a wide range of good landlord relationships and it’s been beneficial in the long run. An additional benefit that Monday Night found with being a new business is, when leasing, you can often get tenant investments (TI).
Essentially money the building owner gives you up front that they finance through square footage and rent, TI money has several advantages.
“That money was helpful in the build-out of all of our locations, helping us bridge the gap from build-out to starting to bring in some money,” explains Kiley, noting that this practice allowed them to forgo taking out loans to finance properties and instead apply them to other projects associated with opening the business.
Creating a Reasonable Budget
All the things that make a neighborhood great can sometimes be what also makes it expensive. Proximity to the subway or a waterfront location can be competitive and costly.
“It’s expensive to open small breweries, especially in today’s market,” explains Lee. “It’s a large investment so consider the longer-term goals and plans for your brewery.”
Breweries located within an industrial building, in many ways, require improvements to accommodate food and beverage production. Consider the changes that will be required after you sign the lease when creating your budget.
Having a True Concept of Time
Time is money, yes. But finding the right property shouldn’t be rushed.
When faced with a limited budget in the New York City real estate market, it took considerable time for Finback to find a space.
“Over a span of two years, we toured at least a hundred properties,” explains Lee. “When we made the decision to open a brewery…we kept pursuing it even through all these hurdles.”
And it’s funny how these things work.
When Lee’s business partner, Kevin Stafford, approached him about opening up a second space, he thought it would be another long, drawn-out process. But Stafford found the perfect location within two weeks.
Additionally, during the process, Lee says not to feel pressured into committing to the first space you see just for fear another won’t come along.
“In New York, every real estate broker said there are ten other people looking at this,” explains Lee. “The idea is you have to make a decision quickly. They’re always pressuring you. [But] you want to go through and, before you get a space, make sure it works.”
To help see the bigger picture, Lee says they brought some additional eyes to evaluate whether the space was able to function as a brewery.
“Have an architect do a quick drawing or sketch,” explains Lee. “Will it work functionally for you? We had a contractor we met and brought them around to give us a sense.”
Focus on Finding the Brewing Location and Let Ollie Handle Your Brewing Management
Trying to nail down the ideal brewery location can be a journey but one worth taking the scenic route to make sure you don’t miss any possible hidden gems along the way. Once you do find the space where you’d like to open your business, make sure you invest in brewery management software that will grow your business.
Ollie’s software was created by brewers for brewers and offers you industry best practice sales and operational workflows to help you take control of your alcohol business.
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