Brewing Facility Considerations

One of the biggest challenges we've faced has been finding a facility to house The Virginia Beer Company. This is partly due to the fact that Robby and I have a specific vision for our brewery and are only willing to compromise to a certain point, but it's mostly due to the fact that breweries are extremely specialized uses and require a certain type of facility that isn't easy to find in an area like downtown Williamsburg (our chosen location!). None of the requirements and considerations listed below are hard and fast rules - you can certainly find breweries tucked into buildings with low ceilings and no floor drains! However, they were useful for us as we attempted to narrow our options during our 2+ year search for a facility and will hopefully illuminate why the process has been so challenging. 

Building Size & Design

Mayflower Brewing Company, Plymouth, MA.
Mayflower Brewing Company, Plymouth, MA.

The size of the brewing system (generally informed by the future growth plans of the business and/or the availability of startup funds) and the sizing of non-production space (offices, taproom, etc.) determine the square footage required for a brewery. A useful rough estimate is one square foot of space for every barrel (31 gallons) of annual production. One of the most important characteristics of a potential brewing facility is ceiling height. Minimum clearance should be 18' to allow for the installation of fermenting vessels that are designed to be narrow and tall, which results in cleaner fermentation. The facility should also have, if possible, both grade (14' x 14') and dock-level (10' x 10') access for easy shipping and receiving. We have been searching for a 12,000 - 20,000 square foot facility with 18' ceiling clearance and dock-level access.

Utilities

Proper access to utilities is essential when selecting a facility. Water is used in almost every aspect of brewing operations and therefore needs to be available with sufficient pressure and volume. Meter sizing is based on brewhouse sizing and production goals, but a 1" water meter and a flow rate of 60 PSI should be the minimum requirements. Effluent from brewing, cleaning, and packaging require adequate sewage discharge pipes as well. Three-phase power is an absolute necessity for a brewery. Minimum service should be 200 amps (a measure of the volume of electricity available) of 208V electricity (a measure of the pressure of electricity available) to run pumps, chillers, lights, etc. Standard boilers require access to natural gas (generally at least a 1" gas line), but electric boilers can be substituted in exchange for higher operating costs. We have been searching for a facility with a 2" water meter, a 4" sewer line, 600-800 amps of 480V three-phase power, and a 2" natural gas line. 

Concrete Slab & Drainage

Smartmouth Brewing Company, Norfolk, VA.
Smartmouth Brewing Company, Norfolk, VA.

A concrete slab is an incredibly important consideration when choosing a facility; brewing and fermentation vessels are extremely heavy when full of liquid! Required thickness and strength should be determined by a structural engineer after analyzing the compactness of the substrate below the slab, the quality of the concrete installation, and the size of the vessels that will be used in production. A rough guideline for thickness and strength is a minimum 3", 2500 PSI concrete slab reinforced with fibermesh or rebar. An optimal production floor would be sloped 1/4" per foot towards trench drains of adequate size for the large volume of water discharged on a daily basis. We have been searching for a facility with a 5", 3000 PSI concrete slab reinforced with fibermesh and sloped to 4" trench drains. 

With the requirements listed above, it's not surprising that most breweries are located in industrial parks. We want to buck that trend, though, which is one of the reasons we have been so patient over the past two years. Our vision is a brewery located in a central, visible location that will serve as a community gathering space and a destination for both local and visiting craft beer enthusiasts. We look forward to sharing specific information about our future facility once lease negotiations are complete!