Responsible Planning for Craft Brewery Construction
Location, Location, and Many More Considerations
by John Nelson
As you sit in a cozy brewery taproom, or on a gorgeously landscaped, picturesque brewery patio, contemplate what was there before: A vacant building? An empty lot? Was it a former auto shop? How about a vintage grain elevator?
Craft breweries have shown that nothing is off the table in terms of where to put a brewery. With many demonstrating that almost any building or property can be successfully transformed into a beer production facility, and of course, an attractive and flourishing beer drinking environment. Every brewery has their own construction story, and the unique designs found coast to coast are just another element of what makes this industry so special.
Pictured below are strategically placed shipping containers at Ska Brewing Company (Durango, Colorado), a church turned taproom at Salt Springs Brewery (Saline, Michigan), and open family farm land at Hill Farmstead Brewery (Bend, Vermont); all renovated and arranged to offer distinctively ‘sudsy’ social settings.
Everyone has their own taproom ambiance that they appreciate and enjoy. Vibrant, gothic, outdoorsy, modern, rustic, and on and on; visit a large city and you will no doubt find one that fits your preference. Regardless of what suits your fancy though, it’s worth looking at the implications of brewery construction and their popularity on their local environments. By understanding these effects, brewery owners can make responsible decisions as they move forward with new production facilities or taproom expansions throughout the country.
In an industry known for many of its members working to address sustainability, it should not come as a surprise that brewery sustainability considerations often start with construction. In fact the Brewers Association (a trade association that works to help independent craft brewers) even offers a detailed manual for sustainable building tips titled “Sustainable Design + Build Strategies for Craft Brewers”.
Among the many decisions breweries or taprooms in planning weigh, ‘building type’ is usually among the first. Most, having thin wallets, choose to renovate an existing structure. And mentioned earlier, all building types get consideration in terms of these renovations for the often eccentric craft brewer: breweries built in churches, gas stations, defunct jails are all proof of this. Repurposing an existing structure can not only be more wallet friendly, but also more sustainable too, as new construction has inevitable amounts of waste that comes with it.
That’s not to say that the ‘ground up’ route cannot be sustainable though. In fact breweries working to build new facilities often have the flexibility to incorporate sustainable design throughout the new structure. There are few craft sustainability examples on the same level as Sierra Nevada, based out of Chico, CA.
In building their new Mill Rivers, NC facility, Sierra Nevada was able to prioritize sustainable design right off the bat, rather than update existing structure to be more sustainable, like at their original facility in Chico. The result is a gorgeously designed, incredibly efficient building that perfectly blends in with its wooded natural surroundings. Click here for Sierra Nevada’s truly impressive virtual sustainability tours for both the Chico and Mill Rivers facilities:
Breweries going the ‘ground up’ route also have unique opportunities to clean up, or restore existing areas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labels ‘Brownfields’ as building sites with previous exposure to contaminants like lead, oil, pesticides, asbestos, etc. And many breweries have increasingly been pursuing such sites. But ‘why’ you ask?
Well, aside from the satisfaction that comes from cleaning up a polluted area, such building sites unsurprisingly are often listed at lower costs. Additionally, EPA, federal, state, and sometimes local grants are often available as incentives for these clean-up projects, as they help to breathe life back into their surrounding communities.
“The Center for Creative Land Recycling is the oldest and only national non-profit working exclusively to champion land cleanup and reuse.” (CCLR). This organization has worked to dramatically improve areas such as Brownfields all around the country, and have shared the successes of several breweries who have taken on building projects on such sites.
In May of 2018, in a presentation called ‘Put a Beer on it! Brownfields to Brewfields Redevelopment’, CCLR, shared multiple examples of breweries who have successfully built flourishing environments on previous brownfield sites. Among the discussed breweries was New Belgium, based out of Fort Collins, CO, who has long been well-known in the industry for their sustainability initiatives.
Just like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium also chose North Carolina (Asheville in particular) for their second brewery location. When assessing possible building sites, one in particular stood out. “New Belgium was excited to find an urban redevelopment opportunity in the heart of Asheville’s River Arts District and adjacent to the residential area of west Asheville, allowing staff to bike, walk and bus to work.” (CCLR, New Belgium Brewing).
The 18-acre property they chose (pictured above) was previously occupied by various agricultural and industrial businesses. Pollutants such as “lead-based paint, some petroleum, methane (from organic decomposition), asbestos containing materials and lots of construction landfill debris” were all found on the property. (CCLR, New Belgium).
97% of waste from this project was diverted from landfills, and New Belgium incorporated “14 linear miles of wood and metal” reclaimed from other buildings previously on the property into their new facility (pictured above). (CCLR, New Belgium). Not only is this recycling of materials environmentally friendly, but it also displays the history of the site, and in true New Belgium fashion, contributes to their unique and quirky brewery atmosphere.
With the help of the City of Asheville, a local nonprofit organization, and the local community, a creek was even restored on the property, previously filled with concrete waste and old tires, and now releases clean water back into the watershed, while offering an appealing landscape complete with native, erosion-friendly plant species. In addition to the creek restoration, New Belgium also donated a section of the property to the City of Asheville, and the City used it to expand an existing greenway path for pedestrians and bicyclists.
After this extensive cleanup effort, New Belgium transformed this old industrial property into a true craft beer beauty. Click here for CCLR’s full article on the project:
Pints and Property Values
Some community benefits from having a local brewery may not be so obvious. Aside from the convenience of having happy hour pours steps from the front door, property owners likely welcome nearby breweries as their presence could be working to positively increase property values in their respective areas. For instance, when examining Charlotte, North Carolina, researchers from the University of Toledo and the University of North Carolina Charlotte found that “condominiums in center-city neighborhoods show a nearly 3 percent increase in sales price after a brewery opened within a half mile. Single family homes in center-city neighborhoods saw a nearly 10 percent increase after a brewery opened within a half mile. (University of Toledo, Phys.org).
The same researchers also found that not only do breweries positively impact home property values but they also “contribute to increased property tax revenues for local governments, in addition to job creation and aiding neighborhood revitalization efforts.” (Dr. Neil Reid, University of Toledo, Phys.org).
In cities like Denver, neighborhood breweries are commonplace; Zuni Street Brewery (pictured above) which was built from an old auto shop, sees consistent foot traffic from Denverites seeking a cold pint. Who knows, the “coffee shop on every corner” phrase may soon be replaced with ‘brewery’ in some of these growing cities.
Breweries and Gentrification
While increased property values may be great for homeowners, often the opposite is true of renters and low-income households. Community ‘revitalization’ should not be discussed without addressing gentrification: In cities all around the country, we are overwhelmingly seeing low-income communities, predominantly People of Color, getting priced out of their homes so incoming businesses can make a profit in a new “up and coming” area. It’s a devastating issue that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Gentrification is yet another issue urban breweries must consider before construction begins. Referencing a study titled ‘Geographic Patterns of Craft Breweries at the Intraurban Scale’ in the journal The Professional Geographer, author Richard Florida stated that “microbreweries tend to be located in old industrial areas where few residents actually live.” He further went on to state that “these are the types of districts that have been hit hardest by de-industrialization, and brewing can fill some of that vacant manufacturing space.” (Bloomberg News, Richard Florida).
Industrial areas described above may not have neighborhoods a stone’s throw away, but their effects can still be far reaching. In examining Portland, OR, in particular, researchers from the University of Toronto ultimately concluded that breweries opening in the city further cemented ongoing patterns of gentrification: “Craft breweries began opening in the 1980s, just as the city began to gentrify in earnest, and have tended to locate in gentrified or gentrifying census tracts. Our study suggests that craft breweries have, for the most part, followed gentrification, opening in neighborhoods after they have begun to gentrify.” (Geografiska Annaler Series B, Chloe Fox Miller, et all.)
Explaining breweries specific effects on the issue the same researchers stated that “craft breweries help create the sort of cultural capital that can attract economic investment, and that can spur further neighborhood socioeconomic and demographic change.” (Geografiska Annaler Series B, Chloe Fox Miller, et all.)
So how can breweries address this issue of potentially contributing to displacement of low-income community members (who, again, are primarily People of Color)? Well, to begin, developing an understanding of gentrification effects on these communities is key. To that, one can turn to the Urban Institute, a research think tank which has worked to understand and address poverty in America for decades.
In particular, the Urban Institute’s ‘Keeping the Neighborhood Affordable’ handbook details specific initiatives breweries can be proponents of, such as programs that work to encourage and increase affordable housing in their respective areas. Click here to learn more about the Urban Institute and below for the ‘Keeping the Neighborhood Affordable’ handbook:
In addressing gentrification, and being advocates for communities that encompass class and racial diversity, breweries are also addressing the issue of equity that has plagued the industry since its inception. To continue thriving, the craft brewing industry must embrace diversity in its workforce and customer base, and to achieve that, they must understand and work to address the seriousness of gentrification in urban communities.
‘The Center for Creative Land Recycling’:
‘New Belgium Brewing’s Asheville Brewery: An Exemplary Model of Brownfields to Brewfields’:
‘Craft breweries increase residential property values’:
‘Can Craft Breweries Transform America’s Post-Industrial Neighborhoods?’:
‘Geographic Patterns of Craft Breweries at the Intraurban Scale’:
‘Have craft breweries followed or led gentrification in Portland, Oregon? An investigation of retail and neighbourhood change’:
Ska Shipping Container:
Salt Springs Taproom:
Center for Creative Land Recycling:
New Belgium Asheville Renovation:
Penland Creek Restoration:
New Belgium Asheville Restoration Completion:
Zuni Street Brewing Company:
City Brewery Map: