Opening a distillery or brewery? Plan early for long term success

By Sean Porter, RA | Loveless Porter Architects

When it comes to craft distilleries and breweries, the equation is not as simple as “build it and they will come.” These spaces must simultaneously function as a production facility, warehouse, retail shop and gathering place. To successfully pull off this balancing act requires thoughtful planning and design from the start.

For each brewery and distillery architectural client, I start with a focus on maintaining the public connection with production, such as featuring large windows that enable visitors to see the equipment and feel engaged in the process. Most people don’t know what goes into distilling and brewing — the combination of science, art and passion. Letting customers see behind the scenes, the amount of equipment that is required, to watch the ingredients transform, sparks interest and the connection is formed.

Beyond creating that connected experience during the design phase, there are a number of complex building codes and unique industry considerations I advise my clients to keep in mind:

Safety First

Selecting an architect who is familiar with local codes pertaining to the amount and types of liquids in the building, electrical and ventilation requirements and occupancy limits can prevent construction delays and cost overruns. I help clients who are building a brewery or distillery to:

  • Understand maximum allowable quantities of hazardous materials, and what could flag a distillery as a hazardous occupancy.
  • Factor in maximum production capacity, product flash point and local and international fire codes when planning for sprinkler systems and emergency exits.
  • Know if a facility will trigger High-Piled Storage or Rack regulations, which follow the international fire code, and necessitate securing a separate building permit based on submitted plans. One permit does not take the place of the other.

Going with the Flow

Photo Credit: Stacey Perry

Each drop produced, sip savored and memory made in the tasting room can be enhanced by thoughtful architectural design that maximizes how each part of the building will be used. My best advice? Plan, and then plan some more.

  • Meet with your full production team and architect, mapping out every step in your process. Will you need a forklift to move product? Space for two brew masters to create side-by-side? Room for large events?
  • Look ahead! This is a growth industry—after quadrupling production in the first two years, one of our clients found themselves renovating to accommodate the growth. Another just opened a third location. Project and plan for where you will be in 3, 5 and even 10 years.
  • Envision how customers should feel as they tour the facilities or cozy up in the tasting room. Good design can invoke emotions that lead to longer visits and increased sales.
  • Consider both customer experience and production requirements. Think high ceilings, room for storage, large open spaces and plenty of parking.
  • Let gravity do the work where it can, lessening the need for pumps. And remember, you can never have enough drainage!

Virginia continues to experience rapid growth in the craft beverage industry, which also means increased competition. However, having an outstanding product and a welcoming place for customers to discover it, will help your business to stand out. All it takes is a little planning.

Questions about designing a craft distillery or brewery? Loveless Porter is happy to share what we have learned in our 20+ years of designing and managing the construction of these specialized projects. Call 703.368.1600 or email


Special design considerations for distillers & brewers, at a glance!

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