How big should my brewery be?

How big should my brewery be?

How big should my brewery be? How many square feet do I need for a brewery? How large of a facility should I get? As the host of a podcast about how to start a brewery I have spoken with over 70 brewers, brewery owners, and other experts in the craft beer industry. So I often hear this question from listeners around the world.

Of course you need to consider a number of factors to determine the size of your brewery. For example:

  • Size of your brew system
  • Your annual production capacity
  • Barrels of beer you plan to brew each year

Just the business model plays a major role in deciding how many square feet you’ll need for your brewery.

  • Brewpub serving only on-site consumption
  • Nanobrewery with taproom and no distribution
  • Production brewery with complete bottling, canning, and kegging lines

As you could imagine, there is no one-size-fits-all size requirement. It’s a tough question to answer, but an important answer to find out.

If your brewery is too small, you’ll be crowded for space.

“We did not anticipate the need for more cold storage or bigger brewing system,” says Patty Elliot from Pecan Street Brewing in Johnson City, Texas.

“Even though we have a big building, we don’t have a large area for Sean [the brewer] to store kegs in and we only have four serving tanks. So serving tanks have to get low enough that he could keg off, that it will fit in the keg storage area, so that he could brew another beer. So we’re constantly fighting the battle… and we’re desperately wanting to get more cold storage space.”

And if your brewery is too large, you waste precious money on the startup cost for square footage that won’t be used.

Yet, with craft beer’s explosive growth that doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, you’ll likely be expanding operations not long after opening.

When MicroBrewr founder, Joe Shelerud asked 61 brewers in late 2013, “What do you wish you had known before starting your brewery?” nearly 20% of the responses were that they should have planned their expansion from the start.

“I would have built a larger infrastructure at the outset,” says Brett Tate from Dust Bowl Brewing Company. “We’ve expanded the operation and reached capacity production three times since we started brewing in 2009. We’ve now maximized what we can fit in the footprint of our current building… Our new site will, or course, have room to grow, so at least we’ve learned!”

Space requirements for a brewery vary greatly

If you read the books about starting a brewery and online beer forums, you can find magic formulas to tell you how big your brewery should be.

For example:

  • 1,000 square feet, per barrel of brewhouse running at capacity
  • 1 to 1.5 square feet, per barrels produced, per year

JVNW’s website has a lot of information and brochures with specifications and resource requirements. As a manufacturer of brewing equipment, they work with a lot of different breweries in a huge variety of configurations.

JVNW’s sizing recommendations are:

  • Complete brewery: 0.5 to 1 square feet, per barrel of yearly capacity
  • Sacked malt storage: 0.15 to 0.25 square feet, per barrel of yearly capacity

Again, a number of factors will affect the space requirements for your specific brewery and configuration. For example:

  • Size and number of vessels in the brewhouse
  • Size and number of fermentation vessels and bright tanks
  • How many batches you plan to do each week

Incidentally, JVNW says the average staff requirement is 0.75 staff per 1,000 barrels of yearly capacity. Whereas, Lakewood Brewing, the one who recommends 1,000 square feet per barrel of brewhouse, has 22 staff for about 10,000-15,000 barrel production. So about 1.76 staff for every 1,000 barrels—roughly double what JVNW recommends.

So my takeaway is just that the stats vary greatly.

Space requirements for breweries on MicroBrewr Podcast

To get a handle on exactly what the square footage requirement is for a small craft brewery, MicroBrewr Podcast listener, Akhilesh Pandey dug into the stats from the show notes.

Another podcast listener, Peter Stillmank from Stillmank Brewing Co. in Green Bay, Wisconsin, asked for these stats to get a better picture of our discussions in MicroBrewr Podcast. At episode 41, I started asking for specific statistics including: size of the brewhouse, number of vessels, annual capacity, and square footage.

For this exercise, we were concerned only with how many square feet are required for a small craft brewery.

So Akhilesh dug into the numbers and plotted them into a spreadsheet. He compared each brewery’s annual capacity to its square footage, and calculated the square footage per barrel of yearly capacity.

What were the results?

Well, we looked at the data from 20 different breweries from all over the U.S. plus one 1 in Ireland. (We had to leave out a few due to incomplete data.) Models include everything from a tiny nanobrewery in the basement of a hotel, all the way up to a large production brewery with international distribution, and everything in between. We’ve spoken with nanobreweries, brewpubs, and production packaging breweries.

If we take the total square footage for all breweries and divide it by the total yearly capacity of all breweries, it equals 0.8 square feet required per barrel of yearly capacity. This gives sort of an industry-wide efficiency, but it doesn’t really look at what each brewery is doing on an individual basis.

Craft beer is a young industry. It’s home to a wide variety of players with varying levels of experience, knowledge, and preferences. So the range of their space efficiency is extremely wide.

When we calculate the square footage per barrel of yearly capacity at each individual brewery, the maximum was 40 square feet, the minimum was 0.2 square feet, and the average (mean) was 4.6 square feet per barrel.

Square footage per barrel of yearly capacity at 20 craft breweries in the U.S.A. and Ireland:

Calculation method Square feet per yearly barrel production capacity
Maximum 40.0
Minimum 0.2
Average (mean) 4.6
Median 1.6
STD Dev. with 99% confidence 2.16
Range 39.8

That seemed kind of high. I thought maybe the average was being skewed by outliers.

So I checked the median. The median is 1.6 square feet per barrel of yearly capacity.

Median is often used to calculate skewed data sets. It sort of cancels out those outliers like the nanobrewery that uses a whopping 40 square feet per barrel produced, and the brewpub/production brewery that somehow blasts out a full barrel of beer for every 0.2 square feet they occupy.

Now, I’m not a mathematician, I don’t recall much from Statistics class. But Akhil has more insight to offer.

“The average the way you have it there,” he writes by email, “is not the right method because it does not eliminate the outlier.”

Akhil looked at the “standard deviation” (I remember that term from Statistics class) and found that those few data points that are just so far from the others, don’t really help us. They’re considered oddballs. By taking off the 3 outliers from the end, Akhil can get 99% confidence in his calculation.

With 99% confidence, we can guess that your brewery would need 2.16 square feet per barrel of yearly capacity.

So there you have it

How much space do you need for your brewery in planning or for your next expansion brewery?

First figure out how many barrels of beer you plan to be able to produce per year, your total capacity.

Then figure on needing about 2.16 square feet per barrel of yearly capacity.

Another way of looking at it, says Peter, “When you purchase your building, divide the square feet by 2.16 to figure out what the building’s [annual production] capacity is. When you reach this [production level] it will be time to move.”

Special thanks to longtime MicroBrewr Podcast listeners, Peter Stillmank and Akhilesh Pandey for your help on this post.

Image showing Blueprint by Will Scullin on flickr (CC BY 2.0) was modified from its orignal state.

 

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11 replies
  1. Dustin Hauck says:

    Hi Nathan. This is a great article. You have some excellent data here that will help a lot of breweries in planning. A question for you: When calculating square footage per barrel of yearly capacity, how many brew cycles per week are in the calculation to determine yearly barrel capacity? When many small breweries open, they may only be brewing a few times per week. That’s 2 per week x 50 weeks per year = 100 sessions per year. As they grow, this will increase. They can reach a max. of 2+ batches per day, 7 days a week. 14 brews per week x 50 weeks = 700 sessions per year. Now that is a cranking brew house! For a 15 BBL brew house, this could be 1,500 to 10,500 BBLs yearly production. That is a huge difference. This is why planning for expansion is critical. Using your 2.16 S.F. per yearly BBL production, this 15 BBL brew house brewery could start with 3,240 S.F. minimum. But could need 22,680 S.F. at max. production.

    For comparison, of the almost 40 breweries we have worked on to date, our average S.F. per yearly BBL production is 3.1. Albeit, with conservative production numbers. As production grows, I agree that 2.16 S.F. per yearly BBLs is a great planning number.

    It is important for any new brewery to determine how may brew sessions they will do per week. And, how that number will increase as demand for their product grows. And as you stated, your business model (tap room, distribution, etc.) can have a large impact on how much space you need.

    Specific Mechanical has a great formula for calculating annual production and the number of tanks it will take to get there.
    http://specificmechanical.com/products-services/brewery-systems/system-sizing

    Another great article. Keep it up!

    Cheers,
    T. Dustin Hauck, Architect
    Hauck Architecture

    Reply
    • Nathan Pierce
      Nathan Pierce says:

      Dustin, thanks for the kind words and for your contributing thoughts. As you said, annual production capacity is a factor of the size of brewhouse and the number of batches per year. Number of batches per year is limited by the quantity of fermenters available. That article you linked looks pretty helpful for calculating that requirement. In basic planning, I figure maybe 2-week fermentation cycles. So 6 fermentation tanks would allow 3 batches per week: brew one day, bottle the next, take the weekends off. 10 fermentation tanks would allow 5 batches per week, brewing every day, and dedicated staff bottling every day. All this is pretty simplified, assuming that fermenters are the same size as the brewhouse, there is enough staff to package the beer as fast as it’s being brewed, there’s enough floor space to do the work, etc. To complicate matters more… If fermenters were twice the size of the brewhouse, two batches per day could fill one fermenter, the staff could do multiple batches per day by working longer shifts or rotating shifts around the clock–variables are endless! gahh This study is just to find a basic calculation for early planning purposes. phew haha Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
  2. Xorge Alanis says:

    Amazing information and extremely critical when planning a brewery. I also believe that in addition to project planning and optimizing start-up costs and future expansion, you need the right equipment to provide your customers with a beer as was intended by the brewer.

    If anyone would be interested in a future expansion or acquisition of a fully customizable brewery system, please check us out at http://www.china-ximo.com

    Reply
  3. Matt says:

    Does the 2.16 number include tap room space?
    I’m assuming so since you seem to have normalized your data across all business types, but you know what they say about assumptions 🙂
    Also, are these numbers still viable?

    Reply
    • Nathan Pierce
      Nathan Pierce says:

      Matt, thanks for checking in. The numbers are based on survey respondents’ answers. For each episode of MicroBrewr Podcast, I ask the guest from a brewery what their square footage is. You can find individual data points on the show notes for each episode, starting at episode 041.

      Reply
      • Adrian says:

        Great article Nathan. I’m also interested in an answer to Matt’s question. Do you know if the brewpubs surveyed were including their seating space when quoting their square footage?

        Reply
        • Nathan Pierce
          Nathan Pierce says:

          Most of the square footage was reported as a one number; I don’t know whether it was seating space and production space. So for the 2 that did report separate numbers for seating and production space, we erred on the safe side and left out seating. That was episodes 041 and 070, which were 600 sq. ft. and 3,000 sq. ft., respectively.

          This exercise is meant as a guide, it shows the average across a wide spectrum of business models and brewery types. There are too many factors to give a one-size-fits-all answer. Run your own numbers, do you own research, and let us know what works for you.

          Reply

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  1. […] is the first important question that will determine how much it takes to breakeven.  There is a great article by MicroBrewr that answers this very question.  Once you determine your initial production capacity and startup […]

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