The Perfect Address: Breweries Passing Along Buildings Makes Opening, Scaling, and Creating Communities Easier
Imagine starting a brewery on a shoestring, cobbling together a small system, making just one barrel of beer at a time. Then, after working tirelessly to reach a point where demand exceeds capacity, miraculously being able to move into a new location already outfitted with the exact equipment needed to expand. Improbable? Not quite.
In some cases, breweries can start or scale easily, without any break in production of beer, when they move into a location previously occupied by another beer company. 1 Industrial Way in Portland, Maine, has been home to six breweries (soon to be seven), including Maine Beer Co. and Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. One site in Raleigh, North Carolina, is also on its sixth: Big Boss Brewing Co. And still another in Huntsville, Alabama, has housed two.
When the brewers behind Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing wanted to move their operation into a larger facility, they wanted their former space to be put to good use. “We thought it would be really neat if we had a brewery come into our old place,” says Ethan Couch, general manager of Yellowhammer Brewing. “We enjoyed Salty Nut Brewery, and the guys, and the beer they’re making. We have a good relationship with them.”
So before putting word out that they were planning on moving, Yellowhammer’s operators reached out to Salty Nut to offer them a good deal on the space and all the equipment inside. It just so happened that Salty Nut was looking to expand from its 1-barrel system in a small, 2,500-square-foot warehouse building. Salty Nut jumped at the opportunity.
“We bought the brew house, mash tun and boil kettle,” says Daniel Yant, one of Salty Nut’s co-founders. Salty Nut also bought three of the 15-barrel fermenters, taproom tables and chairs, and a lot of the furniture in the beer garden behind the brewery. Moving into the new location and purchasing the equipment brought the operation up to 15 barrels.
Not only did the move increase Salty Nut’s brewing capacity, but since the brewery bought most of the equipment on site, Salty Nut also didn’t have any downtime. “Salty Nut was basically able to walk into our facility and crank up production. That’s kind of a unique situation,” Couch says.
“We stopped brewing in January [of 2016] and reopened in February,” explains Yant. We were able to commit almost 100 percent of that time to renovating the taproom.”
For Salty Nut, this step was a no-brainer. “Honestly, I think it was really our only feasible step up. We were to a point where we had to grow. We couldn’t continue at the size we were at. It would be a hobby, and we would be busting our butts to break even,” Yant says. “Buying a brand-new facility and building it out just from scratch really wasn’t feasible. And investors weren’t a route we wanted to go.”
Brad Wynn, a founder of Big Boss, had a similar experience. His brewery occupies a space that had previously housed Tomcat Brewing Co., Pale Ale Brewery, Rock Creek Brewing (which he helped open), Chesapeake Bay Brewing Co. and Edenton Brewing Co. (which he co-founded). All are now closed. After closing Edenton, Wynn connected with new business partner Geoff Lamb to start Big Boss.
When Wynn started brewing in the space, he purchased the existing equipment. “It was already installed in place and working,” he says. While the brewing system wasn’t cheap, he was able to start producing beer right away. “We were making beer and bringing money in, immediately. We didn’t have to wait for a brewer’s notice. We had it, because we were doing business as Edenton Brewing Co. Once we got the OK to switch over to Big Boss, we switched it over.” That was 10 years ago.
“The advantage was the timing. The boom was just getting started. Now it seems like there’s a brewery starting every day, but not then,” Wynn says. “We were surrounded with a bunch of good breweries at the time. It was a great time to get going down here. People are still moving down here in droves. … I got lucky.”
It’s not just logistics that gives beer businesses an advantage when they take over spaces that previously housed breweries. It’s also a good way to create thriving communities.
Yellowhammer Brewing didn’t move far, just down the road from Salty Nut. And farther down that same road is Straight to Ale Brewing. “We’re trying to create an entertainment district where people can have a beer and walk from place to place,” says Couch. “It’s fun to be a part of the community. It’s a real communal atmosphere. Just because it’s so new, and we kind of need each other. We need to help one another and promote this, more for Huntsville, than just as a business trying to succeed.” And it’s good for the landlords as well, since the breweries have been a draw for other retailers.
As for Salty Nut, “In a marketing standpoint, we still get spillover from people who were out of town and didn’t realize Yellowhammer moved. We have an instant client base. … We’ve already got customers coming in.”
A similar trend occurred in Portland, Maine, where a series of breweries have made 1 Industrial Way their home. The industrial complex has become known as an incubator of sorts. Maine Beer Co. was the first to operate there. When Maine Beer departed, Bissell Brothers was going to move in. “We left behind … part of our grain-handling operation, a boiler, some glycol lines, our glycol chiller, a bulk CO2 tank, air compressors, and I think that was it,” says co-founder Dan Kleban. “And of course, a bunch of good mojo.”
Kleban explains that the neighborhood around the building has become the center for a flourishing community. “When we moved there, there weren’t any other breweries in our building. But we benefited because almost directly across the street was Allagash Brewing Co. … They’re incredibly nice folks over there. Would help me at the drop of a dime,” he says.
“When we were there, tasting rooms in the state of Maine weren’t legal yet,” says Kleban. “But after we moved out, and others moved in, tasting rooms did become legal. What that has created down there is a cool culture for the consumer.”
So far, Maine Beer Co., Rising Tide Brewing Co., now-closed Bull Jagger Brewing Co., and Bissell Brothers have spent time at 1 Industrial Way. Foundation Brewing Co. and Austin Street Brewery currently operate in the space, which is divided into units. A new brewery, Battery Steele Brewing, is set to open up there as well.
“When we opened here, we opened within four months of Foundation,” says Will Fisher, co-founder of Austin Street Brewery. “We’re all kind of going through the same struggles at the same time. We have each other to bounce stuff off of. We’re all in this together. … We all launched at the same time, and all brought in customers together.”
With some exceptions, the businesses have taken their brewing systems with them when they move. Even so, a major draw of the location is the building features. It has city water (“It’s great for ales,” says Fisher) and sewer. There are high ceilings, natural gas, floor drains, sprinkler systems already built in. “The landlord and the owner of the building have always been very welcoming and accommodating,” Fisher notes. “They continue to seek out tenants that are involved in either the food or beer/spirits industry.” When Austin Street moved in, it was for the most part already up to code, and the brewery didn’t have to file for a change of use.
“Having all these breweries right next to each other is fantastic. What happens is people come out and they can hit four breweries within a block,” says John Bonney, co-founder of Foundation Brewing. “What these neighborhoods have turned into is great destinations and locations to come and try a lot of top beer.”
Sarah Annese is a beer journalist and author of Beer Lover’s New York: The Empire State’s Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars. By day, she writes educational content for Wix.com