I've had the pleasure of being involved in the design conversations of at least 15 breweries, distilleries and destinations focusing on craft beer. My opinion on what works well for integrating a brand through design has greatly evolved through attending conventions and working with multiple breweries clients.
Austin’s brewery scene is growing quickly. The exact shape and character it will take isn’t clear yet. It may be difficult to replicate the dense clustering of breweries that made places like Asheville or Portland so successful. Regionally, breweries start to take on a collective brand and unintentionally create a craft destination. During this growth spurt there will be winners and losers just like in any industry. Some will overbuild, some will overreach or poorly locate while others may assume that opening their doors and having an IPA on tap for patrons is success enough.
I offer this for consideration. The brewery and brew pub markets will become increasingly more competitive. Competition is a good thing. A multitude of quality breweries creates a thriving craft economy. I witnessed this in Ashville, NC where the success of many has led to even more success. It's THE destination for 100's of miles, if not nationally, for those wanting to experience the best of craft beer. It was great to hear the thoughts of the locals, brewers, tourists or anyone just plain happy to be in an area with so much great beer. Locals had their favorite props while tourists often favored another. Some breweries allowed their image to be transformed by their growth while others clung tightly to the image of an old gritty industrial building, not wanting to become too polished. Others encouraged a more contemporary tasting room with refined production facilities. Every place seemed to be packed but they all took on varying characters. For some growth meant a whole new facility and was celebrated (next door or across town). For others growth was carefully hidden in order to maintain the initial brewery experience that the locals fell in love with. Keep in mind that I’m speaking of breweries and brewpubs that have been around for at least 5 years.
Meanwhile, there has been at least one, probably two, cycles of new breweries that have opened in this hot bed of craft beer. The newer breweries have to compete against the established brands. So far this competition is yielding more success and notoriety for Asheville, but know that Asheville's breweries are for the most part all within walking distance from one another. Imagine every brewery in Austin relocated to an area the size of East Austin and you get a similar environment. They also have a fantastic depth in their building stock of old brick warehouses just waiting for some brewery love and stainless steel. It's a bit easier there than it is in Austin to add some character to your tasting room when setting up shop in buildings with such inherent personality. Austin has never had the catalogue of historic warehouse buildings that even our neighbor to the south, San Antonio, can claim. Our metal buildings are often our common denominator of a convenient and a less expensive way of getting a brewery up and running. So how do you create a memorable and enjoyable experience?
Austin is experiencing a similar level of success, but I think at a much earlier stage of evolution. We will grow and become our own unique brand of craft beer culture based on our local distinctive influences and styles. Since our buildings may not cry “memorable” brewery space, and the cost of development isn’t going anywhere but up, cost effective but creative measures will need to be seriously weighed when putting together a construction budget. If everyone else has a metal building, is it worth it to try and be different? If yes, metal buildings have limitations. Thy don’t typically have durable walls for a wet production environment. Their aesthetic qualities are obviously pretty minimal. However, they do often offer the best chances for spaces with height and clear spans. Dressing this kind of space usually will have fairly strict budget limitations. Making beer is the first priority. Creating good work flow, storage, proper drainage and maximizing production are critical investments when modifications are needed to use a building. Creating a memorable brand experience for your fans is often last on that list. If your brewery has been around for a while and you’re a known establishment in Austin, you have some added leeway in keeping tasting rooms costs to a minimum. As the market becomes more crowded, and (good) competition increases, the need for a wide range of tasting room experiences will increase. Whether it be the design of the tap wall, lighting, artwork, unique material choices, well placed graphics, alternative and creative use of spaces, outdoor gardens….the list of what makes your tasting room special should be carefully considered. Be distinctive. Be memorable. Tie the feel of your space to what your brand represents. It doesn’t have to be copper lined duct work, but make it special. The next brewery opening up is doing the same thing. Remember, when there are multiple places to go for great beer in your town, your tasting room and the overall brewery experience is just as important as your beer.