Cheers! Considerations for Fermentation Regulations

ELGL organizational member SAFEbuilt begins a new column highlighting the latest trends in community development and building codes. First up: regulations surrounding the beer industry.

Fermentation Regulation


by Maxwell Dillivan and Kyle Steitz, SAFEbuilt

With football season and Oktoberfest just around the corner, we have turned our attention to beer.  The beer industry is a $246.5 billion market that includes more than 2,800 breweries nation-wide and 2 million jobs.[i] The industry’s economic ripple effects impact agriculture, manufacturing, construction, transportation and many other businesses.[ii] Consumer interest in beers, ales, and other malt beverages is growing faster than ever before, and the impact is even brewing some thoughts within community development departments.  Many cities are tapping into the craft beer craze and working with local entrepreneurs as they bring brewpubs, ale houses, breweries and distilleries to their communities.

After much internal discussion about the impact of these uses on zoning and building codes, we decided to share our thoughts in a couple of articles.  In the first of a two part series, this article will look at how fermentation regulation effects have frothed over into local zoning laws and procedures. The subsequent post will focus on how the building code impacts different sizes of operations in different zoning areas.

Breweries can be tricky uses to regulate. First off, most zoning ordinances do not even address them as legal or illegal uses or even define exactly what they are in the first place to begin regulating them appropriately. For example, a small brewery in Charlotte, NC is currently asking the city to update its definitions for microbreweries because as it currently stands, any establishment which does not serve food and has hours of operation past midnight is classified as a “night club” and therefore must be located at least 400 feet away from any residential use. Zoning ordinances typically list whether certain types of uses are allowed or not allowed in each zoning district to prevent incompatible uses from locating next to one another. As in the example mentioned above, a night club as you might typically think of one with loud music at later hours would not be compatible in a residential neighborhood (more on that in the next paragraph). Oftentimes zoning ordinances quickly become outdated and are not updated as frequently as necessary. For several of our client communities, we first have to write zoning ordinance amendments for land uses such as breweries by establishing definitions for them and creating an appropriate approval procedure for these unique uses. At that point, the community can determine where a potential brewery may locate within its boundaries.

110210-Old-School-Will-Ferrell-dancin-CJu7Second, not all breweries are created equal. They are all different. Some contain restaurants with kitchens open until midnight or later; some may give the occasional tour and only have a small tasting room; and some are strictly for the purpose of production, storage, and distribution. For example, RAM Brewery is a chain with several locations across the US. Their business model is essentially a Chili’s or Apple Bee’s with “craft” beer. Depending on the unique characteristics of the brewery, it may or may not be appropriate that they locate in certain areas. A brewery like RAM fits very well in a commercial center with other restaurant uses. It would not be a good idea to have a brewery that handles a high volume of semi-truck traffic for distribution to be located near a quiet residential area. Conversely, it wouldn’t be beneficial for a local brewery that depends on foot traffic and seasonal tourists to be in a far-flung industrial park.

Lastly, the size of the operation greatly varies. Your small, neighborhood brewery tucked away at the corner is probably not producing nearly as much beer as the brewery that is selling its products in 20 different states. Because of this, the size of the facility has a major impact on which locations a brewery may exist and operate. Typically a large facility producing 20,000 bbl per year (or approx. 620,000 gallons per year) will require at least 23,000 square feet of space in an industrial zone. However, the smaller brewery, or “nanobrewer” as many states refer to it as, may only produce 5,000 bbl per year (or approx. 15,000 gallons per year) and can easily fit in a smaller parcel of land in a traditional downtown area.

As planners, it is our job to have these conversations with local governments to determine how these types of land uses fit into their goals as a community. Our task is to find and establish appropriate ways to handle unique land uses like breweries in a manner that is harmonious to the character of the community and minimizes potential negative impacts.

Enjoy this growing industry and all the great beers out there, but we would like to remind everyone to drink and enjoy responsibly.

[i] Beer Institute. “Beer Resource Center: Economic Impact.” 22 August 2014.
[ii] Beer Institute. “Beer Resource Center: Economic Impact.” 22 August 2014.

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