GUIDES: Designing the Space

Design Your space

Before you sign a lease, it’s time to think about your business and how you want to design the structure it. The big questions are “How do you want to structure the business?” and “What is your growth plan for the distillery?”. You’ll also want to ensure your business is registered appropriately with your state and you get an EIN from the federal government. This is also the right time to talk to an insurance agent to make sure your new business is properly covered.

There are a lot of resources for starting and designing a business. Below are a few “distillery specific” areas to get you started:

Talk to Your Local Fire Marshal

Once you have a building selected and your company structured, the next step in the process is scheduling a sit down with the local fire marshal. However, it is important to understand what the fire code is before you meet with the fire marshal. The purpose behind this meeting is to demonstrate to the fire marshal that you understand how to safely operate your distillery and explain to them just how you will do it. Doing this early in the process allows the fire marshal to understand your business model and build trust, ensuring him/her that you don’t want to make a jet fuel refinery in the middle of town! It will also give the fire marshal a chance to read up on distillery regulations since most towns don’t have a distillery yet and this may be new territory for them. In our experience, giving the fire marshal a “cheat sheet” on where to look is greatly appreciated. This is also a good opportunity to talk about any grey areas in the code and make sure they are on board with your interpretation of it.

Develop Your Floorplan

Once your fire marshal is on board with your safety precautions, it is time to get the floor plan officially drawn up for your building. This means bringing in the Architecture, and Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) team. The floor plan design work you’ve done up to this point needs to be drafted (likely in AutoCAD or similar software) and any other building changes need to be figured out. This is also where the safety systems you proposed to the fire marshal start becoming a reality. We typically suggest having a distillery consultant sit down with your Arch and MEP team and all of the written plans for your distillery to go over the concept and goals for the building, that way everyone can ask questions and see how they need to interact with each other to accomplish your goals. Sometimes environmental and structural engineers are also brought in at this stage, depending on the scope of your project.

An important job for environmental engineers can be figuring out what to do with the distillery waste. From the infancy of the industry, waste has been an afterthought. Distilleries dumped their liquids down the drain and gave their solids to a happy farmer. As the industry has grown and evolved, there has been a greater impact on the local sewer systems. These days distilleries are typically regulated on the pH, temperature, BOD/COD, and copper content of their liquid waste. For this reason, we have been putting more and more waste treatment into the facilities that we build. The solids also have become harder to give away, as there are more distilleries competing for the same number of farmers and ranchers. While not everyone has to deal with this waste problem, it is one that is becoming more common in the industry and we’re actively working with more experts in waste treatment to create long-term solutions.

Structural engineers depend primarily on where the project is located. For instance, projects in California typically need a structural engineer to make sure that the tanks are earthquake safe and won’t tip or collapse. When building a distillery over a basement, it is common to need to reinforce the floors to make sure that the high weight per square foot of large tanks doesn’t end up with them in the basement. And, of course, structural design review can be necessary when going up into the air, either with a new roof or building a second floor on a building that didn’t have one.

An important point to interject at this time is discussing with your Arch and MEP team about how long the process will take—both for them to complete their designs and how long construction will take. This is important because it is normal for your equipment to have a 6-12 month lead time, and you want to start working your timeline back from their projected launch date to ensure your equipment is here in time. It is also helpful to get CAD drawings of your equipment from the manufacturers, which they are much happier to share after you’ve ordered and paid your deposit. The manufactures will also work with your MEP team to make sure that the exact specifications of their equipment will be met.

The mechanical design of the building has a lot of ground to cover—from the HVAC plan for the building, which we like to incorporate into the safety systems, to the production heating and cooling systems. While most mechanical engineers will have a lot of knowledge of these types of systems, it will be important for you to explain how distilleries are different from breweries (as breweries are much more common than distilleries) and that even though you start off with the similar equipment, you are using it differently. And then you have all of this additional equipment completely unused in the brewery world. Generally speaking, you will want a low-pressure steam system for your entire facility, but it can be useful to get basically an industrial size instant hot water heater added into your system so you can run hot water through your equipment and lines to clean it or have on demand hot water instead of a hot liquor tank. We also recommend that you split your mash crashing system off from your fermenters and still, since their load cases are very different and you can shrink your systems equipment if you don’t just design for maximum load. For the HVAC, you can use the air flow rate to declassify your distillery and save you money on equipment costs, but that is a fairly specialized calculation.

If you declassify your facility, then the electrical engineers’ job is fairly easy in that they just need to run electrical to the equipment in the right amounts. If you don’t declassify, then all non-low voltage equipment within 5’ of an ethanol source or within 25’ of the source within 3’ of the floor needs to be classified. Depending on your layout, this can mean lots of circuits running in and out of classified zones. The other big job of electrical engineers is making sure that all of your equipment is bonded and grounded. By pumping and flowing liquid, we can create a static charge that can build up and spark. And when that spark is into or near a stream of ethanol-filling tanks, really bad things can happen. The number of mobile tanks in most distilleries makes this job much harder than usual and most likely they will use bonding reels that you can connect to a tank once you locate it in its temporary location. It is very important that you understand and use these systems.

Your architect or civil engineer will be the project coordinator and detail out a lot of the construction. They will also be working with the occupancy of the rooms and making sure exits, fire extinguishers and other safety features are located correctly. Once they get a handle on the MAQs for your floor plan, it tends to go fairly smooth from here on out. One of the big things you’ll need to watch for at this stage, particularly if you’re a distillery bar, is the designing of your walls. Most of the time, distillery bar owners want to have a giant bar and a giant window looking from your bar back to the distillery. Now, there are a lot of distillery designs that have gotten away with this, but you will likely hear from your consultant or architect about the giant window you’re wanting. Not only is it very expensive, it’s not code compliant. The window can only be 25% of your wall space (which can be measured a couple of different ways) and the prettiest way to do it is with very expensive fire glass. As with all things, there are other ways to get it done safely and to code, but you’re going to have to work closely with your architect to make sure your vision is implemented.