Initially, the brewery was design out of necessity. There were the brewing essentials (vats of barley and hops, fermentation tanks, water source, bottling) and the rest (tasting room, seating, flooring) were really superfluous.
Today, it’s hardly worth mentioning that craft and microbreweries are ubiquitous in just about every metropolis in North America. They’re common in cities like Portland and Denver, of course, but breweries are moving through the suburbs and into rural towns. Nano and micro spots are now part of our neighborhood vocabularies. As patrons become more familiar with the brewery, many breweries have moved beyond the garage aesthetic and begin to think about what makes a well-designed space for drinking and socializing around beer.
“It’s not a bar, it’s not a pub, it’s not a restaurant, it’s a really different kind of social space,” explains architect Bill Uhrich, partner at Simcic & Uhrich Architects along with Marko Simcic. Simcic and Uhrich, who are based in Vancouver, BC have worked on five local breweries in just a matter of a few years, and in the process have become interested in exploring not just how to make a beautiful space but also how we function within the design.
“For us it’s been really interesting to see how the models have shifted and changed just within the three years we’ve been doing this,” reflects Uhrich. “I think we really tangoed with the question, ‘What is a brewery space?’ Simcic adds. “And I think for us, as we continue to be more and more interested in this kind of design, is trying to think of it as a new social form.”
What distinguishes the brewery from a bar or other traditional establishment is that there is the actual making of the raw good on site.
“You’re eating, drinking and socializing, yes, but there are things that make it different. There’s the relationship to the manufacturing and the process of brewing and how there is a built in exchange and an interest for people there.”
Addressing this can be as simple as opening up the visual space to highlight the brewing facilities. In the architect’s design of Strathcona Brewery, the process is a visual focal point with the bar and tables arrange with a full view of the backend workings. The arrangement encourages not only curiosity, but conversation around beer as well.
Communication is key in the design on the brewery, and that too needs a bit of coddling through the design of the space to happen in the right way. In the same way that bars and pubs can feel awkward or disassociated, a brewery tasting room needs to arrange a conversation.
“There are really important details, like the height of the seats: raised versus lower,” explains Uhrich. “Because if you are seated higher someone can approach you and you are eye level and so to have that there's a lot more mingling within the space.”
Encouraging people to stay can be accomplished through thoughtful interior design, as well. Moving beyond the bare bones industrial style, breweries like Dageraad Brewing feature more considered design elements like sophisticated cabinetry and contemporary light fixtures, which elevate the tasting room.
Navigating the issue of socializing was the key in Simcic & Uhrich’s space for Brassneck Brewery.
“[Brassneck] really wanted it to be a space that facilitated a conversation primarily about beer but also more generally,” Uhrich explains. “So, there is a lot of thought given to where people sit in that space.” Brassneck’s space is separated into three distinctive zones: the growler filling station, the brewery, and the tasting room. Sectioning the space adds not only clear distinction to the different services of the space but also allows for the bar to act purely as a watering hole.
“The bar in the tasting room, you can actually sit on both sides of it so you can be a patron and be sitting right next to a server,” Simcic says. “There’s a real breakdown in boundaries, it’s not just staff and customers.”
The space features a corrugated steel exterior and rustic wood-planked interiors by Simcic & Uhrich, matched with slick graphic design from Vancouver firm Post Projects and illustrations by artist Maggie Boyd, the space is made by and for locals, and that communal sensibility goes beyond concept. “There’s a whole community of craft people attached to craft beer now so you’ve seen a real increase of talent in metal work, wood work, lighting that is permeating the city,” says Uhrich.
As the concept of the brewery is evolving, so too are the clients that designers are building the spaces for, and accessibility design is an essential element of the architecture of the spaces. Beer drinking has historically been marketed to men through the use of women, but the demographics of breweries are changing, partly thanks to more inclusive designs.
“When we first started we assumed that it was going to be mostly men, but Brassneck is pretty much 50/50 women and men,” Simcic says. “It’s been a really strong learning curve to learn how to foster that into the space.” Design adjustments can be subtle, like purse hooks and simply acknowledging ergonomics helps move designs into more inclusive environments.
“Now we're being asked to do a lot of family friendly breweries,” Uhrich says. “We’re getting a lot of asks for stroller accommodation so there has been an evolution of the social spaces.”
Breweries speak to a larger trend within our cities. As urbanites become more sophisticated and savvy consumers, design becomes an important part of the conversation. Space is at a premium and communicating to our diversifying environments is a key element of how we experience our surroundings.
“People are condensing, and breweries are a short-ish stop where you’re not in the space for long,” Simcic says. “You meet for a drink and maybe move on to something else.”
As an extension of our kitchens, our living rooms, a well designed brewery means more than just cool design and on-trend decor, it means making clients comfortable enough to stay for just one more pint, or flight, longer.