Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Smuttynose Brewing Builds its Dream House - Part 3 - Our Criteria

At the end of the last post, I said that I’d next write about our exploration of the mills in Newmarket. I lied.

It has occurred to me that now would be a good time to lay out the criteria that a new Smuttynose facility must meet. They are straightforward and relatively simple, but once you spell them out, you can see how some locations easily meet most of these requirements, but how few locations truly meet all of them.

In simple terms, a new Smuttynose brewery must meet five basic criteria:
1.) Space - we’ve been running out of room here on Heritage Avenue for a long time. The first post in this blog described the reasons for this. Starting with 12,500 square feet in 1994, we doubled our space when we took over our entire building in 2006. We’ve also constructed several additions to the outside of our building to house new tanks, and this summer we're raising the roof to accommodate still more tanks. Before the year is out, we’ll be forced to lease off-site warehouse space as well. You get the picture: the simple fact is we need a bigger facility.
2.) Energy efficiency - the building we currently occupy is appallingly inefficient, from an energy standpoint. But more than that, the way our brewery is engineered is also quite wasteful. Here’s a simple example: during the winter, even during the coldest weather, our fermentation tanks are cooled using a big, industrial chiller which throws off a considerable amount waste heat into the atmosphere, while at the same time we’re running space heaters indoors to warm up the building! We can design amazing efficiency into a new facility by taking advantage of simple synergies between the different parts of our process and the structure itself. “Waste” heat is no longer a waste product, but a way of preheating our brewing water. Interior spaces that need to be cooled can be done naturally in the wintertime. Daylight can be brought into interior spaces, reducing the need for electric lighting. Simple stuff, but difficult to implement in an existing facility, especially one where the landlord has no incentive or desire to participate.
Much ink has been spilled about our efforts to build a “green” facility and seek LEED certification. Frankly, the direction we’re taking is one we embarked on some time ago. Most of the choices we’re making are driven by common sense and a desire to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Plus, in addition to reducing our footprint, we stand to save a good deal money operating our new brewery, which will help us become more competitive.
3.) Logistical efficiency - In our existing brewery, the inflow of raw materials & packaging and the outflow of finished products & waste material is not nearly as efficient as it should be. This really didn't matter much as long as we were producing a small amount of beer in a relatively small space, but what used to be mildly inconvenient has the potential to cripple us as we grow. A purpose-built facility designed with process flow in mind will improve our productivity in significant ways both large and small.
4.) Public Access - We want to build a brewery that is a visitor-friendly destination, a place where we can offer tours and share the craft of artisanal brewing with people who enjoy our beers. As longtime brewpub operator through our sister company, the Portsmouth Brewery, we have always wanted to operate an onsite restaurant & pub, as well. Put another way, the site has to have sex appeal. Some places have it; some don’t. And usually you know before you’ve even set foot out of your car. Unfortunately, the places with the most romance tend to fall short in other areas.
5.) Favorable Zoning - As we've learned though sad experience, few things get people’s undies knotted up like a good old-fashioned zoning dispute. Because of our project’s particular needs, we must choose a site that is zoned to permit both light manufacturing and commercial uses. And that, my friends, is easier said than done, as you will see when we talk about our experience trying to build a new brewery in our home town of Portsmouth. But that comes later.
In conclusion... Using these five criteria, it is easy to grade each of the locations we’ve considered over the years. Some had the potential for space and efficiency, with absolutely no charm. On the other hand, some sites were dripping with romance but failed on every other count. The old Frank Jones brewery buildings were a good example of this. Existing structures, especially old mills, do not lend themselves well to logistical efficiency and good process flow. And any city officials or politicians who say they can “fix” problematic zoning restrictions to fit your plans is blowing smoke up your skirt. It’s never that easy - run the other way!
Next time, we’ll travel back to Newmarket in 2003.


  1. Thanks for taking the time to share your story.
    It is an interesting and informative read.

    This story of site selection is, I believe, worthy of greater distribution. Your definition of fundamental requirements for a site that can work for you and your story of how you arrived at your current site are matters of wider interest among other business owners contemplating expansion and among those interested in commercial real estate.

    Will you be addressing your building requirments in a similar way in upcoming blogs?

  2. Thanks for your comment. Yes, once the narrative regarding site selection is complete, I'll embark on a detailed discussion of the building itself and the many factors that have influenced its design.

  3. Please comment regarding your experience with the various Newmarket boards-good,bad or other