Firm pairs well with new breweries


Arcadia Ales’ new brewery and pub is on the site of an old coal plant on the Kalamazoo River. Courtesy TowerPinkster

With Michigan’s brewing industry booming — growing from approximately 80 breweries in 2011 to more than 130 this year — TowerPinkster Architects Engineers has taken a special interest in working with start-up breweries.

Jason Novotny, director of design for TowerPinkster, has homebrewed for nearly 20 years, which helps him easily connect with brewers.

“That’s always a good conversation to lead in,” Novotny said. “(I’ve brewed) pretty much since I could put my hands on the stuff to brew with. There’s a lot to say about that knowledge, and understanding how the process works.”

In fact, beer seems to be a company-wide interest for TowerPinkster, which has offices in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. He said in a company of 75 people, at least nine dabble in homebrewing — enough to hold informal home-brew competitions. This fall, the office held “Oktowerfest,” including beer tastings and winners. The employees regularly get together to check out breweries and taste beers.

Knowledge of the brewing industry means TowerPinkster has taken a special interest in designing new breweries. The firm has completed several projects in the Kalamazoo area recently, with more in the future, including Arcadia Ales’ new brewery and pub, Gonzo’s BigDogg Brewing and Boatyard Brewing Co.

“We had an opportunity about three years ago to start working with Arcadia,” Novotny said. “That got us talking with some other brewers.”

The West Michigan brewing industry is a tight-knit circle — “We got to know a lot of people rather quickly,” Novotny said. The firm also joined the Michigan Brewers Guild as an associate member in the hope of getting the word out about its brewery expertise.

“Quite honestly, why not try to be a part of an industry we really enjoy already?” Novotny said.

In Michigan, many breweries also function as taprooms, with many including a kitchen and restaurant, so designing a brewery can be similar to designing a restaurant, with one key difference: the brewhouse.

When customers walk into the taproom, they usually have a keen interest in what’s going on behind the scenes — seeing how the beer is made, Novotny said. It’s a designer’s job to make sure everything in the building flows well, from food and beverage service to getting the beer to where it needs to be after it’s made.

Brewery owners also have a lot to think about before they open the doors, such as deciding how large a brew system they’ll put in and whether they plan on distributing — and if so, in kegs, or bottles and cans, as well. Should they allow for space to put in new fermenters to expand capacity?

“There are a lot of considerations. It’s really several projects in one,” Novotny said. “They’re really exciting to work on them.”

Mechanical engineer Perry Hausman handles a lot of the engineering involved in brewery projects, including heating, cooling and fire protection. Hausman said the biggest challenge comes from a brewery’s need for superior water quality, something that isn’t a concern in most projects.

Hausman’s passion for brewing and for sustainability aligns well with brewers.

“I know at least some of the lingo and understand most of their needs and desires,” he said. “And my passion for sustainability fits very well with the industry. Brewers tend to have a lot of the same ideals and want to minimize, repurpose and reuse materials.”

Brewery projects may be directed by the style of beer that will be made and the ambiance or setting the owner decides to incorporate. For example, the design may be centered around the English or Belgian-style beer the brewery produces.

Novotny said most breweries have a story, whether it’s based on beer, location or a combination of factors.

“A lot of breweries that are successful have a good pairing of their style of beer and the environment they create,” Novotny said. “Those are the ones that really click with people.”

TowerPinkster worked with Arcadia Ales to develop its second location from the ground up on an old coal plant site on the Kalamazoo River, but many breweries find an old commercial or industrial space in which to locate.

Gonzo’s BigDogg Brewing is in an old Mazda car dealership, and Boatyard Brewing is in a former ink storage building. Both spaces provided TowerPinkster a unique canvas. Lacking the exposed brick and wood many breweries prefer to create a warm, inviting atmosphere, the designers had to get creative.

Instead of using the building’s historical elements like many breweries do, TowerPinkster used the Mazda dealership’s unique characteristics to shape the future of Gonzo’s.

“With Gonzo’s, we had a glass box. It was a showroom, and our idea was to show the energy of the people in the space,” Novotny said. “We didn’t have the funds to turn it into something it’s not.”

Boatyard’s design focused on the history of the building, which had once housed large tanks to hold ink in a building that was raised for easy access to trains.

“It’s a very compelling story in an interesting, unusual space,” Novotny said.

Currently, TowerPinkster is working on several projects, including one near Coldwater, a project for Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s culinary program that includes a brewing facility, and a brewery in Mackinaw City.

The firm has yet to work for a brewery client in Grand Rapids, but Novotny is confident the opportunity will come along.

“Breweries up here certainly have some existing relationships,” he said. “But there are a lot of them that are popping up, as well, so the opportunities are there and we’re definitely trying to put ourselves in front of them.”

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