Here’s part two of our homebrew series. See part one if you’re curious about the legality of homebrewing generally, and the common questions we see about homebrew-related activities. This part is for the dreamers out there who see an opportunity to potentially go pro, without excessive startup costs.
We are often asked, can I brew commercial beer at my house? Can I open a brewery in my garage? Will TTB license my outbuilding as a brewery? Is it possible to open a brewery on residential property?
The answer is a resounding…maybe! But that’s more promising than a no, right?
We totally get the desire to try to open a brewery at home. You avoid costly commercial leases. You can build out on a leisurely timeline. Wear rubber boots over your pajamas if you want. It seems like a tantalizing way to cost-effectively start producing beer, and then sell kegs into the local market. That way, you may be able to generate a bit of brand recognition and see how it goes, before committing to bigger expenses. (And, of course, having a professional homebrewery comes with bragging rights, doesn’t it?)
First, here’s a bit about the federal perspective on licensing a brewery on residential property. Then, keep reading, as we’ll dive into issues that may lurk on the state and local side of things.
TTB’s Approach to Home Professional Breweries: “Dwelling House”
From TTB’s chair, a brewery may not be established in any “dwelling house.” That’s in the code. So what in the heck does that mean? Keep in mind that TTB Brewer’s Notice applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. But what is worth noting is that TTB typically analyzes the residential issue in the following way.
A brewery typically may be located on residential property in the following circumstances (though TTB has final say):
-Ideally, if the building is detached from the residence. The proposed brewery premises would be in an outbuilding, for example. The outbuilding would need to be secure, with locking doors and windows. We have helped clients obtain approvals for these kinds of properties.
-What about an attached garage? Well, TTB may allow this, although it is subject to even deeper scrutiny. Here, there could not be access between the residence and the would-be brewery. So, for example, if there is a door into the residence, that would have to be walled off or blocked. If the garage connects to the residence through a breezeway of sorts, it is a closer call. As of the time of writing, we have not had anyone decide to give this a shot.
-Lease allowing the activity. Keep in mind also that TTB requires that applicants have the legal right to operate a brewery at the specified premises. If you personally own the property, but you have an entity (such as an LLC) that is going to operate the brewery, then the entity needs to have lease rights to this location. Moreover, if there is a lease in place, the same rule applies. TTB will need to make sure the entity has rights, via a lease, that allow the production of alcohol. If a landlord is not cool with this setup, then it’s not going to fly.
State and Local Issues with Home Professional Breweries
We’ve noted the general TTB concerns. However, it is worth mentioning that even if TTB would be okay with licensing a premises, state or local concerns may get in the way. Indeed, TTB is a federal agency. In issuing an approval, TTB is not going to make sure all of the state and local ducks are in a row. TTB makes its independent decision. There is the concern of state regulators, of course. However, there are also potential zoning and code issues to consider.
State Regulators: In Washington, for example, LCB often takes the same approach as TTB. Detached residential (outbuilding) tends to work. A garage is a closer call, but with the above-noted steps, plus TTB approval, it seems likely LCB would follow TTB’s lead.
Zoning Concerns for the Professional Homebrewer
Here may be the catch. When you operate a brewery, you are making a form of commercial use of your property. Zoning restrictions may or may not allow the operation of a brewery at the residence. It is an absolute must that the would-be professional homebrewer investigate the zoning of the property.
In general, the more rural the property, the more uses like these are possible. The less rural, the trickier it gets. If the zoning of the property is residential, it may nevertheless be possible to go through a “Home Occupation” process of sorts whereby you apply to operate a business at your home. If you meet certain conditions, the local zoning folks may issue you approval. Nevertheless, pay attention to the home occupation requirements, if applicable. It may be that if your neighbors take issue with the smell of the operation (even if you aren’t brewing at a bigger scale than you were homebrewing), they could put the kibosh on your home occupation. They may also receive notice of your plans and have the opportunity to object up front (so, it goes without saying, that you’ll want to have a good relationship with those around you). Beyond that, the zoning office itself may try to frame your business as too industrial, and not within the uses allowed for these kinds of businesses. It may take some explanation, some tap dancing, some selling.
Furthermore, if a pro brewery at home is allowed, then local zoning will dictate the things you can and cannot do in the operation of your brewery. You may only be able to receive deliveries during limited hours, or a certain limited number of days of the week. In some instances, you cannot have any employees, rather, only those living at the residence may operate the busines. You may not care to operate a taproom at the location, but local zoning would also speak to that. It’s likely that unless you are in a rural area, a taproom will be a no-go, and you would only be able to have a limited number of visitors for the purposes of the business. Parking is also an issue. If you are going to have visitors, you may have to provide off-street parking for them. So, if you were going to compliantly take advantage of a mobile-canning service for your wares, this parking issue could rear its head, depending on the configuration of the residential property.
Despite all these caveats, it is well worth exploring the option of licensing a home brewery. Before you sink money into a commercial lease, why not see if the space you have already could fit the bill, and give you a cost-effective way into the wild, rewarding ride of operating a professional brewery? If all goes well, you’ll outgrow the space quickly. Even so, it’ll be fun to one day reminisce about your startup’s humble roots.