Focus on Fermentation

From some of Oregon’s best wineries to award-winning craft breweries to facilities for fizzy kombucha and bespoke distilleries, O’Brien’s expertise and specific knowledge help shape the buildings that focus on fermentation.

Fermentation is one of humanity’s oldest practices, tracing its origins back to around 10,000 BCE. An integral part of various cultures throughout history, this ancient approach transforms food and beverages into more nutritious, flavorful, and sometimes medicinal products that have profoundly impacted human culture and technology.

Science + Art

At its core, fermentation is a chemical process where microorganisms like yeast and bacteria convert sugars into simpler substances, such as ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process is foundational to the creation of a wide array of products, including beer, wine, liquor, bread, kombucha, kimchi, and yogurt. For alcoholic beverages specifically, fermentation involves converting sugars into ethyl alcohol, a process that has been perfected over millennia through trial, error, and keen observation.

Crafting Enjoyable Beverages

The appeal of fermented beverages lies not just in their alcohol content but in their sensory, nutritional, and sometimes pharmacological benefits. The joy of producing a beverage that people genuinely love is a significant motivator for those of us involved in the industry. From the grand opening of a new brewery to the first sip of a newly aged wine to a healthy glass of kombucha, the process brings immense satisfaction and joy to producers and consumers—as well as the architects and builders who design and construct these facilities. And its importance to Oregon’s economy is growing every year as production and sales of alcohol have become the state’s 3rd largest source of tax revenue.

Building the Perfect Facility

Over decades of hands-on experience designing and building these projects, our team has learned that creating a facility for beverage fermentation involves unique challenges depending on the type of beverage being produced.

Wineries: A winery is essentially an industrial plant inside of a custom home, combining equipment and processes with inviting hospitality components such as tasting rooms and event venues. The additional square footage required for bottle and barrel aging storage—sometimes in underground wine caves–can also be costly, but essential.

Breweries:  Whether repurposing an old building or constructing a new facility, creating spaces suitable for brewing consistently great beer requires literally tons of process equipment and an environment designed for stringent sanitation.

Kombucha: Probiotic beverages require large warehouses to house the numerous tanks necessary for the stages of fermentation, specifically designed and built for uniquely high humidity and specific environmental needs under which its symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) thrives.

Equipment & Infrastructure

Regardless of the type of beverage being fermented, the construction of these facilities is heavily reliant on specialized equipment and infrastructure. The building itself is a minor part of the overall cost; the real expense lies in the equipment, process piping, and support systems such as boilers, chillers, transfer pipes, and nitrogen generators. When planning projects, equipment needs and associated energy loads should be the very first thing pinned down to inform design requirements

Key considerations include

Water Quality: Essential for all types of fermentation, testing the water before establishing a facility is crucial to ensure it meets the necessary pH and microbial standards.

Sanitation: High water usage for constant wash-downs is common, especially in wineries and kombucha breweries. Breweries utilize CIP (clean-in-place) systems, which are crucial for maintaining sanitary conditions.

Ventilation: Proper ventilation is critical due to the production of CO2, a potentially hazardous gas. Facilities need appropriate flues, exhaust systems, and other mechanical equipment to ensure air quality and safety.

Drainage: Effective drainage systems with proper floor slopes and adequate sizing are vital to handle the effluent produced during the fermentation process.

Infrastructure: Site work can be unexpectedly significant depending on jurisdictional requirements for fire access roads, fire ponds, process waste, lighting, drainage, and septic.

Regulations: Navigating the myriad regulations surrounding alcohol production is essential to avoid costly pitfalls and ensure compliance with local laws such as land use, health department approvals, building codes, and Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) requirements.

The Role of Expertise

Successful fermentation facility projects require knowledgeable professionals who understand the intricacies of equipment, process piping, and fermentation operations. Hiring the right architect and contractor is crucial. These experts must manage budgets carefully, as not all clients have the financial flexibility of a tech mogul. It’s about creating efficient, cost-effective facilities that meet all regulatory and operational requirements.

Fermentation is a time-honored tradition that combines chemistry, art, and a deep understanding of microbial processes. Whether it’s crafting a fine wine, brewing a robust beer, or creating a refreshing kombucha, the journey from raw ingredients to a beloved beverage is both complex and rewarding. With the right expertise and infrastructure, the joy of fermentation can continue to flourish, delighting consumers and honoring ancient traditions.

Brew Dr Production Equipment
Creating the Kombucha
Brew Dr Production Facility