by Kate Brennan
Paul Andrew Sgroi, a typically mild-mannered architect, gets a certain fire in his eyes when he talks about one thing: beer. Although he has designed a number of impressive buildings in the area for colleges and universities, civic institutions and international corporations, Paul is a respected expert in brewery and distillery design.
A principal with Bernardon, Paul has designed breweries and distilleries for clients such as Victory Brewing Company, Tired Hands Brewing Company, Philadelphia Distilling, Blue Earl Brewing Company and Four Seasons Brewing Company, among others.
Paul shared how his passion for beer led to this exciting part of his career, what it’s really like to work with brewers and his vision for the future of the craft beer industry.
The Town Dish: Paul, how did you start designing breweries?
Paul Sgroi: My first opportunity to design a brewery was with Jean Broillet, [founder of] Tired Hands. Because of my love for craft beer and my experience with homebrewing, a mutual contact told me that this young kid from Iron Hill was going to open his own brewery. I thought, “Wow, it would be great to marry these two passions in my life,” so I went over to see Jean at Iron Hill for lunch. The fact that I was a brewer as well as an architect was important to him.
After that, I started working with Victory, and then I came to the realization that this could be a viable market for me.
What got you into homebrewing?
I’ve been a homebrewer for 23 years. It started out with an early interest in quality beer. When I learned that it was something I could do at home, I couldn’t help but get into it.
Architecture can take years—designing the Chester County Justice Center took 8 years—but with brewing, you design it, you brew it and you can drink it within 3–6 weeks. The results of your design process are fulfilled a lot sooner. That is the reason I continue to do it today. It’s an enjoyable, gratifying design process that has tangible results a lot sooner.
Are you brewing anything at the moment?
Right now, a double IPA.
You’ve designed a lot of other impressive buildings in the region. How does brewery design differ from other types of architecture?
Breweries are particularly rewarding because they really marry two of my passions. It’s unique in that respect, but it’s the same as other projects in that it’s still about the design process and creating thoughtful solutions for a client’s needs. I enjoy design because it’s about this process of discovery.
Brewers really have an appreciation for user experience. They get design. You can have this dialogue about design and what you’re trying to create.
In a way, they bring an experience of craft beer to me that I bring design to them. I bring clarity to their vision. And they’re really brilliant.
What has led to your success with brewery architecture?
I really live craft beer. My experience with visiting so many breweries gives me such a good grasp of what the user experience should be like.
Matt Krueger from Victory (a client) likes to say, “It’s about the beer in the glass,” but it’s also about the experience you’re having while you’re enjoying the beer in the glass.
Most brewery projects are reuse, and the bones of the buildings greatly contribute to the user experience. It’s the part [of the experience] that I can influence.
Have breweries changed since your first project?
The industry is changing and becoming more community-focused. I think we’ve already seen that happening over the last several years. We’re going to see more places like Bluebird Distilling in Phoenixville—local, small production distilleries.
What’s your “dream” project in terms of brewery design?
My own! I’d love to do one at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. I’d also like to work on a larger scale brewery that has an outdoor beer garden component to integrate the outdoor festive character to the indoor experience.
- Photos/renderings: Bernardon