How to open a commercial cidery in your basement, part 2

Before you get your hopes up for a licensed cidery in your basement, there are two incontrovertible difficulties you must overcome: city zoning and an exterior door.

I’m in the City of Portland Oregon, which allows two types of home-based businesses: Type A and Type B. Which one you select should depend on your plans for the cidery. In my case, I was concerned about being denied at any stage of the game by any government entity so I stuck with the simplest, requiring no neighbor notification.

Whichever type you choose, you have to stick to its rules. Even if I had chosen a Type B, there are restrictions on customers visiting and operating hours. Part of my business plan includes a healthy retail business via a tasting room. I can’t do that at home; I need a commercially zoned building for it. So I knew from the beginning that the basement was just a way to get thing started.

So wherever you live, you have to ensure that the kind of cidery you want to run can be legally run from a zoning point of view, in your home.

The second incontrovertible difficulty is the necessity of an exterior door. This requirement isn’t unambiguous. It stems from your State and the Federal (TTB) wanting to preserve their tax money. When you go into the business of producing alcohol, you immediately pick up two business investors: the state and the feds. When you make your first gallon of booze, they are entitled to their tax cut, whether you sell it or not. And they have to be convinced that you have sufficient means and systems in place at your cidery to protect their taxable booze.

There are numerous examples (dig around online) of people getting denied for their attached garages and numerous examples (The Commons Brewery, ENSO Winery, others) getting approved for their detached garages. The takeaway consensus among homebrewers is that if there is an exterior door from the bonded space to the outside world which prevents you from siphoning off booze into your residence, then things are good.

The TTB requires a floor plan (and so did the OLCC, even though the documentation says I didn’t need to provide it to them since I’m not doing retail sales), showing the location of locked doors and windows and any other doors into the cidery. On my floor plan, (available to download here), I left off the existence of the rest of the house but I did explain it in detail to the agent once we got to talking. This was a calculated risk and I don’t recommend leaving anything out. I’ve heard bad stories of applicants being “forgotten about” when they had to update their documents.

The OLCC and TTB agents assigned to my case were extremely friendly and helpful although not very prompt nor responsive. They’re obviously just overworked but they do recognize the value of more alcohol being sold. If you are unlucky enough to have your application assigned to a cranky agent but have the same layout as me, you might not get approved. It’s all about convincing them of the security of the taxable cider.

So if you don’t have an exterior door, you might get a reeeeally friendly agent, but don’t count on it. The application fees aren’t inexpensive (and you have to have your bond before you can apply), so I would hate to hear about you going down that road and not getting approved.

Up next in the series: construction details and space planning.

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