Construction is complete and beer flows from the taps at River Saint Joe Brewery in Buchanan, Michigan. Located at Flatwater Farms, a picturesque organic hop farm, we designed a sustainable, modern pole barn for our clients. A unique grain-to-glass brewery, craft beer aficionados can now enjoy a freshly brewed beer in a beautiful modern building amidst an idyllic countryside setting. Prost!

Our clients sought to create an organic farm-to-table microbrewery where customers could enjoy a unique agricultural experience. So they came to us to design a sustainable brewery with a restaurant and tasting room. They wanted a modern building that would support organic farm activity while engaging with the rural site.

The brewery is conceptualized as a modern pole barn with a deep overhang to provide shade for the outdoor patio. A combination of corten vertical siding and charred wood cladding wraps the exterior volume. Local stones form the gabion walls and flow through the exterior spaces. And native trees, shrubs, and pollinator-loving plants dot the landscape.

Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers

On the interior, corten steel continues through to the bar sides. In contrast, the bar tops and millwork for the tables, made from salvaged wood found on the farm, add warmth.

River Saint Joe Brewery at Flatwater Farms differentiates from most breweries. Rather than outsourcing, they grow their own organic hops, used for beer production and various crops for the restaurant. We centered the voluminous taproom on the site providing stunning farm views and creating a link to the patio and hop farm. Beer lovers can immerse themselves in the beautiful ecosystem and be a part of the harmonious nature that fosters the organic beer process.


A pole barn uses pole framing or post-frame construction. Large poles or posts are embedded into the ground or secured to a foundation. The poles act as the building’s vertical support structure rather than traditional stud and walls, while girts provide horizontal support. The lack of typical load-bearing walls creates an open space allowing for more design creativity.

Conventional pole barns are constructed with metal or wood siding. And with some structural modification, cement panels and stone can also be used.

Our main brewery structure is a modified version of a typical pole barn — bridging it from a rural vernacular to a cost-effective modern design. We used a simple structural concept and form and altered some details to make the building beautiful and functional.

Schematic drawing showing a typical pole barn and our modified version


Pole barns are the tract homes of the industrial rural landscape. These pre-manufactured kits are ordered and shipped to a designated site. Upon arrival, they are plopped down on a foundation without site orientation taken into consideration. Their greatest appeal is that they are relatively inexpensive, hence their popularity. As we have found with tract homes, the problem is that they end up costing more to operate over time because they do not respond to the site for which they were dropped upon.

We knew a fully customized building was not in the budget at Flatwater Farms and that the architectural concept had to be suitable for the land. With a little creativity and ingenuity, we made slight modifications to the pole barn model to better respond to the use and the site.

Employing a few simple design moves, we created a structure, while still modular, that settles into the landscape and is oriented with the sun in mind.

The roof slopes completely toward the south so that the full roof plane can be utilized for a solar array. The slope also provides shade for the building’s precise parts that benefit from having the most glass.

Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers


Flatwater Farms is a certified organic hop farm that embraces nature and the ecosystems that surround it. Without an electricity connection, or nearby municipal gas, water, or sewer, we had to find creative utility usage approaches. To assess different options, we used energy modeling to determine which energy systems were the most cost-effective.

Energy Modeling

As opposed to an urban site where utility connections are typically an afterthought, the farm site’s rural nature left the decisions a bit more open. Because a brewery has a significant amount of power-hungry production equipment and large volume spaces that need to be heated and cooled, our energy source selection was particularly important. With the help of our mechanical and electrical engineer partners, we analyzed the building’s energy usage. As a result, we improved the wall and roof insulation value and glass efficiency, landing on the best long term solution.

Geothermal or propane delivered to the site is obvious, and both are conventional options; the former being costly upfront and the latter being unpredictable long term. We determined that new electric heat pumps were the best option, and we were able to offset the higher electric demand by installing solar panels on the roof. The only propane used is for the brewery production boiler.

Breweries use a lot of water for production, and reducing, reusing, and recycling was important to our client. We minimized the amount of water needed to be processed by the septic field. This was done by isolating select drain lines that serve the production area from the general sewage. Therefore, allowing the water associated with the brewery production to be processed naturally onsite, minimizing the required size of the septic field.

Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers

SIP Panels

Rather than a wood frame, we used highly insulated panels for the infill walls between the ‘poles’ of the pole barn structure. These structural insulated panels (SIPs) are made from insulated foam core and delivered in panels so they can easily snap together onsite. This provides the needed insulation and reduces labor costs when factoring in less construction time and job site waste.

Solar Panels

Our roof design, while elegant and cool, is not arbitrary. A primary reason for adjusting the pole barn design was to allow for the roof to relate better to the site on which it sits. The main argument against pre-fabricated construction is that it can be placed anywhere and does not respond well to environmental conditions, thus reducing energy efficiency.

The trusses and roof that support the panels are made with one simple slope towards the south so the entire roof can be clad with photovoltaic panels. This is especially important at a rural site where there is only electricity or propane access as a fuel source.

Corten Steel Siding + Charred Timber Cladding

Weathered steel, or corten, is a favored material at moss. We implemented the corrugated form of the material for the exterior cladding because of its relative cost-efficiency. Siding expansive, uninterrupted surfaces is costly, and corten is relatively inexpensive. Plus, we like how it acquires a warm patina with age and blends with the site’s farmscape.

Corten siding patina creates a warm, earthy hues and local stones used for the gabion walls

To round out the material palette, we installed charred wood timber as an infill accent alongside the corten. Charred wood, also knows as shou sugi ban, is another moss favorite. The cladding material is rich in color and texture and has the ability to reflect light. It contrasts nicely with the golden hue of the corten. 

To a greater degree, we chose both of these materials because of the unique way they patina. Much like the farm or a fine barrel-aged beer, the materials form a connection to the land and evolve with it over time.

Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers
Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers
Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers

Below are some photos taken during construction.