By Victoria Bourne
Elation Brewing Company has lots to celebrate; it’s just not entirely sure when to do it.
A month-long federal government shutdown last year resulted in the Norfolk brewery opening in March – months later than expected. Even then it could only serve guest taps and collaborations thanks to a bureaucratic backlog that delayed the paperwork needed to brew onsite.
The problems were sorted out by May, thankfully. Now the question is, when does the brewery celebrate its anniversary? “Is it when we opened our doors or is it when we started selling our beer?” says co-owner Kenny VanHook. “Do we have two, you know, or do we just kind of pick a date in between?”
He can joke now, but the problem was no small matter. The plan all along had been to mix in guest taps and collaborations with their own creations, but as the weeks dragged into months, being able to serve some beer – any beer – kept them afloat.
Head brewer Bob Sweeney, whose resume includes stints at O’Connor, Wild Wolf and Star Hill brewing companies, turned to friends in the local brewing community – The Bold Mariner Brewing Company, Coelacanth Brewing, The Virginia Beer Company and others – to help them hang on until the paperwork came through.
The crew served its first all-Elation beer, a Rosé Gosé brewed with hibiscus and pink peppercorn, in June. They followed that with Larchmont Lager, a Czech-style pilsner and the closest thing to a flagship Elation has produced, VanHook says. Other creations since then include V is for Vienna, Bella the Black Dog, Fit Wit, Quad Pro Quo and What Were We Thinking?, a fruited sour inspired by an early collaboration with Bold Mariner.
Sweeney, a traditionalist who prefers to make classic styles of beer, warned VanHook early on that he would never use packaged food products – no Oreos, no breakfast cereals, no Gummy Worms. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, that’s just not me,” Sweeney says. “I’m open to experimentation. I’m not open to going so far out of the box that it’s over the top.”
Elation recently launched a mug club, and wine is available on tap, including a custom red blend produced by the Eastern Shore’s Chatham Vineyards made especially for the brewery.
As for food, Elation has a limited and changing menu: Recent Sunday brunch offerings included a poutine with hand cut oven fries, melted cheese, gravy and a sunny side egg, and French toast bread pudding with maple orange caramel and a side of home fries.
A lunch menu served daily features sandwiches – some with vegetarian alternatives – salads and soups, including a three-bean chili, and shareables such as a charcuterie board and salty or sweet pretzels.
“They do amazing things out of this tight little space,” says VanHook, of his small corner kitchen.
VanHook, who owns the brewery with his wife, Annie, has a background in architecture. He used that skill to help create a taproom that he hopes others will find welcoming. He started by renovating the former 1940s-era supermarket-turned-church on north Colley Avenue. Exposed bowstring trusses support the brick building’s arched roof, which helped define its aesthetic, VanHook says.
A long, curved bar built from wood salvaged from an old Suffolk peanut factory is part of a “community centric approach” meant to encourage conversation. The shape is echoed by a wooden design feature that fans out overhead.
High-top tables repurposed from a bowling alley flank two 16-foot-long, family-style tables VanHook had made from reclaimed beams. The edges of the 12,000-sqaure-foot space features upholstered seating, and a front wall of glass garage doors, which are rolled up during nice weather.
“We started off wanting a space that was comfortable and inclusive for everybody,” says VanHook. Sweeney recalls sitting with VanHook and tasting room manager Chris Tinsley a couple nights before Elation opened and saying, “Guys, at the risk of sounding so horribly cliché, this place has a good vibe.”
As for the future, VanHook and his team are looking at canning and bottling in the New Year. “And we’ve got six big barrels of saison back there that’s aging; it’s been on oak now for seven months. We’re going to start doing custom releases of those sometime in the spring.”
Just in time, he says, for whichever anniversary they pick.