By Pete Newell
When it comes to starting a brewery, opening when planned is the exception, not the rule. Delays in obtaining permits, construction setbacks, brewing mishaps and many more issues can all hamper your progress.
Well, in the case of Norfolk’s Elation Brewing, you can add another one: federal government shutdown. Elation owner Kenny VanHook, a former architect, applied for a license to brew beer and serve it to the public from the federal Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the Treasury Department known as the TTB.
The record-long shutdown ended Jan. 25, but the closing resulted in a backlog that slowed everything down.
“We were expecting to get our approval letter any day, and the government shuts down,” VanHook said in a recent interview. “Now we have no idea when we’ll get it.”
The brewery did manage a soft opening March 2, serving local brews, as well as a handful of collaborations with the likes of Norfolk’s Coelacanth Brewing and The Bold Mariner Brewing Company and Billsburg Brewery of Williamsburg, according to a draft beer list posted this week on Facebook.
According to that post, a grand opening will be announced as soon as the TTB is approved, which could take up to three weeks.
Located in a spacious brick building, formerly a supermarket and church, Elation is one of the few breweries in Hampton Roads that will serve wine and cider along with its beer. The brewery will also offer a limited menu of light fare.
A pristine 10-barrel brewhouse sits in the back, unable to deliver craft beer to expectant patrons. Head brewer Brahbert Sweeney, formerly of O’Connor Brewing Company, brings 12 years of brewing experience to Elation, but hasn’t been able to use his own equipment yet. Instead, Sweeney has kept busy by brewing elsewhere, collaborating with Bold Mariner, Billsburg, Coelacanth, The Virginia Beer Company, and The Vanguard Brewpub.
Sweeney plans on brewing a diverse range of styles, from IPAs to lagers to kettle sours. They hope to offer an inclusive lineup that has something for everybody, and they aren’t committed to any particular styles becoming their flagship offerings.
“We’ll let the public tell us what we will brew more of,” Sweeney says. “If we brew six beers, and one sells out in two days, we’re going to make that one again.”
Chris Tinsley, partner and tasting room manager, is the former owner of Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room in Virginia Beach. He joins the VanHooks and Sweeney to give Elation a solid brain trust with considerable experience in the craft beer industry. Now the team just needs the clearance to get to brewing.
“Once we get that piece of paper in the mail, we’ll be ready to go,” says Kenny VanHook. “Until then, we wait and hope it’s not too long.”