GRAND RAPIDS — “We’re not hunters — not really,” says Eric Karns, owner and head brewer at Elk with a chuckle. “Elk is from the beer I made when I got married, it’s actually our initials — Eric and Lisa Karns.”
Like the homebrew created for his bride, Elk Brewing is a product of love and devotion. And a long road to get to where there are now.
“Opening a business isn’t easy, and it takes more time than I thought it would. It’s a lot longer process than people realize,” he says.
Elk Brewing seemed to be in the works forever — signs hung in the windows of 700 Wealthy St. SE for two years. The original state of the location, coupled with the fact that the bank didn’t know how to properly categorize Elk in the loan department (classifying them as a restaurant — a risky venture — instead of a brewery) were some of the reasons behind the delays.
“It’s really easy to come up with an idea, but tough to come up with funds, and hard to sell it,” says Karns. “The only thing we had to stand on was that we truly believe in the beer that we make. When people would walk into this building, it was just a shell. They would say — ‘I don’t see what you are seeing.’”
They should see it now. With a entirely new frontage, an 80 seat patio in the works, and an industrial-style, semi-rustic interior, Elk is comfy and inviting. “We want a place where people want to sit down for hours and not leave.”
Elk will not be offering food (aside from peanuts and pretzels), but has partnered with Jonny B’z, a local restaurant that’s right down the sidewalk, and established a ‘hot dog delivery line.’ You can call in your order for hot dogs or hamburgers, and they will bring it right to your seat.
Beau DeBruyne, the Assistant Brewer and Karns show us around and we taste test their initial run of beer. “We’re really trying to brew strong American style ales. I don’t make any light beers. We like big and flavorful brews,” shares Karns.
Currently, there are five beers on tap — a Porter, Scotch Ale, IPA, Black IPA and an ESB.
Both brewers’ background comes from homebrewing. That’s part of what initially sparked Elk’s creation. With the flux of qualified brewers and those wanted to get into the industry, it’s near impossible finding a position at a brewery where you’d be the decision maker. So instead of waiting for a position to find him, Karns decided to create the position for himself, all while giving an opportunity to another homebrewer.
“The goal with hiring was to seek out an experienced homebrewer,” says Karns. I know how tough it is to get a job [in this industry] and I wanted to give someone an opportunity. Beau has the same passion as I do. It’s a good fit.”
Elk’s setup is courtesy of PsychoBrew out of Greenville. Karns shows us to the back and the tanks. “We had them add an extension onto this tank to make it 120 gallons. We are the first people to ask for this, and it’s apparently taken off. We are also the first to get a manway on our mashtun.”
There are 16 fermenters and five brite tanks — four three barrel and one seven barrel.
“These are what we are serving in,” Karns says as he shows us into the cooler. “The kegs are for back up for when the tanks run out. That way we can never stop serving, never stop rolling. We don’t want to run out of beer.”
The big question — when will Elk open? It’s close — really close. Elk is waiting for final paperwork to process, and then it’s go time.
“There’s no big plans, we’re just doing it. It’s time,” Karns laughs. “We’ll be putting an open sign in that window and just going for it.”
Keep tabs on Elk via its Facebook page and be on the lookout for that sign.