As some of you may already have heard, Elk Brewing is expanding. The sudsy city of Grand Rapids contains yet another brewery with eyes growing larger at the prospect of snagging a good location and introducing more of their product into the market.
Eric Karns, co-owner of Elk Brewing, is expanding the brewery into a second location in Comstock Park across from the Fifth Third Ballpark. The new facility will be used to brew Elk’s mainstay beers on their new 15 bbl system, as well as to develop a brand new food program utilizing a full kitchen.
“The rule of thumb is to not outclass our product of beer” said Karns regarding the food program at both locations. The new location will also be serving wine and cider, which is not served at their original location.
There was one question I couldn’t resist regarding the expansion — did Elk Brewing feel pressured to expand due to the growth and expansion of other local breweries in town?
“I think for us we didn’t get pressured into it. If anything, the location became available and pushed us into it more than what we were pressured into it.”
Though many changes are ahead, the original location, set at the corner of Wealthy St. and Henry St, is going to have quite a roller coaster ride in their future. With the production of their mainstay beers being moved to the new facility, their current 3bbl system will be the home to their new souring program, as well as the testing site for new beer recipes.
With two brewers now on the staff, Karns can tend to the necessities of running the entire operation — though, he said he’s still present for recipe building and overseeing the brewing operations. “The major fun part is coming up with the recipes.”
I was curious, though — Is there a theme, or even certain beer styles, that embody Elk Brewing, or is it being kept undefined as tweaks and kinks are worked out?
“I hate styles and themes. I brew it purely out of taste” Karns said. Flavor first, specifications later. Karns likes to brew until it tastes right and then locate the specifics once the artistic component is complete.
Speaking of no strict style usage and brewing for taste — their mainstay, the Blonde Espresso, has been a great success to the brewery. “We keep our beer list where the demand is — Blonde Espresso. We didn’t plan on that being a mainstay but it’s become a mainstay.” said Karns.
Upon inspection of their food menu, I’d like to suggest to all of you to drink their Blonde Espresso with The Salty Pig sandwich. Prosciutto ham, beer braised onions, fig and goat cheese spread and lemon zest sounds like a fascinating pairing for the beer. A Blonde beer style base can cut through the fats that are consistent in this dish, while the coffee notes latch themselves onto the prosciutto, onions, and fig for contrast. Think roastiness + salty fat (coffee rubbed prime rib anyone?) and roastiness + sweetness from the braised onions and fig. Lemon, or citrus in general, can also have a surprisingly pleasant effect with roasty flavors from coffee.
Be sure to test out their six sauces as well at the original location. All sauces are made with different beers from the brewery and can make for a fun palate exploration with friends.
So who are the folks visiting, drinking, and eating at Elk Brewing?
“70% of our beer goes to the Detroit area. Kalamazoo has picked up quite a bit too.” Karns said. As far as the on-premise guests, Karns finds it to be a lot of walking traffic, with about 90% being locals and 10% tourists checking out the brewing facility. When asked what drives the traffic, the opinion is that “Founders is the best thing that’s ever happened to my brewery (to drive traffic). The beer passports have also helped. They’re amazing.”
Photography: Bri Luginbill