Brewery Spotlight: Elkton Brewing Co.

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The Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail is excited to welcome three Rockingham County breweries to the trail. This month we chatted with Tristan Napotnik, Branding/Marketing Manager of family-run Elkton Brewing Co., which has been open since February. Read on to learn what kind of beer they’re brewing and how their historic space transitioned from grist mill to warehouse to church to brewery. Tristan also tells us how to fit Elkton Brewery Co. into a full day of exploring the Valley. Just make sure you’re there in time to catch the “Chugga Chug” discount!

When did you open? Does your brewery or site have an interesting history?

We opened in February of this year. We had about three weeks before the coronavirus shutdown forced us to sell to-go beer only. Our building was built in 1890 as a grist mill and operated as such for many years. Back in the 1980’s, our family used the building for warehousing supplies for another business. As kids, we used to try catching pigeons that had broken through windows in the building. It has gone through many renovations since then. Most recently the space was used as a church. Now, since we have our own grain mill in the brew cellar, it has gone somewhat full circle.

The brewing scene in the Valley has grown in recent years. How does it feel to be part of that movement? Does your taproom or beer have a unique connection to the Shenandoah Valley?

It is exciting and rewarding to be a part of the growing brewing community. We’ve had nothing but positive experiences with other local breweries and have developed great relationships with those breweries’ crews. Our taproom has a lot of unique local/Valley connections. The names of all of our beers have some sort of local story, connection, or play on words and tend to be conversation starters for non-locals. The beautiful beams in the taproom are old American Chestnut, which you don’t see very often. And we have a mural in the taproom that is jammed full of local imagery and themes.

What was the inspiration behind your brewery’s name?

Quite simple, really. We love our little town, and we’d love to do our part in putting it on the map. Naming the brewery “Elkton Brewing Co” was a unanimous decision for our family. Elkton is chock-full of potential. Bearing the name of our town, we hope to draw attention to this place and to encourage others to bring more business to the town’s economy. The town is wedged right between the Blue Ridge mountains and the Shenandoah River, both attractions worth visiting.

Tell us more about the beers you make. Do you specialize in something or do you offer a wide range of styles? How many beers do you have on tap?

We try to maintain 11 unique beers on tap, but we are a small-batch brewery so there is a good bit of turnover on the taps. Our beer styles are all over the place, currently including an Icelandic Witbier and a German-style Rauchbier. In a couple weeks of cycling beers on and off, we went from having three IPA’s on tap to no IPA’s on tap. This flow has kept people, especially our local regulars coming back to try new beers. With that said, we are constantly re-brewing our most popular beers to ensure they are always on tap.

How can we get your beer? Do you distribute any beer to retail locations, or do you focus on own-premise sales and deal directly with customers?

If you want our beer, you have to come here! We have no plans to get into distribution. We hope to become a destination brewery, which should work well given our proximity to Massanutten Resort, Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Shenandoah River. We fresh-fill and seal Crowlers (two sizes available) on demand as an option for people to take our beer home or as gifts for friends. We like the relational side of the industry. We enjoy hosting our patrons and sharing our beer with them. Much of that intimacy can get lost in distribution.

What’s the brewery ethos, and what sort of experience do you want to give people that come visit? How would you describe the atmosphere of your taproom?

We don’t just want people to show up and buy our beer. It isn’t even enough for people to simply enjoy our beer. We want people to come and connect with Elkton Brewing Co. There is a locally oriented story behind every beer’s name, which acts both to engage locals and make them feel right at home, while at the same time offering conversation starters for non-locals. This has offered a unique opportunity for people to connect with each other. The taproom is beautifully restored in a way that preserves the building’s history and while also contemporary at the same time. The now-extinct American Chestnut beams, original to the 1890 building, are proudly exposed throughout the taproom. We also have three lounge areasone with a fireplacewhich add to the relaxed atmosphere of our space. There are two bars, both copper, and a front porch with mountain views. All of this comes together to offer something for everyone.

Do you have indoor and outdoor seating? How family and pet friendly is your location?

Our outdoor seating space is pet-friendly, and both indoor and outdoor spaces are family friendly. Our mural has been fun and engaging for children. There are many hidden things that are fun for kids to find throughout the artwork.

Do you serve food?

We have light snacks available, like potato chips and goldfish, but we otherwise do not serve food. However, we almost always have a food truck parked out front on weekends, some local restaurants deliver to our space, and patrons are welcome to bring food in as they please.

What kind of special activities and events does the brewery offer? 

We usually have live music on weekends. We post these events to our social media pages for the public to stay in tune to those events. We are still a very young business, so we’re still getting organized in this area.

Can you describe an ideal afternoon/evening that involves a trip to your brewery (for instance, a nearby hike and then some food and a trip to the taproom to meet friends around a fire pit, etc.)

There are so many ideal paths to our brewery! Skyline Drive, on the Blue Ridge Mountains, has a plethora of beautiful and scenic trails for hikers of every experience level. The Shenandoah River is great for floating, paddling, and fishing. Massanutten Resort has endless activities available, from the water park to the outdoor adventure park. The area is also a major hotspot for cyclists – both road bikers and mountain bikers. Regardless of your preferred activities, you can’t go wrong closing out a day of local adventure by stopping by our taproom for a few pints!

Tell us something people don’t know about the brewery.

As a family owned and operated brewery, someone from the family is always here. We usually end up telling all of our stories throughout each day, as groups of newcomers visit our taproom daily. It is hard to say what people don’t know about our brewery at this point! One thing that most people are unaware of until they experience it for themselves, is our “Chugga-Chug” discount. Our building sits right up against an active railway. Whenever a train roars by, we ring a bell which signifies the beginning of the Chugga-Chug discount – ten percent off all beer purchases while the train is rolling. This is our creative alternative to a “happy hour,” and people seem to love it. On a crowded Saturday, the taproom will all cheer in unison when we ring that bell.

Where do you hope to see your business in, say, the next year or two?

We hope to accomplish consistency. The reviews and feedback we have been receiving since opening up is humbling and encouraging. We hope to maintain the same level of hospitality and quality, without losing the relational aspects of our operation. At the same time, we’d like to expand our brewing capacity in an effort to better maintain supply of the beers that people have loved the moststill not getting into the distribution game. To sum it up, we don’t want to be complacent and we do not take for granted the generous feedback we’ve been receiving. Hospitality and service are at the core of our business model.