“I had to have an outside force to bend my hand to make the switch to all craft malt,” says Bob Sweeney, the Head Brewer at Elation Brewing in Norfolk, Virginia. “It happened almost a year into our business when everything shut down in 2020. My big malt reps told me it was going to be impossible to get European products, so I called Riverbend. I switched all of my beer entirely without having tried it. I took a huge leap of faith.”
He might not have brewed with the malt yet, but Sweeney’s leap wasn’t entirely blind either. “Some really good breweries were making really good beers with Riverbend, so I knew the risk was worth it,” he says. “When I brewed our first Larchmont Lager [a mainstay at Elation since day one], I could taste the difference. Chesapeake Pilsner malt gave it more of a cracker-y crispness and breadiness that wasn’t quite as biscuity as the import Pilsner malt we’d been using.”
For Sweeney, Riverbend checked all the boxes. Beyond simple availability and noticeable flavor improvements, the malt quality and regionality supported Elation’s overall mission to meet consumer demand for local beer. Not to mention it gave the brewery a value proposition that came in the form of an aesthetic storytelling opportunity for the marketing team.
“That initial post we put out on Facebook about our switch to craft malt was almost three years ago, and it’s still one of the best performing, most liked and engaging posts we’ve ever shared,” Sweeney regales. “Customers were like ‘Yes! No more imported malt!’ It showed us that ingredients really do mean something to the consumer.”
Since their conversion to craft malt, Sweeney says Elation has gotten much customer praise for the quality of all of their beers; including flagships Larchmont Lager German-style Pilsner, Notice This West Coast IPA, Rosé Gosé Hibiscus Gose, and Highland Park Hazy IPA, and an array of ever-rotating beers on tap. Elation has also received good reception on competitive beer pricing. “People are beginning to recognize beer price as an indicator of superior quality,” he adds.
Scoping out, Sweeney believes the way to expand the craft malt industry is to educate the consumer to force the brewer because he’s experienced that shift firsthand. “It’s an uphill battle, of course,” he explains, one that he and his dedicated team are leading the charge on. Elation is helping set a precedent for higher standards not just in the Virginia beer scene, but in the beverage industry at large.
Learn more about Elation Brewing’s award-winning beers and historic location in a Colonial-era grocery store at www.elation.beer.