Elysian, the grandparent of Capitol Hill breweries, is fit for duty again. After a long-announced, four-month renovation of its Capitol Hill location, the 24-year old E Pike brewery and brewpub is ready to face the crowds again starting May 6th.
Elysian, located in a 1919-era Packard storage building, had been closed since late December last year for both front and back of house upgrades which included a makeover of the pub’s exterior as well as interior, kitchen, bathrooms and the installation of an all-new brewing equipment.
During a preview of the space, Elysian co-founder and CEO Joe Bisacca walked up the stairs of his new brew tanks. They were still empty. In the coming weeks, brewmasters will start filling them, but the brewing process will probably not start here before the new Elysian opens to the public on May 6th, or before its birthday party on May 10th. That Friday, Elysian celebrates 24th years on the Hill and in existence “with 1996 prices,” Bisacca said.
The brewery’s original layout has remained mostly unchanged since 1996, according to Bissaca, except for some maintenance.
“We really needed [an upgrade]. It was looking really dated. This was a full tear-down-to-nothing and build it back up,” he said, “while trying to make sure it kept a feel like it’s been here.”
That’s why the pub, though it has some new windows, new tables, booths, seatings and freshly tiled bar and kitchen area, still feels a little old school, Bisacca said.
Elysian worked with Mallet Design Build to include vintage design elements, such as bleacher stadium seats, mid-century lamps from the Czech Republic, plus doors and large beams from the former brew space.
“The bar top is still the old bar top,” Bisacca added. The bar underneath was replaced, he explained. “It was so rotted you could literally put your finger through it.”
Also new is the addition of a large, glass-paned garage door which will allow for some outdoor patio seating.
The most significant change, however, happened indoors. The space feels brighter and lighter, thanks to the removal of the waist-level barrier that slashed through the room. Now a big cabinet divides the space, with an area for minors near the front. There are also no more walls separating the brewery area from the rest of the pub to show better the brewing process in what Bisacca calls a “brewing amphitheater.” There is also room for shuffleboard.
It’ll be hard to tell for non-brewing connoisseurs, but instead of the 20-barrel brewery (which had been there since 1996 as well — it’s now at Urban Family Brewing Co. in Magnolia), the new rig consists of a 15-barrel brewery with the ability to run nine batches every two weeks. This translates to smaller batches, but more styles, and a way for the brewers to do “some fun stuff,” Bisacca said. He sees it as the ideal laboratory to test products to see if they can move on to be brewed at larger volumes at the Airport Way plant in Georgetown. Some of this activity translates into increased tap capacity, with 20 instead of 16 beers on tap.
Bisacca said the budget for the overhaul, including the new brewing installation, totaled “roughly 3 million dollars.”
It’s a return to the smaller batches of Elysian’s beginning in 1996, when Bisacca, along with David Buhler and Dick Cantwell opened the E Pike brewery. After Elysian was purchased in 2015 by Anheuser-Busch InBev to strengthen the beer giants “craft” wing, Cantwell left the company. Bisacca is now CEO, Buhler is Brand Ambassador.
Bisacca said AB InBev left Elysian completely free in what to do with the remodel and said the return to smaller batches did not come at Ab Inbev’s request.
He also said the upgrade to a more stylish space plus the introduction of a lighter, “from scratch” menu with housemade sausage and ketchup as well as vegetarian and vegan fare, did not have to do with having to cater to or keep up with a more upscale Capitol Hill audience.
Perhaps it was a way to keep up with the growing craft pub scene on the Hill, which includes “nano-brewery” Outer Planet Craft Brewing, the independent Optimism and Redhook Brew Lab’s eight-barrel brewery (owned by the Craft Beer Alliance, a company partly owned by AB InBev). The latter two are, like Elysian, housed in tastefully repurposed auto row-era buildings.
Did Bisacca feel like he needed to level up because of them, too?
“I always think you do. You have to have a pulse on that. You can call it relevance, you can call it competition, you can call it whatever you want,” he said. “Look at what Redhook did, right? They opened up a small pilot brewery down the street. That was one of the coolest things they ever did. I have to be honest: Going to multiple batches, a little smaller is a reflection of that. If you lose touch with your roots, with what you got into it for, it sort of rings hollow after a while.”
The Elysian Capitol Hill Brewery is located at 1221 E Pike. You can learn more at elysianbrewing.com.
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