More on the Anheuser-Busch Purchase of Elysian Brewing – 5 Questions With Dick Cantwell

January 23rd, 2015 · 27 Comments · General Beer News

Pretty much anyone on Twitter or Facebook that drinks beer is probably aware that Anheuser-Busch announced this morning that they were buying Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. I was able to speak with Dick Cantwell, Head Brewer and one of the 3 founding co-owners of Elysian, just a bit ago, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

1) What is the back story on this acquisition? Did Elysian approach ABI, or the other way around?
Anheuser-Busch approached us. There were some personal connections, but the fact is that we are at a point where we need to figure out what the next step is going to be for expansion and everything else. This took quite a while to develop. To be perfectly honest, I have a lot of ambivalence about it. It wasn’t necessarily the outcome I was looking for, but I think it is going to ultimately be a really positive step for us in terms of the capabilities, the resources, the opportunities for our folks to further their educations and their brewing experiences. That’s the side of it that I’m trying to concentrate on.

2) As far as saying that this wasn’t the outcome you were necessarily hoping for, what was the alternative, and was there something that pushed this to happen now and did it really have to happen?
As you know, we just did a pretty big expansion a couple of years ago and doubled our fermentation capacity over the summer. So, the amount of barrelage that we can turn out of there will probably hit the wall in a year and a half or maybe two years. That’s about how far out you need to plan your next steps. So, that’s one thing that dictating the timing.

3) What about the Elysian team and the pubs here in Seattle? What should people expect when they go into the pubs? Will the same varied selection be a focus?
We’ve made 350 different beers or something like that since we’ve opened. We’ll continue doing new beers all the time, the crew will be the same, the 3 of us (owners Dick Cantwell, Joe Bisacca and David Buhler) are sticking around and continue running the departments we already run. I’ve heard back from a few people that we have existing plans to do collaboration brews with, and they’re still on board with them. So, those people at least aren’t turning away from us.

4) What would you say to the people that take issue with moves like this?
Well, I would ask them to drink the beer and tell us whether it’s worse for the change. It’s not gonna be. It shouldn’t be any different at all. You can imagine we’ve fielded a lot of questions about *Loser. Everyone seems to be assuming that we’ll have to stop making that. We’re not going to stop making that, anymore than we’re going to stop doing anything else that we’ve been doing.

5) With Goose Island, I believe that Anheuser has taken their core brands and produce them at their larger brewing facilities and then distribute them around the country. Should we expect the same from the Elysian core brands, as well as expanded distribution?
Well, there’s not really any reason to do that right now. As I said, we’ve got room to grow to a point at our existing facility. You can never say what you’re going to do once you get to a point beyond that…it used to be that people just assumed that once your brewery gets bigger your beer gets worse, but that’s just not the case. I think once we started brewing at Airport Way (product facility), if anything, our beer got better. We had better equipment, better resources, we were better able to monitor things and keep things consistent. So, if it came to that I see no reason to believe that the beer would be worse. But, that’s not the plan now anyway.

* Loser is a pale ale brewed to celebrate Sub Pop Records’ 20th anniversary. The marketing slogan for the beer is “Corporate Beer Still Sucks”.

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Steve

    Mr. Cantwell misses the mark here. The concern is not the future quality of the beers, but rather the predatory nature of AB-InBev which has consistently used is size, money and political clout to limit consumer choice and throttle market access for smaller, local breweries.

    I find such behavior antithetical to what I value in the craft beer revolution – choice, experimentation, opportunity and collaboration. As such I have chosen not to support AB-InBev brands or business establishments.

    And that now includes Elysian.

  • blackhook

    Nice work Geoff, excellent interview questions! …Dick is an eloquent spokesman for Elysian & i’m glad to see he’s staying on.

    I’m ready to give them the benefit of the doubt & hope he’s right that they will continue to be adventurous; if so, many of us who love them now will stay loyal.

  • Kyle M.

    I’m surprised this happened. Pretty skeptical, but we’ll see how it goes. Buyouts never seem to go over well in the long run.

  • Roderick Dyke

    Sad, Just Sad …

  • bobshoemaker@hoppytrailsbeetnews.com

    This is good news for Elysian and the owners. Smart business decision. If AB ruins it, so sad, too bad. There are 70+ brewers in the King County area. Lots of choice still out there.

  • Jason Weiss

    I’m sure those in charge of Pyramid, Redhook and Widmer made similar statements when they sold to larger entities.

  • Stephen

    Disappointing. Support your locally owned brewery!

  • Ben Amster

    I think Dick clearly sidestepped the question regarding this not being the outcome he was hoping for. It doesn’t strike me as the choice either he or David would have liked to make. Especially with the kinds of deals that have happened between Duvel/Ommegang/boulevard, and more recently the public funding and minority sale of Founders in Grand Rapids, there are viable options to partner with companies that seek to expand upon creativity and vision while maintaining quality, or at the very least to utilize the broader scale of a larger group while maintaining majority control of your brand.

    Dick said it himself they should reach capacity in the airport way facility in the next year and a half to two years. And then what? How many times in the last 20 years have they expanded capacity by a significant amount? A dozen? More? I find it very hard to believe that this was the only option.

    When was the last time you drank a Redhook ESB, a Pyramid Apricot, or a Widmer Hefe and thought “man, I forgot how amazing this beer is”?

    Then again, when was the last time you drank a Redhook ESB, a Pyramid Apricot, or a Widmer Hefe?

  • Mark Dunphy

    When profit is the main focus no one wins when it comes to the main focus, quality certainly does not!

  • Pat Anderson

    Well, I and my partners in crime at Snoqualmie Falls Brewing wish our friends at Elysian well! Some way to exit from the ownership role is what most of us who started small breweries in the 1990s never thought about! Our legacy for our children may be a brewery, but I am sure they would rather have money!

  • Jerrod

    Mens Room –

    I tried it once and it tasted just like it sounds. I’m stunned that even Bud would want it for there stable of brews. The sad fact is that most Seattle (and Portland) beer tastes like sh!t – way to hoppy – so I guess one that tastes like p!ss is a step in the right directon.

  • Dave B

    I have been a supporter of Elysian since they opened, bought an awful lot of it, but am done with them now. They certainly have the right to sell to whomever they want, but I have the right to support excellent local brewers who keep their profits locally and not send them to Belgium. Too many excellent local breweries. They say they are keeping the slogan “corporate beer still sucks”. Well guess what, they are now corporate beer, so what does that mean?

  • Brady

    Ask the locals at Blue Point Brewery on Long Island if things have changed…. our beloved Hoptical Illusion with it’s cool all seeing eye above a pyramid is considered too religious for ABI. Loser will not make the cut with this new crew. When asked a new brewer at Blue Point how the change over works out he gleefully announced “so far 75% of Goose Island employees left”. Sorry folks. Good thing it’s not the only brewery in Seattle.

  • David J

    Snicker. I love how these threads bring out the people who think anything over about 20 IBUs is too (important to have that second “o”) hoppy.

  • Rudy C.

    As conflicted as I am, I find it hard to believe that anyone would turn down the tens of Millions that InBev offered for The Elysian. Dick, Joe & Dave should be proud and honored of the brand they created in their 20 years. We should be happy for them not critical.

    I look forward to what lies ahead for the brewery & brand.

    I ask you to join me in raising a glass to the entire team at Elysian for all their hard work and dedication in maintaining a wonderful and consistent product.

    Cheers!

  • Dan

    Well, that’s my last Elysian-

  • no corporate bs

    Another brewer I will never buy a drop of beer from.
    Who’s next?

  • Annie

    “That’s the plan for right now…” in regards to flavor/quality. This is because in 6 months the Contionous Improvement Managers will take over. 10% cut here, 10% cut there, swap out some grain for adjuncts…. Elysian is now part of a major corporation plain and simple. A major corporation whose motto in the PNW is, if you can’t beat them, buy them.

  • Kevin

    It’s funny to see all these people say they won’t buy their beer anymore while they type these comments on their Apple computers or Samsung phones while wearing your nikes that you bought at Target. Its funny that you are so Anti-corporate when it comes to beer but that same feeling translates to nothing else in life. If the beer is as delicious as it was before I’ll still drink it. More for me I guess. See you guys in line for the next iPhone….

  • Dred Scott

    AB-InBev is the Borg of the beer world. They do not create they assimilate, and then squeeze every last profit dollar our what they have acquired. Craft anything is just that CRAFT. Corporate products are made by committees and focus groups, with the ever present bottom line on the spreadsheet always there. We all know that anything designed by a Committee is NEVER cutting edge. Its always a compromise.

    My interview Questions:

    6) Rumor has it that one of your Head Brewers has already left. Is this true, and @ present, how many of your existing employees have professed that they to will leave?

    7) How soon do we see a Bud Light Tap @ your locations?

  • Da beer man

    Definitely disappointing. As others have said, there is still a lot of local beer in Seattle to buy and support. I don’t buy any Bud products as I prefer to support beer made and owned in the USA.

  • Allen

    Dick Cantwell has done more for craft brewing than anyone else in Washington state and a good stretch beyond. He has served (with no monetary remuneration) hundreds of hours locally, nationally and internationally for the beer industry. No one has the right to denigrate his commitment to the industry or tarnish his record of service. He has the right to do what ever he sees fit with his own business.

  • Patrick

    Every time AB InBev acquires a craft brewery, the brewers say some variant of “it’s what’s in the bottle that matters.” I think that’s incredibly shortsighted. What they’re doing is commoditizing their beer. Saying that the brand doesn’t matter, the story doesn’t matter.

    If it’s just what’s in the bottle that counts, I can go to the grocery store and buy the cheapest 6-pack that meets my minimum threshold of satisfactory taste. That’s not what craft beer is about.

    The brand matters a lot to craft beer. Sometimes I’ll spend a few bucks extra for a 6-pack because I trust the brewery’s reputation, their vision, and I like supporting some kindred brewing spirits.

    Unfortunately there’s no good way for Dick to answer that question, so I give him credit for being brave enough to interview.

    The world would be much better off if we didn’t have a beer oligarchy where all the money is controlled by light beer brewers. If there were instead say 3 equally weathy large brewing corporations, one or two of which were craft breweries, then Elysian could have sold to one of the non-evil ones. Then we’d have beer industry consolidation where craft brewers could combine their forces instead of having no other option.

  • steve

    I will agree with the majority of commenters, Big corp. and craft beer do not go well together.
    As a long term craft beer guy, I will have to give up on one on my favorite brews.

  • NO MORE, PLEASE!!

    Seriously, Elysian is the only thing on beer blogs right now. What about Holy Mountain? What about Belgian Fest? What about Best of Craft Beer Awards? What about all the beer being released by non Elysian breweries? I get that there should be a mourning period and some exploration of what it means, but the pure saturation of the news cycle is getting a bit myopic and it’s beginning to look like journalistic neglect. Let’s discuss Elysian over pints, and other breweries on a blog!

  • Greg beed

    Sell out? There are numerous reasons why now. Pyramid wanted and almost did buy them 2003. The Elysian trio have done more for craft in Seattle than almost all the sub par breweries in Ballard combined. This is the 2007 of breweries. Sell at the peak. 254 in our state alone? Most are ave to sub par and will not turn a profit. Great time to get out, there real master brewer is gone, without him the brewery would not have been vertical in sales the last 4 yrs. kudos for the American Dream coming to fruition. How many jobs does Elysian contribute to our local economy? Tired of some of the hard core craft drinkers pissed off at this then pound a Rainier or PBR, proudly brewed in LA.

  • Kaiser

    NO MORE PLEASE: I completely agree. I posted my pieces about Elysian on Friday, the day the news was announced. I just haven’t had time to post much else about anything since then…

    As for the Elysian deal, I don’t plan on any more posts here, and I’ve been done reading posts on other websites for a few days now. Enough is enough.

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