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What they’re saying about the Elysian-Anheuser-Busch InBev deal: why they sold, the ‘Loser’ joke, what’s next

"Elysian in the mirror" (Image: jillbertini via Flickr)

“Elysian in the mirror” (Image: jillbertini via Flickr)

Friday was a busy day for CHS. The news that Capitol Hill-born Elysian Brewing was selling out to Anheuser-Busch InBev brought the fourth highest daily total of readers to CHS ever. (Our roster of biggest news days ever is at the bottom of this post.) We barely had a chance to read what others were saying about the deal. Here’s a look at the soul searching and insights we’ve found about the deal. Let us know what we missed.

Elysian + AB InBev notes

  • In case you missed a few of our later updates, tweets from two Elysian employees didn’t paint a happy picture around the circumstances of the deal’s announcement Friday:

  • The Washington Beer Blog knew the deal was coming — and knew it would come with some big questions — Is Elysian Brewing evil now that it’s part of Anheuser-Busch?
    Dick said something that I think is very important. “We hope people will continue to judge Elysian by what’s in the bottle.” There is no doubt Dick understood that people would freak out, but he really does hope people can see past the business end of things and just continue to enjoy Elysian beers.
  • Seattle Beer News has posted “5 Questions With Dick Cantwell” — and, of course, answers:
    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.
  • The Puget Sound Business Journal talked with Joe Bisacca, Elysian ‎CEO and co-founder:
    “After a lot of hard work, we’ve grown from one Seattle brewpub to four pub locations and a production brewery. With the support of Anheuser-Busch, we will build on past successes and share our beers with more beer lovers moving forward,” Bisacca said.
  • Brewpublic included Elysian partner David Buhler in the discussion:
    “We always thought it was funny that people didn’t get the joke. From the beginning we were a corporation and we were literally calling ourselves the Loser. That’s what that beer was about”.
  • The Dude Imbibes: In making his case about how bad this deal is for craft breweries, this beer writer also shows exactly what Elysian might have been up against as it continued to grow:
    First of all, perhaps you aren’t aware of it, but AB INBEV owns their own distributorship (these are the companies that get the beer you love to drink to your local watering hole, bottleshop, etc.). They have a lot of money, power, and influence in what beers from their portfolio saturate your market. What they like to do to independent companies who are solely signed to their distributing arm is push them out of the market if they refuse to be bought up (see the recent examples of Firestone Walker and Ninkasi). This isn’t just bad for those wonderful independent brands, but it’s also bad for your other favorite labels who are signed to smaller distributors because AB INBEV has the ability to buy up shelf space from them at your local grocery store. Okay, so you’ll just shop at your super craft-dedicated uber local bottleshop and to hell with it, right? Not quite. Many fans of craft beer aren’t lucky enough to live in areas of concentrated craft offerings, and many cities aren’t considered to be craft beer meccas like those that pepper the country.
  • Beervana:
    Wow.  Weeks ago, when AB snatched 10 Barrel, I observed that their strategy appeared to revolve around finding independent breweries with impeccable cred, and they could hardly have done better than Elysian.  It’s long been my favorite Washington brewery, and it’s always my first stop when I hit Seattle.  It has always seemed the most Seattle of the Seattle breweries–an extemporaneous brewery that could be equal parts gritty and urbane and credibly support local sports teams or indie bands.  Elysian always seemed to be right where Seattle was a the time.
  • Beer writer Brian Yaeger speculates that the 2012 death of Dick Cantwell’s son Nap in a bike collision at Pike and Boren could have influenced the decision to sell:
    Nap’s passing perhaps altered his vision for the company’s future and even if that had nothing to do with this transaction, at the very least it shows that people face much bigger issues and dilemmas in life than crying about the sale of one of your favorite breweries (none of us has one single favorite).
  • The Seattle Times joined others in spelling out why Elysian was acquired:
    Friday’s acquisition announcement is another example of Anheuser-Busch trying to counter declining sales by growing its craft-beer portfolio. The company bought Chicago-based Goose Island in 2011, followed by New York-based Blue Point Brewery Co. and Oregon-based 10 Barrel Brewing last year.
  • UPDATE: Capitol Hill locals Optimism Brewing (opening “early 2015” at Broadway/Union) have also weighed in and are offering a hearty congratulations:
    I think it’s great news for brewers. For decades, Anheuser-Busch, because of its size and buying power, had a big influence over what barley and hop farmers grew. So barley and hops have been relatively homogenous. Craft beer has changed that. Today, there are several dozen different varieties of hops and I hear about new hops every few weeks. AB-InBev will continue to have that influence over what is grown, but instead of it being a limited variety, they will need more varieties to supply their craft breweries. All craft breweries will benefit from that.
  • UPDATE: Northwest Beer Guide looks at the “human collateral” side of things:
    Without this sale, Elysian (potentially) risks receding back into the carapace at 1221 East Pike Street, from which it’s growth came from. Without this sale, Elysian could eventually be managed by 1 or more exhausted owners, looking for a way to leave peaceably, while maintaining their dignity. With this sale Dick can continue brewing. With this sale Dave can continue selling beer. With this sale Joe can continue promoting Elysian in 1 of 4 pubs. All of which has come with a social-cost.
  • In Bend, The Bulletin checked in with a previous AB acquisition:
    The brewery will not hang the Anheuser-Busch logo on the building, and will continue to close on snow days so employees can ski, the partners said. “Anheuser-Busch doesn’t really like that,” Cox said, but “they signed up for this game.”

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13 thoughts on “What they’re saying about the Elysian-Anheuser-Busch InBev deal: why they sold, the ‘Loser’ joke, what’s next” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Calling it now. AB Inbev helps the brand expand into new regions. New regions are unimpressed because Seattle has a surprisingly underwhelming beer scene and Elysian is basically just a medium sized fish in a small pond. Five years from now no one gives a shit about Elysian except some Seattlites that can’t taste ‘The AB Inbev Difference’ anyway

    Can I coin that? I’m sure former fans of Goose Island, Stella, Rolling Rock (to name a few… RIP) would get a kick out of it. I should move on it before Elysian starts seeing dollar signs and pounces

    • Actually, that’s unfair of me. Elysian is a company and the entirety of its employees shouldn’t be blamed for Dick Cantwell’s transgression (Yes, I read the article). It’s a shame though. Those people will have to pay the price for his greed. I hope it was worth it, Dick

      • Jeff,

        I think you left out one important part in your response. Elysian Brewing was owned by 3 men – not 1. Therefore I think it’s important to recognize that David Buhler and Joe Bisacca also provided signatures on this deal.

        True, without Dick Cantwell, there would be no Immortal IPA, no Loser Pale Ale, or Men’s Room Red. But I think history should recognize that three men said yes to A-B\Inbev by signing on the paperwork.

        As for me, I’m more worried for those who work in the office and sales departments. Hopefully they will have time to find work somewhere else, if A-B\Inbev decides to ‘downsize’ them.

        Have a better one.

      • Yes, Dick Cantwell is the one we all know because he’s the head brewer and has a a very public profile, but he’s not the sole owner. Some background from Wikipedia:
        Elysian was founded in 1995 by Dave Buhler, Joe Bisacca, and Dick Cantwell. Cantwell had been a homebrewer who gained a reputation at the Duwamps Cafe, the Pike Place Brewery, and Big Time Brewing. Buhler is a former spirits wholesaler and Bisacca was a vice president at Seafirst Bank.

    • Exactly! Look, this will play out in two scenarios:

      1. Elysian keeps making tasty and interesting beers, just like that other InBev acquisition, Red Hook. You can still find interesting beer at their Woodenville location. Red Hook ESB still tastes the same to me.
      2. Some InBev corporate knucklehead kills Elysian beers recipes to cut costs. The result? We’ll all drift away from Elysian and drink from the dozens of other local breweries around here. If your beer becomes crappy, you’ll gradually lose your local market.

      I think the jobs being shipped “overseas” (to St. Louis or some LA warehouse) is a very real concern, but when that happens, you can bet the recipes will be compromised by then. See scenario #2.

      Fremont and Hale’s might be next, God forbid. Just be prepared.

    • Thanks! Here’s a snip:

      Another fear some have (which is related to the Goose Island example above) could have to do with job loss – not necessarily for themselves, but for others they know in the local beer industry. If AB decides to move production of Elysian’s beers to St. Louis or New York, for example, that could result in many job losses for Elysian’s local brewing staff. Now, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, partly due to Elysian’s fairly recent production brewery expansion down in Georgetown, but I still understand where the fear of this possibility comes from.

  2. For me it’s not necessarily about whether the beer is going to be the same or not, it’s that I’m sick of all these big corporations coming in and killing the local scene. Capitol Hill keeps getting more and more sterilized and the businesses and people who made it such a great neighborhood in the past are all leaving.

  3. “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.”

    Well, now Elysian beer *IS* corporate beer, so I guess Elysian is now including itself in “corporate beer still sucks”.

    I won’t be drinking their beer again, ever. There are many other craft breweries that are actually local.

    • Yah, I like how “we’ve gotten a lot of questions about Loser” is spun as if the question is “will you continue to produce it?”. The question is “How does it feel to be a hypocrite and a sellout?”

      I’m sorry to anyone working at Elysian but I’ll never buy your product again. I’m not being a drama queen here. AB Inbev actively smothers small startups like clockwork. They are bad for the industry and bad for the consumer. I don’t buy too much Elysian to begin with so this won’t be a difficult sacrifice for me but if any of you are reading this I would say that yes, you should listen to that voice in your head asking “should I start looking for another job?”