At least one of my previous posts on this subject was, perhaps, a bit too personal and I know some people took it to be self-aggrandizing. I didn’t mean to come across that way and I’m sorry. Also, some people thought I was apologizing for Elysian Brewing’s decision to sell itself to Anheuser-Busch, which I did not mean to do. Maybe I was just too freaked out to clearly express myself.
Below, I address some of what I have observed on Twitter, Facebook, and the larger conversation in general. This time, I’ll try to stay out of the way and simply share what I know. Maybe you already know all of this, maybe you don’t.
· Who made the decision? There is (was) more than one owner of Elysian Brewing: a small group of private owners, not “shareholders.” Selling to Anheuser-Busch was not a unanimous decision, but it was the majority decision. Dick Cantwell, one of the founders and the head brewer, was in the minority. To a large extent, Dick is the face of the brewery and many people have been talking as if it was his decision, so people should know that he was outvoted. I do not know how other individuals voted, only that Dick opposed the decision, which is something he told me and others.
· Why did Elysian do this? The company seemed to be doing just fine? Why sell? We probably all have our opinions and the answers being provided by Elysian and Anheuser-Busch at this point seem scripted and cliche, which is understandable and predictable. Presumably, AB made an offer and Elysian accepted.
· Did Elysian Brewing sell out? Yes. Objectively or subjectively, yes. They have not disclosed a dollar amount or the nature of the agreement. AB is a publicly traded company so we should expect some disclosure at some point. Sell out is an emotionally charged term and there is probably a less evocative way of saying it, but a horse by any other name is still a horse.
· What does this mean for Elysian’s employees? THAT is the real human face on this thing. If you feel betrayed, just imagine how the employees feel. For the long-term employees, especially, this must be a gut-wrenching development. It’s still a fresh wound. We have no word on how it will actually impact employees. Better wages? Better benefits? Worse? Are their jobs at risk? We simply do not know and I won’t speculate because we’re talking about real people. I know this, some of the employees are very bothered by this development.
· Will the beer change? The official word is that it won’t and that Elysian will continue to do, and brew, what it wants. We’ll find out.
· Will Anheuser-Busch screw up the beer market now that it owns Elysian? They have a proven track record. After taking over Goose Island Brewing, they undercut prices, selling kegs of beer at deflated prices to saturate the market and, presumably, push out local brands that actually need to make a profit on their IPA. Will they do that around here and wherever else Immortal IPA is sold? I’m expecting it.
· Should you continue to drink Elysian Brewing’s beers? Some beer drinkers hold breweries to a higher ethical standard than they do other companies and may opt not to support AB by drinking Elysian beers. Other beer drinkers don’t care and drink what is good and/or affordable. I suspect the former will be more vocal about their decision than the latter. It’s a free country and you can vote with your dollars.
· Will Elysian beers now be brewed regionally at big Anheuser-Busch facilities across the country? I don’t know. Probably. Why not?
· How do other breweries feel about this? Over the past few days, I have heard from several brewery owners, brewers, and beer industry folks. (I don’t mean that to sound self-aggrandizing, but that’s how it is.) Their opinions are all over the map. Some say things like “Congratulations.” Other say things like, “F#*% Elysian!” Some believe that this was a business decision and the owners acted within their rights as business owners. Others see this as a complete and utter betrayal and they are pissed. Congratulations or betrayal seem to be the two common themes I’m hearing.
· What do they mean betrayal? We all know that there is a distinction between craft breweries (as defined by the Brewers Association) and mega breweries like Anheuser-Busch. So when a craft brewery sells out to Anheuser-Busch, it is always considered a betrayal of some sort. That’s understandable. However, many people (both consumers and industry insiders) feel that Elysian’s sellout was especially poignant because the company for so long was a cheerleader in the “us against them” beer battle that all craft breweries are waging against the big beer companies.
When 10 Barrel Brewing Company sold itself to AB back in November, it wasn’t nearly as poignant. People had no idea about the kind of ideals to which the relatively young company subscribed. However, Elysian Brewing was never shy about its position against big, corporate beer. So yes, for beer consumers and other breweries, many of whom idealized Elysian until last Friday, this is an especially difficult pill to swallow.
– Will they continue to make Loser Pale Ale, with its current tagline? Yes, that’s what I’m hearing. Apparently corporate beer still sucks. But now the statement is a deeply paradoxical riddle, or something.
· Elysian Brewing is no longer a craft brewery. That’s not an opinion. That is according to the official definition provided by the Brewers Association, the national organization representing the interests of the craft beer industry. Elysian is no longer privately owned and therefore is not a craft brewery. Again, this is especially poignant because Dick Cantwell, one of the owners of Elysian, was for so long an important part of the Brewers Association. I would imagine that he was part of the discussion of “how to define a craft brewery.”
· Will Dick Cantwell continue in his role as President of the Washington Brewers Guild? That remains to be seen. I know this, while I sit here writing this, he is in Olympia leading the troops as they spread out across the capitol to rally support for the beer industry (see my post about that).
· Is this part of Anheuser-Busch’s master plan to destroy the craft beer industry? From what I see, purchasing breweries like Elysian is part of a larger plan to recapture market share that it is losing to craft beer. Shock Top and the other faux craft beer brands are also part of that plan.
In recent years, overall beer sales in America have declined. As that happened, craft beer sales increased consistently and convincingly. Beer is a $100 billion per year industry, of which companies like Anheuser-Busch control about 90 percent of the sales. It would be unrealistic to expect them to roll over and play dead while craft beer (and imported beer, too, by the way) steals their lunch. Also, you should expect snakes to behave like snakes. Are you familiar with the parable about the frog and the scorpion?
· Is there any way –any way at all– that this development is a positive thing for the local beer industry? What do you think?
I encourage you to share your comments.