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Is Elysian Brewing evil now that it’s part of Anheuser-Busch?

The sky is not falling. This is not a sign that the end is near. There are still over 3,400 breweries in America that Anheuser-Busch does not own. Yesterday’s news that Anheuser-Busch and Elysian Brewing reached a purchase agreement shocked a lot of people. As craft beer lovers, we’ve been taught that Anheuser-Busch and the other big beer companies are our enemies. So what gives? Is Elysian now evil? Not in my mind, but that’s a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.

I heard the rumors days in advance and was pretty sure the announcement was coming. Yesterday morning at 8:30,  I received an email from Dick Cantwell, brewmaster and co-owner of Elysian Brewing. For the sake of disclosure, and so people understand my point of view, I will tell you that I did not consider that email to be an official announcement, just confirmation of a rumor. You can see the official announcement here.

When we spoke on the phone, all of the sentiments Dick expressed were predictable: business decision, moving the brand forward, still going to brew great beer, and so on. There was an Anheuser-Busch representative in the room with him, which I imagine was the case with all of the interviews he did yesterday.

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.

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Fate is fickle, and the news officially broke while I was on the road, in transit to Vancouver, BC. With spotty internet connectivity, and at 65 MPH, I did my best to post the story. God bless the iPhone. Posting an actual interview, verbatim, was not possible.

I write a weekly newsletter that goes out to nearly 1,000 people. I send it each Friday morning. Knowing this news might soon break, and knowing that I would be traveling on Friday morning, I sat down and wrote the following message (below) on Thursday afternoon, the day before the deal was officially announced. It speaks well to my state of mind regarding this development, and all future developments of this kind. There will be more.

Am I clairvoyant? No. Am I an oracle? No. Did I hear the same rumor that others heard? Yep.

From my newsletter, written before the announcement:

A local brewery that you love is about to announce that it signed an agreement with one of the big beer companies like Anheuser-Busch or Miller-Coors (a partnership, an acquisition agreement, something). Tomorrow, next week, next year, it is going to happen, so stand forewarned.

The story will explode on the internet and spread across social media like a full pint of beer spilled on a varnished bartop. I am warning you in advance because, when the news breaks, you will feel betrayed and scorned, your emotions will get the better of you, and unforgivable words will rise too quickly. So think now about how you will respond and be prepared for that day.

Nobody can tell you how to properly process the news, but how you respond will speak volumes about your character. This is a beloved local brewery that, today, you adore. You respect its creativity and independent spirit. Maybe one of its beers ranks among your all-time favorites. Is your affection real or fleeting? Will you quickly learn to ignore this brewery? Will you vehemently voice your hatred? Or will you give them a chance to remain in your heart, where they exist at this very moment? It’s your choice.

Think about it now. The day is coming. Probably sooner than we all think. I have heard it blowing on the wind and can see the landscape changing. I don’t want to sound like a prophet, but the day is indeed coming.

I had a dream. As Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt shot bottle rockets at me and Stephen Stills, these are the events they foretold. And lo, I was afraid.

Here are some other stories, from other sources, about this development:

Beervana’s take

Brewpublic’s take

Seattle Beer New’s take



12 comments

  1. Evil? No. Will I judge them for what is in the bottle? No. They did not get to where they are by just what was in the bottle. They got to where they are in part to a strong community that supports locally owned businesses. Dick Cantwell and many of the fans of Elysian for years believed in the mantra of “drink local” and made good beer and profits off of this mentality. Now, those that still believe this are cut off. Not an evil thing inherently, just business.

    Many still believe this mantra and there are some good points in this statement by Dick Cantwell in 2013.

    http://www.washingtonbeerblog.com/elysian-brewing-speaks-out-about-beer-tax/

  2. Good luck in their business endeavors. Congratulations of their payday. Sell your soul to the devil, eventually that devil stands in to collect. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, perhaps not next year, but it will happen. You stand forewarned.

    Meanwhile, without hate and hopefully with a little character, my beverage dollars will be steered towards more local, probably smaller craft breweries. Thanks for the memories, Elysian !

  3. Ridiculous that folks would love them yesterday, hate them today. I posted a comment about this yesterday when I saw someone immediately refer to them negatively as “selling out”, an accurate term but one that needs clarification. If a huge corporation pays you hush money to keep quiet about them damaging the environment, you have indeed sold out. If you vote based on monetary contributions from big business, you are indeed selling out. If a mega brewery comes along and offers you a tidy sum for your craft brewery so you can do whatever you please for the rest of your days, that is just smart business.

  4. 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!

  5. “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.”

    Indeed. Until they’re made redundant.

  6. Their mainstay beers will now be brewed at various InBev breweries across the nation, just like Goose Island. For the time being, they will probably still have a hand in their specialty/seasonal beers, unless their seasonals are very popular, like their pumpkin beers, in which case InBev will brew those too. They might even allow the current workers to stay in place for a bit. Eventually, however, like all mega-corporations, management will start to take over. They will look at every aspect of the facility, and how it is supposed to make money for them this quarter. If they find that there is a specialty beer out there that isn’t made for profit then they will kill it. This is how the corporate world works.

    The Men’s Room beers will probably be made in their other facilities, as they are pretty popular, but really not that good. I am not sure if their popularity is just do to the radio program, or not. It will also be interesting to see how the naming thing plays out, as the KISW crew probably own’s the name. If they can’t negotiate a good enough deal, InBev will probably kill that brand as well.

    1. I think the Men’s Room beers will stay around. The radio show is excited about the acquisition and growth of Elysian, and much of the income from the line goes to charity and they’ll want to keep that going.

  7. The true sell-outs are those who continue to support Elysian now that it’s under Anheuser-Busch. There’s plenty of good independent craft brewers out there.

    In a perfect world all of our favorite craft breweries would “sell out” to Anheuer-Busch. They would start new breweries then. We would continue to drink indie craft beer. A-B would continue to purchase the indie breweries. We would continue to drink indie beer. And eventually A-B will bankrupt itself by purchasing the indies.

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