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Friday, January 23, 2015

Anheuser-Busch's Purchases Elysian

Another one down:
St. LOUIS and SEATTLE (January 23, 2015) – Anheuser-Busch today announced it has agreed to purchase Elysian Brewing Company, based in Seattle, Washington....

Joe Bisacca, Elysian ‎CEO and co-founder [...] will continue with Elysian along with his partners, Dick Cantwell and David Buhler. “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.”
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.

Will this change?  I'm normally agnostic about ownership structures, but as a fan, this is at least a little alarming.  But as I've been saying for years now: welcome to the big new world of craft brewing.

 Update. Why does this rattle me--admittedly not a local, but local-adjacent?  A big part of Elysian's allure was how well they represented Seattle and the heartbeat of the city. Just because a brewery is local doesn't mean it can channel the local mores, culture, and zeitgeist. Elysian could and did--which is a big part of why they were so good. Can they still do that as a division of AB? In the short term, almost certainly. But I fear we've lost a little bit of what made Seattle Seattle.  Or put another way:


  1. Saw that news on the web and couldn't believe it. As you say, in the short term it shouldn't make any difference. But however you spin it, we've have definitely lost something now. Seattle just won't seem the same

  2. Now I have 2 "don't ever buy" beers on my new list

  3. The trend is sad for our industry and ultimately will result in less brands being available for the beer drinker. Concentrated wealth never leads to greater moe artistic choices. Inevitable- yes. Sad- yes.

  4. There are two ways to look at this: the taste of the beer won't (likely) change so people should keep buying it. The business is no longer local in the sense you explained, so time to patronize another of the many brewpub and beer options in Seattle.

    What's not to like? It's win-win.

    More generally, I have to smile at the predictable wave of dismay I can already discern on blogs and elsewhere. I mean, the fact that big standard breweries are making good beer again is somehow viewed askance, when in the late 70's, all Jackson and the nascent army of real beer fans wanted was good beer. They wanted it no matter who made it. Ballantine IPA and Rainier Ale 7% ABV were admired by all beer fans, Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve (a pre-craft lager with a marked Cascade taste) too. No one cared that large standard breweries made them, they wanted more of the same. Sure, homebrewing and craft (small scale) was admired too, but it was just part of the mix. It was the beer that was, and should still be, important. A-B would be crazy to toy with the beers from Elysian, they won't do that, just as they haven't with GI. At most these beers will become more widely available - that's a goodie, right?

    We got everything we wanted, we won.

    Gary Gillman

  5. Gary, I'll reprise a comment I added to a Facebook thread:

    I have heard a surprising number of people mention the points [you have]--and in one sense it's true. Elysian may be able to produce more beer more consistently for more people. (Not that there's a dearth of good beer.) But Elysian's brand is anti-corporate and local. Which is to say that for 20 years, the brewery has asked people to buy its beer for reasons it is now asking them to ignore. From a brand perspective, that's a tall order. And fans might properly ask how not to see it as blatantly cynical.

  6. Jeff, but of course the brewery is not asking people to buy the beer for reasons they should ignore. There is a new owner. The local and anti-corporate side of what Elysian was is history. Those who can't accept them will have almost countless other options, they are in one of the most breweried parts of the country. It opens that part of the market to another business in town. And of course many people (most?) won't mind who owns the business or that the corporate beer sucks part will be dropped - unless it is maintained as some kind of ironical statement a la Cooper's Sparkling Ale.

    There is nothing to complain about here: the Elysian founders get a well-earned payday; Elysian's great beer will continue and find a wider market; other local heros will find a bigger place in the sun.

    The craft beer revolution, powered mainly IMO by Michael Jackson, has come full circle. Poets are the (usually) unacknowledged legislators of the world.

    Gary Gillman