Elysian, Anheuser-Busch, and the Fight for the Soul of Seattleâ€™s Beer
J Thoendell stashed this in Food
In Seattle, after all, beer is personal. People who drive Toyotas, text on iPhones, buy Diet Coke at Fred Meyer, and draw paychecks from Amazon swore off Elysian as soon as they heard the news, unable to stomach an IPA now associated with a multinational corporation. But Elysianâ€™s journey from irreverent three-man startup to nationally respected craft brewery to property of the worldâ€™s biggest brewing company reveals a complicated mix of commitment, capitalism, personal loss, and adapting to the sort of breakneck growth that has seized the city in recent years.
Beer is exceptionally personal for 57-year-old Cantwell, whose brusque tendencies belie a tender core. While his participation was necessary for the Anheuser-Busch deal to go through, he resigned from Elysian just 13 days after the acquisition took effect. He never plans to speak to his former partners again.
IN THE TECH WORLD, GOOGLE OR MICROSOFTÂ acquiring your startup is the ultimate prize. In beer, itâ€™s quite the opposite. Matt Lincecum, who founded Fremont Brewing in 2008â€”now itâ€™s one of the largest brewers in the stateâ€”says independent breweries are forever fighting Big Beerâ€™s considerable lobbying and distribution clout: â€śTo this day they actively try to kill our industry,â€ť he says. â€śWeâ€™ve come up as the rebel force taking on the evil empire, and that gives us a community.â€ť
And that community is very unsettled by the recent acquisitions at the global beer concernâ€”formally known as Anheuser-Busch InBev after a series of mergers. In 2011 AB purchased Chicago brewery Goose Island, going on to acquire Blue Point on Long Island and 10 Barrel in Bend, Oregon. As Lincecum puts it, a local operation with access to ABâ€™s capital disrupts the brewing ecosystem. Fremont has one of the largest barrel-aging programs in the Northwest, he says, and now Goose Island has the financial firepower to buy up every barrel in sight, making it hard for his guys to find any. He fears Elysian will do the same thing with hops.