Elysian Co-Founder Not Happy With InBev and Budweiser

By |2015-02-02T15:56:09+00:00February 2nd, 2015|

As you know by now Budweiser took a pretty hefty jab at craft brewing with it’s Super Bowl ad. The irony, as many have pointed out, is that InBev has acquired some pretty prominent craft beer companies in the last 6 months, including Elysian Brewing out of Seattle. The Chicago Tribune recently contacted Dick Cantwell, the co-founder of Elysian Brewing. His take on the commercial also gave insight into how the acquisition of his company went down.

“I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale,” Cantwell said Monday morning by email. “It doesn’t make our job any easier, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better about a deal I didn’t even want to happen [BTT Emphasis.] It’s made a difficult situation even more painful.”

What’s even more ironic is that the Budweiser commercial took a direct shot at Elysian. The “pumpkin peach ale” the commercial mocks is actually a beer Elysian makes, called the “Gourdgia on my Mind Pecan Peach Pumpkin Amber.”

The rest of the interview included Elysian President David Buhler, Chief Executive Officer Joe Bisacca and A-B’s head of craft beer, Andy Goeler.

Here’s a few excerpts.

Q: Is A-B buying breweries because they offer something A-B can’t create itself, no matter how good the beer or the marketing?

Goeler: These craft brewers offer something that we can’t — local appeal. That’s a big driver for consumers today. These craft breweries are from local communities created by local people. That’s powerful. And we want to provide those brands to our distributors.

Q: Will A-B’s craft breweries, whether Blue Point, 10 Barrel, Elysian or future acquisitions, follow the Goose Island model in terms of reaching all 50 states and becoming a brand with national availability?

Goeler: I don’t think so. Goose was the first beer in our craft portfolio that we were able to offer to the entire A-B distribution network, so there was huge demand. We moved very fast. We’re in a position now where we don’t have to move as fast, so it will be a little more deliberate. Both 10 Barrel and Elysian will always be local, regional beers. I can see those portfolios being offered in many markets down the road, but the key is to keep it the same, and not something that has the feel of a national brand. Elysian needs to have that handcrafted Seattle feeling.

Q: Explain from the Elysian perspective the genesis of a deal like this. I assume there was a bit more nuance than setting out to sell Elysian to the world’s largest brewery.

Cantwell: The initial contact was made at the Craft Brewers Conference last year. I’ve been judging the World Beer Cup (at the CBC) and Great American Beer Festival for 20 years, and there are a lot of people I’ve been judging with that whole time, including people from A-B. It was a guy who brought it up there at the reception for the judges. Responsibility dictates that no matter your feeling about something like that, you have to bring it home and discuss it. And that’s what I did.

Joe Bisacca: We had a responsibility to hear A-B out. At the same time, you want some barometric reading: Is this a good offer? Is this a bad offer? We looked around in the industry and with some private equity firms. When I looked at things, there was the dollar amount of the deal, the continuation of the brand and how our staff would be handled. We had to be involved and have influence on what happened. The offer from A-B was not the highest dollar offer; an equity firm offered more. But the three of us get to stay on in our roles. I’m looking forward to not having to deal with the minutiae of running a brewery anymore.

Buhler: We’re a 20-year-old business that has grown and grown and grown. How does this start? It started a few years ago, when we looked to the future. Craft was blowing up, we had great packaging, a great product and great brewers. We started working at building a strong business so that someone would say, “I would like to own that.”

For more head to the Chicago Tribune.

About the Author:

Scott Pelton
I'm Co-Owner of Tap Trail and the Editor of the Tap Trail website. Let's have a pint! Email me at scott@taptrail.com.