Ville Magazine l Insider Access for City Lifestyle Mar/Apr 2016 / People Issue - Page 29

You founded Elysian founded in 1995 along with Dave Buhler and Dick Cantwell. Why did you go into the industry, and did you expect it to grow as big as it did? I had been a homebrewer since college. Somehow I found my way into commercial banking. I had been a Psychology/English double major with a minor in art. While I was good at it, banking never felt like something I liked doing. Brewing was something I loved. When I moved to Seattle in 1990, Dick was one of the only people I had a prior connection with (through my brother in NYC). He was working as a brewer at Pike Place Brewery, and I was getting yeast from him for some brews at home. Dick and I started to talk about opening a brewery, began writing down a few ideas, found Dave Buhler for the sales side of things, and made our business plan. As far as growth, initially we were a brewpub that had about 10% of the sales in wholesale. That really stood fast until 2008. We had opened Elysian Fields and had become more recognized in the market. We changed direction to become a strong wholesale brewing presence. How did the sale of Elysian to AnheuserBusch come about? Photo: Miguel Edwards THE CRAFTER JOE BISACCA ALWAYS LOVED BREWING BEER AS A HOBBY AT HOME. THAT QUICKLY GREW AFTER HE PARTNERED WITH DAVE BUHLER AND DICK CANTWELL TO CRAFT ELYSIAN BEER. The partnership created Elysian Fields, a brewpub right next to Centurylink Field that is packed with loyal Seattleites during every game. Last year, Elysian was sold to Anheuser-Busch transforming the craft beer into a mass wholesale brand. Some locals were offended by the sale to Anheuser-Busch, but those people didn’t understand the reasoning behind Joe’s plan to make the product even better and make it possible to deliver things he wasn’t able to before. We had, over the years, always had the policy to listen to any offers. We have no obligation to act, but as a company with shareholders, we have an obligation to hear them out. AB approached us conversationally at first. As we talked with them, I began exploring the topic with private equity firms to get a bearing on value, etc. Also and more importantly, what that would it look like after a merger/ acquisition? How would our employees be treated? What happens to the brand and quality of the product, basically our legacy? It took us about 9 months to go through the whole process. Have you received any backlash? How do you explain to those who may frown about it? At first, we did receive a bit. Mainly, how we shouldn’t have sold out to AB, etc. My position has always been that the beers, branding, and who we are will not change. The ownership of the stock is the only thing that did. If the thought of potential profit will go to AB, keep in mind that they are publically traded. You probably own some in your 401K. There are many other craft breweries that are publically traded. The important thing is that we are still who we were -- same staff, same beers (and some new ones), same locations, and same moral compass. According to the Brewers Association, Elysian no longer meets the definition of a “craft brewery.” Do you feel they are correct? The definition they have is to create a measurable market segment to rate for statistics. It’s hard to create a briteline for where craft lives: the TTB views a “small brewer” as less than 60,000 BBLS per year. Maybe that’s craft. The BA has raised it to 6,000,000 to keep some original members included, inferring that the real goal is not size but keeping AB and Miller/Coors out. For me, that 60,000BBL level is the point. Not “craft,” but back to the original “micro” moniker. Below 60,000BBLs you’re a micro, up to 250,000BBLs you’re regional, and above that, you’re national. The battle is not between brewers. We’re all in this together. How does it change the way Elysian is brewed? So far, the main change has been to have even more freedom. We just released a pineapple habanero sour called Hawaiian Sunburn in 6-packs as our spring seasonal. If we were still the old Elysian, I don’t think I’d have the risk tolerance to run that. With AB, I’m encouraged to. The beer, graphics, and branding all were internal Elysian -- no AB input. That freedom is Why did you decide to do it? huge. It’s all brewed the same way, same In the end, it was going back to what ingredients, etc. I believe “craft” means. It’s not the ingredients, not the styles, and not how What are the upcoming and long-term goals big. It’s specifically the environment we for Elysian and yourself? establish to facilitate the innovation, Long-term is to add more markets for ideals, and brand creativity that makes distribution while keeping the focus local. it a “craft.” The model AB was setting up We’ll be adding a barrel-aging program would preserve that environment the and expanding our capacities. I think Space most. Quite often, a buyer will make your Dust will take over as our flagship soon. company adapt to their procedures and As for me, I’ve enjoyed the new role (still effects. We get to be who we always have running things, but with lots more help). I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing! been in this model. PEOPLE ISSUE l VILLE l 29