Elysian, Anheuser-Busch, and the Fight for the Soul of Seattle’s Beer

What happens when Anheuser-Busch (ABInBev) offers to buy your craft brewery? For two of the three founders of Elysian in Seattle, you take the offer. But Dick Cantwell, the brewer whose beer the brewery was built on, couldn’t do that.

Over the years, the men who founded Elysian developed different visions of what it should be, a splintering that produced friction. Bisacca was focused on expanding the business into new markets. Cantwell was writing, speaking, and traveling more than he was brewing, building prestige on a national level for the relatively small brewery. Buhler was writing and performing music; he released his first album in 2013.

Most of all, nobody was waiting in the wings to take over.

Long story short, ABInBev now owns Elysian and Dick Cantwell is on his own. For now, Elysian beers remain unchanged and brewed only in Seattle. For now.

This is a common theme in many of the recent craft brewery buy-outs. The founders are focused on the difficult task of getting a brewery started and their beer out to the public. They tend not to think about what might happen down the road. The lesson seems to be that’s it’s important to plan well ahead for the inevitable time when you’re no longer enjoying what you’re doing and ready to move on.

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