Seattle’s Elysian Brewing sold to Anheuser-Busch
Three founders of Elysian Brewing to stay with company, which includes four Seattle bars and the brewery in the Georgetown neighborhood.
Seattle Times business reporter
10 largest microbreweries in Washington
Georgetown Brewing Co. — 51,200 barrels
Elysian Brewing Company — 50,167
Mac & Jacks Brewery Inc. — 42,050
Fremont Brewing Company — 17,658
Fish Brewing Co. — 12,802
Pike Brewing company and Liberty Malt Supply — 12,028
Iron Horse Brewery — 11,488
Hales Ales — 9,980
Silver City Brewery — 7,930
Source: Liquor Control Board (data based on the number of barrels produced between January and November 2014)
After a day of interviews, phone calls and reading messages on social media, Dick Cantwell said he is ready for a beer.
As one of the founders of Elysian Brewing, he’ll be drinking a Spacedust, to be exact.
Friday, national beer giant Anheuser-Busch announced it is buying Seattle-based Elysian Brewing, furthering its efforts to join the fast-growing world of craft beer.
The 20-year-old local company, which includes four Seattle bars and the brewery in the Georgetown neighborhood, was founded by Cantwell, Joe Bisacca and David Buhler in 1995. All three men will be staying on with Elysian, the companies announced Friday.
“For two decades, we’ve welcomed guests into our brewpubs and served them creative and impeccably crafted beers,” Bisacca, Elysian CEO, said in a statement. “With the support of Anheuser-Busch, we will build on past successes and share our beers with more beer lovers.”
Elysian sold more than 50,000 barrels of beer in 2014, making it the second-largest microbrewery in Washington, according to the Liquor Control Board. The popular Immortal IPA accounted for more than a quarter of the total volume.
Anheuser-Busch’s purchase of Elysian is expected to close in the next three months. Terms were not disclosed, but the owners say the Elysian brand will stay the same.
“Our aim is to keep everything the way it is with all the ridiculous and varied beers,” said Cantwell, co-founder and head brewer.
Best known for Budweiser and Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch, which is a subsidiary of the Belgian-Brazilian company InBev, owns 47.2 percent of the U.S. beer market. But according to the national Colorado-based Brewers Association, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have collectively lost about 20 million barrels of beer in sales since 2008.
Friday’s acquisition announcement is another example of Anheuser-Busch trying to counter declining sales by growing its craft-beer portfolio. The company bought Chicago-based Goose Island in 2011, followed by New York-based Blue Point Brewery Co. and Oregon-based 10 Barrel Brewing last year.
“Consumers are constantly evolving,” said Andy Goeler, CEO of craft beer at Anheuser-Busch. “We are trying to get consumers the kinds of beers they are looking for.”
While accounting for only 14.3 percent of U.S. beer sales in 2013, the craft-brewing industry has grown from a niche market into a more than $14 billion industry, according to the Brewers Association.
Since 2010, the number of barrels of craft beer sold in the United States more than doubled. Between January and June 2014, 10.6 million barrels were sold, up from 4.9 million during the same period in 2010, according to the Brewers Association.
Association director Paul Gatza said the craft-beer market likely will be up about 18 percent for 2014, while the overall beer industry will be up just under 1 percent.
“The big guys see what is happening with the market, with craft brewing being the major growth in the industry,” Gatza said. “The major domestic brands are down, and they are looking for business opportunities where they can find them.”
Bisacca, Cantwell and Buhler were in their 30s when they opened the original Elysian bar on Capitol Hill. The men have expanded the company to include Elysian Tangletown in the Green Lake area, Elysian fields in Sodo near the sports stadiums and Elysian BAR near Westlake Center.
They opened the new brewery on Airport Way South in Georgetown in 2011. It has an annual production capacity of 130,000 barrels.
Elysian hopes to produce 70,000 barrels of beer in 2015 and outgrow their new production facility in the next few years, which is where working with Anheuser fits in.
“We are 20 years in, and we’ve grown to be a pretty large company,” Buhler said. “We need to look forward to keep a brand that is growing, growing.”
The founders say the new owners will not change the popular Seattle company. The Loser Pale Ale with the slogan, “corporate beer still sucks,” will still be produced; the annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival is still on the schedule for the first weekend of October; and the beer will still be made by the same Seattle brewers who live in Seattle.
While the men said Friday’s announcement is beyond the wildest dream they could have imagined when they opened Elysian, they said they hope their local following will understand their decision and continue to support the company and the beer.
“I like to think the loyalty we’ve gotten because of who we are and what we’ve done would allow those who are disappointed to give us a chance and go taste our beer,” Buhler said. “Our beers are only going to get better.”
Gatza, of the Brewery Association, remembers when Anheuser bought its 34 percent stake in Redhook in 2004. He attended a festival in Seattle and some people donned “Budhook” shirts to represent that they thought Redhook had sold out, he said.
“When a deal like this goes down, there is a sense of loss in the craft-brewing industry, as well as some of the customers,” he said. “Some people will certainly look at it as a sell out and a betrayal. But others don’t know, don’t care, or just care about what is in the bottle.”
Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.