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
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
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