It’s been two years since AB InBev, aka Anheuser-Busch, bought Elysian Brewing. At the time, this news caused uproar. How could one of Seattle’s oldest and best-respected breweries SELL OUT? was the refrain among many craft-beer drinkers. The reverberations were felt far and wide. Many bars stopped carrying Elysian.
But Elysian soldiered on well after the outrage had died down. Two years later, the company—one of dozens of American craft breweries that were bought by much larger entities—is planning several remodels to its Seattle facilities as well as setting a course for national distribution of its beer.
We had the opportunity to talk with Elysian’s Joe Bisacca, who just signed on for another three years working for the brewery he co-founded. “I don’t know anyone who could give me as much authority and flexibility as I currently have and put up with all my shit,” he tells us. “It’s cool seeing the brand I came up with 22 years ago actually doing well.”
On the merger with AB: “I always liked it when my favorite band signed with a bigger label. I wouldn’t stop buying their records.”
On the benefit of bigger pockets: “The biggest piece is the day-to-day nuts-and-bolts stuff that drove me crazy. I have other people that can do that now. And there’s no direction from the top in terms of beers we should make. We’re in control over what we’re going to brew and how we’re going to brew it, market it, and brand it.”
On the sale itself: “When we were going through the sale with AB, theirs wasn’t the highest offer. A private-equity firm had a higher offer. But AB had the model to take care of the staff and brand better.”
On the current remodel of the downtown Elysian Fields: “It’s 11 years old and seen a lot of foot traffic. We need a more flexible floor plan. That’s what this remodel is doing.”
On the Elysian brewery on Capitol Hill: “We’re looking at a couple of options. It’s 21 years old… . We have to ask, ‘How are we different than the restaurants in Capitol Hill?’ ”
On expanding distribution to other states: “It’s a mound of work. AB does that for me now. I can focus on the things that are more meaningful. I finally have the time to.”
On the identity of Elysian, personified: “He’s the same guy he was before. Kind of long hair, ripped jeans, his pants pockets have a couple guitar picks. He plays guitar in a few bands in town. He’s gregarious, very inclusive, always wants to know what’s going on with you rather than talk about what’s going on with him… . Now, I always look at it like he just got a different job but he still likes what he’s doing.”