Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest beer producer in the world and the current owner of Elysian Brewing, has closed Elysian's Tangletown Pub, first reported by Eater earlier this morning. The brewpub near the edge of Green Lake was once an integral part of Elysian's local empire, but it appears that the international corporation has little need for another small neighborhood brewpub in Seattle.
A spokesperson for the company told me that the Tangletown Pub near Green Lake will be spun off into a separate brewery called "Tangletown Public House" which will be owned and run by David Buhler, one of the founders of Elysian.
"He is excited to reinvent Tangletown into his own pub and solo business endeavor, Tangletown Public House, while continuing to be part of the community," according to an e-mailed statement from Shreyas Balakrishnan, the general manager for Elysian Brewing.
Elysian was founded in 1995 by Dick Cantwell, Joe Bisacca, and Buhler. It was one of the first Seattle beer brands that developed a sizable following outside of Seattle, starting at a brewpub on Capitol Hill and eventually growing to include the brewpub in Tangletown, two large downtown restaurants, and a production brewery in Georgetown. The brewery was sold to Anheuser-Busch, the massive corporation that also makes Budweiser, in 2015.
The sale divided the brewery's ownership and stirred deep anger in Seattle's beer community. Elysian was beloved and known as an irreverent brewery with beers like Loser Pale Ale, which had the tagline "Corporate Beer Still Sucks." Cantwell resigned from his position with the company and was vocal about his displeasure with the sale. Seattle Met writer and editor Allecia Vermillion captured Cantwell's displeasure with the sale in her excellent 2015 profile, "Dick Cantwell's Beer Is Immortal".
Cantwell now owns a stake in San Francisco's Magnolia Brewing and is busy making some of the Bay Area's most interesting beers. When I was in San Francisco last year I interviewed Cantwell and wrote a story for Kitchen Toke about a hoppy beer he made with terpenes from NYC Diesel and Sour Deisel, two famous pot strains. The weed terpenes made the beer gassy and dank as fuck. When I interviewed Cantwell at Magnolia's pub on Haight-Ashbury last year he told me that the small scale of the brewhouse at Elysian's Tangletown pub made it one of his favorite places to make beer.
"Because I am essentially a pub brewer. When we opened that production brewery, I didn’t even like to be there. I had to respect the opportunity for growth, but the thing I do best is recipe development and one of my other favorite aspects is mentoring younger brewers," Cantwell told me.
Anheuser-Busch doesn't appear to be interested in keeping up with Cantwell's history of making a lot of different types of beer. Their smaller brewpubs still make seasonal beers but certainly not at the same pace or allure that Cantwell and his team did. But ultimately Anheuser-Busch's interest in Elysian isn't in selling new crazy pumpkin beers (a style Cantwell had a hand in popularizing) or brewing beer with questionably legal pot terpenes. They want to own a brand that can say "Seattle" on its label and then sell that "Seattle" beer to drinkers in New York or Philadelphia or London. Whether or not that specific beer is made in Seattle or whether or not Elysian exists in Seattle at all is probably secondary to the company, which is the largest beer producer in the world. They just want a beer bottle that has the appearance of having a Seattle pedigree.
When I asked Cantwell about how he felt about Elysian's sale he told me he didn't want to spend his "whole life whining about the sale."
"I think ultimately I am better off for not being part of that anymore. Both because there was no way that I was going to work for Anheuser-Busch, and having been through the process of duking it out with my partners about that, I wouldn’t want to work with them either. And I'm very happy," Cantwell said. "I am not a person who says everything happens for a reason—because I think a lot of fucked up things happen just because—but I think it’s worked out pretty well," Cantwell said.
Cantwell told me that it's been odd for him to see beers he created, like Immortal IPA, on tap at airports around the country and in beer stores from coast to coast.
"Whenever I see it proliferating all over the place I have mixed feelings," Cantwell said. "I’m proud of a brand that I had a big hand in creating, but I’m rooting against it."