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TPFDick Cantwell has resigned from his position as partner and brewmaster at Elysian Brewing in Seattle, in the wake of the company’s tragic sale to AB/InBev, the Belgian/Brazilian mega-brewer which acquired the brewery as part of a broader plan to insinuate itself into the craft beer community and win back younger drinkers who have abandoned the company’s flagship beers, Bud, Bud Light, and the foundering Michelob.

Photo of Dick Cantwell from thehighbar.tv

Photo of Dick Cantwell from thehighbar.tv

Shortly after the sale, I posted a frank rant about the sell-out of Elysian and suspected – with no proof at the time – that Cantwell was not part of the decision to sell. I caught a lot of hell for appearing to include Dick Cantwell in that angry criticism and was berated stridently by some of his friends who felt that I was insulting his name and reputation. What was lost in all of that static was the very real and acute pain I felt at having to even appear to take a shot at the man whom I regard, along with Charles Finkel and Wil Kemper, as the cornerstone of craft brewing in Washington. In a state in which experimental brewing has been almost completely drowned out in the chorus of “More IPA!!“, Dick Cantwell insisted that Elysian not only push the envelope but pretty much burn the damned thing up and scatter the ashes. Elysian’s 2012 “Twelve Beers of The Apocalypse” was one of the most dynamic and daring experiments ever seen in American brewing and it’s a testament to Cantwell that those twelve beers, brewed once a month for a year, hit the mark almost unanimously and remained delicious and approachable, even as they trampled Washington’s conservative expectations. His beers like Men’s Room Red and its cousin Black, Immortal IPA, Space Dust, Superfuzz, Dragonstooth Stout, Peppercorn Saison, and the serial collaboration with Fort Collins’ New Belgium Brewing set the bar for every other Northwest brewery and that’s not to mention the inescapable fact that Cantwell and Elysian has largely been the driving force behind the nation’s ongoing – and growing! – affection for pumpkin-infused ales.

Davew Buhler and Joe Bisacca, Elysian partners who sold out to AB

Dave Buhler and Joe Bisacca, Elysian partners who sold out to AB

Ever since his days at Pike Brewing, Dick Cantwell has been one of the most creative thinkers in American brewing and his restless desire to innovate has succeeded far more than it’s failed. His work with the Brewers Association helped literally write the book on what “craft brewing” is and what it stands for, and that was, indeed, the reason he gave to Seattle beer writer Kendall Jones on April 13th for his somewhat abrupt departure from AB and the “new” Elysian.

Just wanted to let you know that about half an hour ago I resigned from Anheuser Busch,” said Dick Cantwell, in his email to Jones,  “The tenor of the deal, mainly from the point of view of my former partners and me, was such that I can’t possibly work with them into a future of any duration. My concerns were never even considered as a factor of whether we should or shouldn’t. From the start it was me against everyone else, with no regrets expressed. Enough about that.

In the past few months AB has treated me with consideration and seriousness, and they’ve presented me some pretty exciting future possibilities, should I be able to see my way clear to working for them. But I can’t. I am a craft brewer, past, present and future, no matter what I end up doing. Naturally I’m not one to whine about the Definition, about being on the wrong side of it, etc. I helped craft the thing while I was on the BA Board, and while I have my own personal reservations about some aspects, I think it’s important to recognize some differences in realms of the market.

week_in_business_2I have little ability to be objective about this and, as some of you may have noticed, The Pour Fool is not any kind of bastion of journalistic decorum. I did that traditional newspaper/magazine “journalist” thing for a lot of years and never liked it, even then. If you care about your subject, passion is going to be the engine that drives your actions. I am NOT – No Way, No How – a journalist, anymore and that’s the way I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh. I show anger at events like the sale of one of the Northwest’s most pivotal and dynamic breweries and it comes from a very pure place that I never question. I suspected from the moment of the sale announcement that Dick Cantwell was not on board with doing it and this email bears that out. Don’t get me wrong: IF Dick Cantwell had been a willing participant in selling to AB, I would have blasted him directly, albeit with profound sadness, and let it stand. I’m going to note, here, that this has nothing to do with “Big Beer”, as some folks have erroneously taken from what I wrote about both Elysian and 10 Barrel. If either had sold to MillerCoors or Duvel Mortgat or Diageo or any other mega-brewer, I wouldn’t have said a word. When Duvel purchased Boulevard Brewing, in fact, I led the cheering. The distinction is simple: Duvel, Coors, Diageo, etc., are not AB/InBev. They don’t have a 100 year history of corporate thuggery and under-handed, dismissive business practices. They are not hell-bent on world domination and the destruction of Craft Brewing the way AB clearly is. It should say something about the sales of Goose Island and Elysian that, now, both of the rock-star brewers whose brewery was sold out from under them – Cantwell and Goose’s Greg Hall – left soon after the sale, unwilling to surrender their principles for the only thing AB has to recommend it: dollars. I can only pray that opportunities come along for Tonya Cornett and Jimmy Seifrit of 10 Barrel, so that they, too, can go back to making the brilliant craft beers of which both are so capable.

The PumKing at Work

The PumKing at Work

In his resignation, Cantwell affirms what everyone already knew about him; his integrity and standards and the unwavering dedication that he’s always shown to the craft brewing culture that he helped create. As AB’s cynical attempt to pass themselves off as a craft brewer becomes more and more transparent, they now have incurred their own punishment for that pathetic belief that credibility is just another commodity to be bought with a shovelful of dollars. Elysian is now a mere shell of itself, its muse and heart and brilliance summarily removed, and we can now all eagerly anticipate another stunning brewery, either existing or of Dick’s invention, that will showcase the creativity of our own Washington giant. I cannot wait to see what Dick Cantwell does next but I do know that, whatever it is, it will be wildly innovative, the beers will be delicious and approachable, and it will be the working definition of what “craft brewing” should be.

I get into bed tonight happy, pleased that Dick is free of those shackles of compromise and obfuscation…and pleased+ that Anheuser Busch, AB/InBev, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, gloated over their shiny new toy and then found it to be a stocking full of coal.

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7 thoughts on “Dick Cantwell: Corporate Brewing STILL Sucks

  1. My first thought, upon hearing the news was that I can’t wait to see what he does next. I sincerely hope he stays in the brewing game! Interesting to note that he has left and another Elysian brewer Steve Luke is opening up his own shop. The fallout is strong and they are losing the heart and soul of their brand in its entirety.

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  2. I was sent a reply, here, that made three really petty claims about the facts behind the sale of Elysian and about Dick Cantwell’s motives, honesty, professionalism, and ability – all from someone who called himself “Tattletales” (figures he wouldn’t write this stuff under his real name) and provided absolutely ZERO corroboration for his ridiculous “facts”. Let me be clear about this: I occasionally write things that people don’t like or appreciate but it’s always done under my own address and my real name that appears under the “The Fool” button on the home page. I OWN what I write and I do NOT spread gossip. If you’re inclined to write that here, it will never appear on this blog. Period.

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    • What’s wrong with anonymity to protect the innocent?! The facts are being revealed slowly but surely. You can’t very well denounce corporate brewing AND cash the check, can you? Careful on this subject Fool, you may get burned.

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      • Okay, dipstick, you tell me: a man watches the company he was primarily responsible for building get sold out from under him, without him being able to stop the sale short of a long, expensive lawsuit. His partners sell it for a HUGE sum of money; probably, given AB’s track record, far more than an objective valuation would have valued its worth. Does he refuse his share of a sale that’s going to happen whether he likes it or not, just so anonymous yahoos like you can be convinced that he’s sincere? GET REAL. If I – or YOU, whether you’ll admit it or not – were in that position, we’d take AB’s dollars and spit in their face, too. Which Cantwell did. His leaving is the loudest statement he could possibly make. He EARNED his share of that sale and took it. That finances whatever he decides to do next. “The facts are being revealed slowly but surely.” What “facts”? The empty, unsupported, whispers and petty gossip of anonymous jerks who use screen names like “tattletales”? Those are not “facts”. Those are “slander” and I sincerely hope that someone finds out who you are, tells Dick, and you get your ass sued off and wind up mowing Dick Cantwell’s lawn for the next 25 years. And what, precisely, is going to “burn” me? Would that be some loss of some Seattle reputation I couldn’t possibly care less about? None of you assholes get it, do you? I don’t write The Pour Fool for you self-appointed, self-congratulatory nincompoops who think you own the craft beer culture and not one of you has anything I want. Some guy in Tacoma recently asked me if I would come on his radio show and let him rag on me for 40 minutes about something I wrote. He said I could do that or he’d just keep on “blowin’ you up”? The thing is, see, when he “blows me up”, nothing happens. My life doesn’t become harder or less enjoyable, nobody gets in my face, and I don’t, in fact, even know it happened because all those folks who might like to see me suffer are just like you: deluded, smirky jackasses who actually, really think that their opinions and insults about me or Dick Cantwell have any sort of meaning! It would be funny if it weren’t so awfully, tragically pathetic. Innocent? YOU? What you are is nothing more – despite whatever version of caped crusader you fancy yourself – than a gossip, one of the ladies who gab about the other folks in the neighborhood over the back fence, while hanging laundry. MEN who have a problem with another man stand up, face that person, let the world see their face, and say what’s on their minds. They don’t cower behind cutesy little screen names. So…which one of Dick’s former partners are you? Because, for the life of me, I can’t think of any other reason for anyone to be this persistent in trying to discredit Dick Cantwell besides a lame and doomed attempt to salvage Elysian’s ruined reputation. His former partners would see all the scorn their actions engendered and feel desperate to cast Dick as the crank, an outsider who walked away from this glorious vision of the future that they saw coming from selling out to AB and having all that lovely distribution! Of course, if everybody remains convinced that Elysian whored out, that rosy future might never come to pass. Ergo: we must ruin Dick and make HIM the villain. So…run along, little ho. I’m going to let this appear on the page for about a day and then I’m going to speak to everyone I know in the beer trade – a mass email – and ask if any of them know that screen name. If I find out who you are, I’m going to give your name to Dick and offer to participate in filing suit against you. Careful on this attempt to slander Cantwell, Tattletales…you may get burned…legally.

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  3. Reblogged this on Western Washington Beer and commented:
    An innovator with integrity, passion for his craft, and a real sense of community. I applaud Mr. Cantwell’s decision to remain a true artist despite the wealth of offerings waved in his face. I’m excited to see what he has in store for the future.

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Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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