A while ago, Joe Bisacca, CEO and one of the founders of Elysian Brewing, invited me down to Elysian Fields to talk about changes coming to Elysian Brewing in 2017. He wanted to share some of the things he was really excited about and also explain where they were still struggling on the learning curve. That learning curve being part of corporate America while still staying an innovative beer business firmly rooted in Seattle: dedicated more to creativity than technology.
When I went to talk with Joe, it was in the middle of a hectic Seattle Beer Week, and Joe was surrounded by construction workers. I was dodging ladders with the Elysian Fields brewpub walls down to the studs on one side. The bar was still in the center but the rest of the space was empty except for Joe the construction workers, tools and saw horses.
Excuse the dust. The permitting took a little longer than we hoped but we got the all clear. We need to reopen Elysian Fields in two days. We are part of the Upstream Music Festival in Pioneer Square that starts on Thursday.
Looking at all of the exposed duct work above me and piles of construction supplies, I would have doubted most people’s ability to open on time. I didn’t doubt Joe, he had been here before. It might not meet his final vision for the remodeled brewpub but Elysian Fields would be open Thursday for the Upstream Music Festival.
Joe Bisacca brought that same enthusiasm and determination as he explained to me what has happened so far and what the plans are for Elysian Brewing. The sale to Anheuser Busch was contentious for many in the public and it was an acrimonious break up of the original three Elysian Brewing founders. The buying up of craft breweries is part of the Washington beer story and we like to tell all of Washington beer stories. Here is Elysian Brewing’s Washington beer story 18 months after the purchase.
The Elysian Fields is not the only Elysian Brewpub scheduled for a remodel. The original Elysian on Capitol Hill will also see improvements over the coming 12 months. The original Elysian will be updated a bit but still keep its charm. The mezzanine will be extended to the brewery, giving patrons a more interactive experience and birds eye view.
All of the Elysian beers are still brewed in Seattle, at least for local consumption. All of the Elysian beers recipes are created and tested in Seattle breweries. The brewery on Airport way is the main production brewery focusing on the Pacific Northwest distribution for sustainability and freshness. Seattle also rotates brewing for national distribution with the two other facilities to ensure product consistency. It is a balancing game between freshness & sustainability and consistency that is a never ending pursuit of perfection. Elysian beer will be pulsing from Seattle and the other two brewing plants for the foreseeable future.
Since Elysian Brewing has been purchased by Anheuser Busch, Elysian has started to brew a few of their beers outside of Seattle. Currently Elysian beers are brewed in:
- Seattle, Washington
- Fairfield California
- Fort Collins, Colorado
After very careful brew testing, three beer recipes are being brewed at the Fairfield California facility. Joe oversaw all of the brew testing to make sure that it perfectly matched the beers brewed in Seattle. It has taken the full 18 months to set up the California brewery to conduct the brew testing, set up the bottling line and the canning line. Right now, the Fairfield facility is the only one of three brewing facilities that has a canning line. The three beers being brewed at Fairfield are:
- Dayglow IPA
- Immortal IPA
- Men’s Room Original Red
The third brewing facility is in Fort Collins, Colorado where Space Dust IPA and Immortal IPA are brewed.
Will you see changes in the beer recipes? Yes, but the recipes have always been a process and not set in stone. The Immortal IPA was only 5.5% ABV when it was first brewed. Over the years, the alcohol content has crept up to the current 6.3% ABV but the Elysian brewers are considering bringing it back down again to the mid fives, more in line with a session IPA to reflect current customer demand.
One change is definitely due to a AB change. When Joe was conducting brew tasting for the Immortal IPA at the Fort Collins brewing facility, he was amazed and delighted by the increased aromatics. The higher altitude of Fort Collins, Colorado brought the boiling point down so the hops could really retain their redolence. Instead of tweaking the recipe in Fort Collins to match Seattle, Joe came back to Seattle and changed the centrifuges at the Airport Way facility to lower the boiling point to match Fort Collins!
Joe encourages customers to mix things up. One of his favorites? Pour a glass of half Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale and half Space Dust IPA or (Fuzzduster). He swears it super refreshing and a nice fruit/hop balance different from either beer on its own. Ask for it from any bar tender or mix it up at home.*
Elysian Beers will be available in cans. Making its premiere appearance at the Sasquatch Music Festival, Dayglow IPA is now available in 12 oz and 16 oz cans. The 16 oz cans are primarily designed for stadiums and golf course settings where glass objects are not allowed and you don’t want to keep running back to concessions. The Dayglow IPA 12 oz cans are available in chain stores by 6 pack, 12 pack and loose cases. Although Joe praises the can’s ability to protect the beer from the store’s damaging LED lighting and portability, he cautions how canning vs bottling impacts hop fresh flavors. He explains how canning lines tend to be slower than bottling lines but more importantly, bottles simpler have a smaller diameter at the top than cans.
Beers can age fast, especially IPAs. The smaller hole in bottle means smaller oxygen contact where as the larger opening in cans means more beer is exposed to oxygen under the lid. Older IPAs can get that wet cardboard smell from that.
Joe admits to being spoiled by drinking his Elysian IPAs fresh from the tank but he wants to make sure that you always have the freshest tasting beer as well. If you are in the store looking for Elysian beer, go for the cans when you are on the go, but check for the package date printed on the cans or can packaging and buy the latest date you can find. If you are headed home, again look for that package date but check the store’s lighting before you choose bottle or can.
Only the Dayglow IPA is available in cans at the moment. The first run was done with a mobile canning unit but a new canning system has just been put into place into the Fairfield, California brewing site. Keep your eyes open for the next Elysian beer in cans.
It is about more than beer…
Joe believes consumers care about three things:
- What is in it (the beer)
- What is on it (name & the graphics)
- Who you are (what makes you different)
Music and art is what makes Elysian Brewing different, even if they are owned by Anheuser Busch now. All three original founders were musicians and Joe claims he is never with out a guitar pick, pulling one out of his pocket to show me. He mourns how San Franscisco has lost its heart to technology and worries that Seattle is doing the same. While always generous to health concerns and the arts, Elysian has renewed their commitment to inspiring and supporting up and coming artists so they are not consumed and overwhelmed by Seattle’s burgeoning tech community
Elysian music festivals are about stewardship and bringing musicians up. Search Party on July 1, 2017 is for The Vera Project. The Vera Project is all about collaborative art and music for all ages, just the type of organization that Elysian Brewing is seeking to support. While many of their festivals support a couple of organizations, The Vera Project is the sole beneficiary of Search Party.
Although Elysian Brewing has national distribution, their stewardship and their philanthropy still has a strong Seattle focus. This is just a partial list of local northwest non-profit organizations that they support:
- Bailey-Boushay House 20th Anniversary
- Bloodworks Northwest
- Crystal Mountain Fire Department
- Fisher House Foundation
- Fred Hutch’s Base2Space, Obliteride, Slayride
- Motley Zoo Animal Rescue
- The Vera Project – Search Party
Great Pumpkin Beer Fest 2017
Joe pledges that Great Pumpkin Beer Fest 2017 (GPBF) will NOT be a repeat of GPBF 2016, which he admits was a customer relations failure on many levels and he apologizes for. A beloved tradition, GABF, started in the parking lot behind the original brewpub. Traditionally held over two days, special beers were released at specific times and throughout the festival to give more people the opportunity to taste them. For years, Elysian has utilized enthusiastic volunteers to work their festivals. As GPBF popularity soared, it moved to the more spacious Airport way brewing facility parking lot and inside the brewery itself. Truly a festival, GPBF is all about pumpkin beer but it also about bizarre costumes, pumpkin royalty, marching bands, pumpkin kegs, Giant Pumpkins and a crazy good time. People became intensely loyal and have high expectations that their beloved GPBF traditions are upheld.
In 2016, big changes were made. The Great Pumpkin Beer Festival went from about 2000 beer lovers to 7000 and moved to the Elysian Fields & North Century Link parking lot. It became a big one day – one session event with almost all beers tapped at the beginning of the event.
Due to the size, staffing was out sourced and past Elysian volunteers were told they would not be needed, after initially being recruited, so new people could get a chance to work. The new people coming from the staffing company. Unfortunately many of those “new” people didn’t bother to show up to work the GPBF, leaving huge lines of people standing in line to get in, to get their beer, merchandise and everything else.
I didn’t attend 2016 GBPF, but I sure heard a LOT about it. I was one of those long time Elysian volunteers who was recruited to work back in June 2016 for a couple of festivals but when I responded I was told thanks for your years of work but we are going with new people. When I asked why take the chance and extra time training new people when you have experienced proven people, no response. Two weeks prior to GPBF, I get an email that GPBF needs more paid volunteers. I feel really disrespected and so do the other volunteers that I have worked with for years. From what I heard and what I personally experienced, a lot of people were wondering is this the “new” corporate experience of Elysian Brewing? When Joe brought up the Who You Are as being what consumers care about, I had to bring up GPBF 2016.
Joe readily admitted to mistakes being made last year, especially with the learning curve of trying to more than double the size of GPBF and has ideas and plans in place to restore the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival and festival goers trust that they will be served. Some of things Joe has planned include:
- Moving the Great Pumpkin Beer Festival to Seattle Center for better accessibility and set up options
- Probably two sessions, three sessions is just two draining on Elysian staff but clearly one session is not the answer
- Sufficient staffing to make sure that lines move smoothly. Ensuring that past Elysian festival volunteers are respected for past service and given priority (or equal opportunity) in festival shifts. That festival volunteers are reimbursed for their service.
- In addition to the traditional pumpkin beers, you might see additional fall vegetable beers because nothing stays the same, not even the GPBF.
I tried it but it tastes best fresh from tap. I made it for friends from bottles that had been sitting a few weeks and it lost that super refreshing buzz.