Exclusive Interview: Elysian Brewing Company

The Growler Guys® locations in Spokane got the chance to talk with Elysian Brewing’s Brewer Josh Waldman about life at the brewery after the sale from AB-InBev. Josh has been brewing beer professionally since 2008 when he started at Palisade Brewing Company. He also worked at Georgetown Brewing Company before joining Elysian in 2012.

The Growler Guys®: What is the greatest benefit/advantage/positive change/etc. and greatest adjustment/adversity/difficulty/etc. since the sale of the brewery to AB-InBev?
Josh: On the brewing side has the acquisition been mostly beneficial (more access to ingredients) or has it been restricted (less experimentation or not as extreme experimentation)?
On the brewing side, there has been a marked commitment to safety and quality. We’ve always been quality focused; with the added help and support we’re now in a better place to tighten our specs. With regard to ingredients and materials, we’ve forged strong relationships with our suppliers over the years, so we haven’t needed to leverage our current position with them. Instead, we strengthen the relations. And as far as experimentation, it’s quite the opposite, they challenge us to innovate more.

The Growler Guys®: Is all Elysian beer still brewed by Elysian at Elysian? Or has some production shifted to AB brewing facilities under the supervision of Elysian Brewers?
Josh: All beer is still brewed in Seattle though I will tell you that brewing at another AB facility is in our future. We’ve scaled up recipes at Elysian before. We’ve contract brewed for, and with, other companies in the past, so, it’s not unheard of. The AB brewers I’ve been able to work with are as enthusiastic about brewing as any of my other colleagues. They’re brewers, and their commitment to quality is absolute. I can assure anyone that when we brew Elysian beer in another AB plant, that same commitment extends to our beers. They’ve dedicated a lot of resources to retro-fitting some of their breweries to accommodate craft brewing.

The Growler Guys®: What are your thoughts on the Super Bowl ad last year?
Josh: I’m over it. It’s no real surprise that the brand identities of Budweiser and Elysian show little overlap.

The Growler Guys®: Who does all of your graphic design? (Your labels are awesome!)
Josh: We do our label artwork in-house! We currently have a kick-ass in-house team so here’s a huge shout-out to them: Amy Schwager and Tanya Avoundjian. Amy’s most recent labels are Breakbeat, The Fix, and Hawaiian Sunburn. Corinne McNielly, who freelances for us on various projects, was our in-house graphic designer for seven years and is responsible for a lot of the artwork we still use and have probably seen out in the world. I love our art team.

The Growler Guys®: Why do you focus on pumpkin beer and create so many specialty variations on the pumpkin beer style? What was the inspiration/reason for the focus on the style?
Josh: A lot of the pumpkin craziness is tongue-in-cheek. Brewing is supposed to be fun, so why not get carried away? There’s a tendency to confound pumpkin spice beer with pumpkin beer. Stretching ourselves to brew any beer imaginable with pumpkin is a reminder that pumpkin is an ingredient, not a style. Also, pumpkin season is harvest season. It’s a great time of year, and a real reminder that what we do as brewers is so heavily reliant on our growers (and processors).

The Growler Guys®: When will we see another Trip Series beer?
Josh: I’m not sure if or when we’ll see another Trip Series beer. That was an amazing project that we collectively felt had run its course some time ago. I have many great friends at New Belgium, and look forward to every opportunity to meet up with them. The connections are very deep, and they’ve always been supportive of Elysian. Never say never, I just don’t see it on the horizon though.

The Growler Guys®: How has Dick Cantwell leaving Elysian changed the brewery/business?
Josh: It’s a bummer not having him around, for sure. I loved working for him, I came toElysian in large part to do just that. He’s an incredible leader, and a fierce devotee of his craft. He’s forged relations with brewers all over the world with his advocacy of craft beer. It’s been a reckoning with a lot of mixed emotions.

The Growler Guys®: Breweries often donate to local farmers or develop specific brews to support charitable causes, how do you feel Elysian Brewing affects the community in a positive manner?
Josh: We have a number of different avenues through which we contribute. We work with the Men’s Room radio show and KISW to donate a portion of all Mens Room Red Ale sales to the Fisher House Foundation which provides temporary housing for veterans and active service personnel during treatment at the Puget Sound VA Hospital. We’ve formed a great partnership with The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center through events like Obliteride and Base2Space. We’ve begun hosting an annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off at our brewery which promotes local growers and agriculture. There’s a bunch of other events throughout the year as well.

The Growler Guys®: How can Elysian Brewing break the stigma of being owned by “Big Business,” and keep their locally inspired originality?
Josh: I don’t really know how we ‘break the stigma’. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like that big of an issue. I’m not living in denial, I acknowledge what’s going on. On the brewing side, we’re doing the same thing we’ve always done. People may expect that we’re either good guys or bad guys, and I would suggest that’s not reality. Life presents myriad non-binary decisions all the time. Some people will take issue with the company’s ownership; so be it. I’m not dismissing that point of view. I know it’s not the only one, though. We’re brewing all manner of beers, from the Elysian Fields Brewpub, right up to the Airport Way Production Brewery. Still not afraid to experiment. Still making great beer. And never compromising in what we do. If that’s not enough, well, I guess that’s unfortunate. I can’t change the past. I can work my ass off to make our beers the best beers possible, and get them in to the hands of as many people as possible.

The Growler Guys®: What is the biggest piece of advice to an inspiring brewer?
Josh: Do whatever it takes. When I first tried to break into the industry in 2002, David Yarrington of Smuttynose Brewing in New Hampshire gave me the same advice. Go where the job takes you, pack up and move, sweep floors, stack cases on the weekend, whatever it takes. If you’re the right person, you’ll get chances, and you’ll move up. Starting from the bottom and moving through all the jobs adds a layer of knowledge that will resonate throughout your career.

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