Just three months after the brewery he helped start was acquired, Dick Cantwell has resigned from Elysian Brewing and Anheuser-Busch InBev, Brewbound has learned.
“I am a craft brewer, however you cut it,” he wrote to Brewbound in an email. “A-B has been extremely courteous through all of this, presenting exciting opportunities to me and my brewing folks, but I can’t do it.”
It makes for a quick end to a union that had been shaky from the start: when the acquisition of the 20-year-old Seattle based brewery was announced in January, Cantwell expressed his opposition to striking a deal with the world’s largest brewer.
“This is not the outcome I had hoped for, but I am trying to make the best of it,” he said at the time.
In the months since the deal was announced, the relationship between Cantwell and Elysian’s two other founding partners — Joe Bisacca and David Buhler — deteriorated to the point where there was little, if any, communication, Cantwell said.
“Working with them into a future of any duration is an intolerable prospect for me,” he told Brewbound.
In prior conversations with Brewbound, Cantwell said the decision to sell to A-B was “contentious,” and described his partnership with Bisacca and Buhler as “dysfunctional.”
Anheuser-Busch completed its acquisition of Elysian Brewing earlier this month and had already sent Cantwell on trips to its Elk Mountain Hop Farm as well as Argentina, where he was asked to consult on a brewpub project.
“I feel fortunate that I was able to get to know and work with Dick over the past couple of months, he is a true pioneer within the craft beer industry,” said Andy Goeler, A-B’s CEO of Craft. “His input and opinions have been incredibly valuable to both me and Anheuser-Busch. I both wish him all of the best and hope that we are able to work with him again down the road.”
“A-B has been very considerate throughout the whole process and they have done a very good job of presenting what could be some very exciting possibilities,” Cantwell added.
But international excursions weren’t enough for Cantwell to overcome his own personal conflict with competing directly against other independent craft brewers whom he still felt connected to.
“I find it hard to move into a different realm,” he said. “I have spent quite a few years of my career on the Brewers Association board and I think there is a difference.”
After Elysian was sold, Cantwell signed an employment contract with A-B and agreed to remain with the company for two years, he said. That contract also contained a non-compete clause, which restricts Cantwell from starting a new brewing operation in the Pacific Northwest.
Although Cantwell wouldn’t disclose the specific length of the non-compete – it’s longer than 12 months – he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of starting a new brewing operation with his girlfriend, New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan.
“That’s the main reason I try to keep this possibility open,” he said.
In the short term, Cantwell plans to complete a book about wood and barrel-aged beers that he is co-authoring with New Belgium Brewmaster Peter Bouckaert.
Cantwell’s last day at A-B InBev will be May 13.