Founded in 1996, Elysian Brewery has become a staple of the Seattle area’s dominance of the craft brew industry. And while the majority ownership may now lay with the big boys, Elysian absolutely lives up to its hometown roots in keeping the actual brewing here in Seattle. After expanding to the new 33,000 square foot location off Airport Way in SODO, Elysian has opened their own taproom as the latest endeavor to personally serve a discerning clientele.
Elysian opened their first foray into the craft beer industry with a 220 seat beer hall in Seattle’s famed Capitol Hill neighborhood. Next on the agenda of hops domination led to a half decade endeavor with Gameworks, in the heart of downtown Seattle. Ever mindful of staying competitive, the mad geniuses of Elysian founded Tangletown, an intimate 80 seat brewery/bistro that has doubled as Elysian’s test brewery. Shortly after Tangletown, Elysian opened the granddaddy of local brewpubs, Elysian Fields, diabolically located smack in the middle of Seattle’s largest sports arenas. Catching up with the present day, I find myself at the grand opening of the Elysian Taproom, a 20 tap, testament to beer and all that is Elysian Brewing.
Getting to the Taproom was a breeze, but as anyone could expect, this is Seattle at 5 o’clock and it is raining. Not wanting to show up as a one man show, I invited my dad to come out and hang out with me and enjoy Elysian’s offerings within the Taproom. We showed up as the event was just getting started and the line to sample the 20 different brews already stretched to the back of the room. I met up with my contact, Meech (along with her adorable daughter) and the rest of the marketing team offered a warm welcome into what could be considered the heart of Elysian’s operations.
The space of the Taproom is light and bright with plenty of Elysian artwork on the high warehouse walls. The immediate production floor space is filled with oak barrels of wide variety along with large, imported vats that I would later learn hold what can only be described as eccentric experiments of Elysian’s legion of brew masters.
The ring leader of Elysian’s merry band of hop infused alchemists is Head Brewer, Josh. Josh was gracious enough to spend, what amounted to be a very special evening for Elysian, talking with What’s Up NW about the Taproom and how it so perfectly showcases Elysian’s commitment to innovation in the myriad combinations of hops, barley, malt, wild yeast and bacteria that make the magic of fermenting ordinary (and not so ordinary) ingredients into something special. Josh provides a quick lesson in how Elysian uses oak barrels, of disparate past uses, to alter and add nuanced notes and flavors to the latest innovations evolving in the brewery.
After getting schooled on all manner of barrels, the conversation turned to hops; that little green fermentable treasure that adds the grapefruit bite to so many of Elysian’s offerings. As a not so insignificant aside, 70% of the United States hops crop is grown just on the other side of Snoqualmie Pass, in the Yakima Valley. There is a 30 day window for the hops harvest and nearly every one of the now 5000 breweries in the U.S. depend on Yakima Valley hops for their very survival.
Although hops is clearly the cornerstone of the brew trade, Elysian, always the innovator, takes things more than a step further. After speaking with Josh, we were greeted by David Buhler, one of the three founding members of Elysian Brewing. Dave is a towering and passionate advocate for Elysian and although, self-admittedly, a marketer not a brewer, he certainly knows his stuff. After all, it has only taken 21 years to become an overnight success for Elysian and Dave has learned much on the journey of seeing his passion become what it is today.
Looming large and mostly unspoken is the rather recent acquisition of Elysian by Anheuser-Busch, which some local detractors have decried as going against the local-ness of the brewery that made a beer out of a love for Sub-Pop. Dave passionately opines that the acquisition of Elysian is actually the next logical step for a business and business model that simply works and according to everyone I spoke to, corporate leaves Elysian alone to operate as they see fit. This alliance has reportedly only served to enhance Elysian’s stock in trade, providing them leverage to hire more people and grow the brand to its full potential. This leverage could also include even more exotic ingredients to take Elysian to the next level.
Dave lights up when describing a particular, possible future ingredient and his enthusiasm is contagious. While trying to be objective in my questioning and recording just the facts, it’s hard not to get swept up in what Dave and the rest of Elysian is attempting to do. On this night, the buzz in the Taproom is testament to the idea of Elysian and all the potential that an idea, a dream, can hold.
Grateful to have this view into Elysian’s operation, I finish my delicious Space Dust IPA and think about the future and what it holds for Elysian and the legions of people, brewers, marketers, laborers, farmers truck drivers and so many others supported by this very local, yet globally sponsored, force of nature. Elysian has made, and will continue to make its mark on the world from a warehouse in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle; one beer at a time.
Take the time to check out the Elysian Taproom located at 5410 Airport Way South in Seattle. Happy hour is 3 pm to 6 pm Thursday through Saturday and all day Sunday.