I bought a six pack of Elysian Split Shot for the Super Bowl and got musing about corporate beer and corporate takeovers. This coffee milk stout has a slightly bitter aftertaste, much like the recent buyout of Elysian, the brewer of this beer…
Style: Milk/Sweet Stout
Numbers: 5.6% ABV, 28 IBUs
Brewer: Elysian Brewing Company, Seattle WA
What does corporate beer taste like?
Unfortunately, after drinking Elysian Brewing Co.’s Split Shot, I can’t tell you. Because I bought and tasted this beer in New York on January 30th and the bottle tells me it was packaged in WA on December 24th, which a day less than a month before Elysian was bought by Anheuser Busch. So this bottle contained the purest craft beer, lovingly brewed in the heart of neo-hippie Seattle by independent-spirited artisans, blissfully unaware that a megacorp was in discussions with their owners.
Minor chaos then ensued in the beer blogosphere as this 20 year old stalwart of the craft scene “sold out” as part of ABI’s apparent strategy to purchase niche regional breweries. (Chicago’s Goose Island in 2011, Long Island’s Blue Point in early 2014, Bend OR’s 10 Barrel in November 2014.) Though, as well noted here, less chaos than in the wake of previous acquisitions. It seemed that, especially so quickly after the 10 Barrel purchase, the anti-corporate core of the craft community was relatively numb to this development. They were acquiescent to acquisitions so to speak.
Perhaps it’s because 10 Barrel’s founders (I was about to write owners) seem content with their decision at such an early stage in their development (read this great interview or see this video released in January 2015, three months after their acquisition, for a taste). They see the buy-out as a timely source of capital that will enable them to keep doing what they love doing, and I’m sure they have received every assurance possible that their style and the quality of their product will not be touched. This attitude may be seen as arrogance by the dyed-in-the-wool, locavore craft lover.
On the other hand, one of Elysian’s founders, Brewmaster Dick Cantwell, seemed less proud of the call his brewery has made. (See this interview shortly after the purchase was announced, or this statement the day after the infamous Budweiser “anti-craft” ad.) As someone who has been intimately involved with the Brewers Association, he appears uneasy that he has essentially volunteered to be kicked out of the club he has helped run. Unlike the 10 Barrel founders whose attitude is confidently to ignore the disdain and calls for boycott from the fast-forming Anti Corporate Beer Club, Dick Cantwell is perhaps a little unsettled by the rejection he fears from the people he so closely emotionally associates with. (Referring, for the third time in this post, to the work of the excellent Jason Notte, here’s his MarketWatch interview with Cantwell and fellow Elysian founders David Buhler and Joe Bisacca, which gives a great feel for how they view the whole affair.)
Anyway, to the beer. It was the day before the Super Bowl, I was rooting for the Seahawks, and I needed two things for my guests and me: beer from Seattle and a pack of Sixpoint’s inadvertantly named Beast Mode Porter, the only other trademarked use of “Beast Mode” than by ballistic Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. At Whole Foods Beast Mode had sold out, but I bought a pack of Elysian’s Split Shot as the only Washington-brewed beer available. (Interestingly, now that Elysian is technically not a “craft beer”, there are no craft beers from Washington legally distributed in New York state.)
Given the brouhaha about Elysian, I was fascinated actually to try their beer. I noted with curiosity the ABV of 5.6% and 28 IBUs from the pack – for an American stout them’s downright sessionable numbers. I poured the beer into my snifter and appreciated the deep, opaque brown color and thin head. It had the appearance of Coke that has been left to sit for 20 minutes.
The nose lives up to its billing as an espresso milk stout. Rich, almost cloying coffee aromas come wafting off the beer and take center stage. (The beer is made in partnership with Stumptown, the Portland OR coffee house, of which I am a HUGE fan.) There are also notes of mahogany, cocoa, rye bread and a touch of new leather. It’s dense if not heady stuff, and my only criticism is that the coffee is so strong that it comes across more as a pot that’s been left to stew for a few hours than that freshly ground scent you get lining up for your Sunday cappuccino in your local hipster coffee joint.
To taste, the beer is a little thin, which adds to the stewed coffee sensation. I’m always respectful of lower alcohol beers, and there is certainly plenty of flavor; it’s just that the body doesn’t quite match the expectations the aroma sets. The carbonation is low, but I wouldn’t describe the texture as creamy. Funnily enough, it’s reminiscent of iced coffee. The finish is long, but a little bitter for my taste. There is a nice heavy cream aroma that’s unlocked by drinking the beer, which I presume is the lactose used in brewing it. There is a hint of sweetness throughout.
All in all, a good if not great stout. It certainly has bags of character, but also a lingering bitterness. Perhaps in that way it’s slightly reflective of its provenance.