By Tony Forder
No wonder he was picked as Keynote Speaker for this year's Craft Brewers Conference. Dick Cantwell has become something of a standard bearer for independent brewing since his refusal to go along with his brewery's sale to A-B InBev in 2015.
Cantwell was outvoted by his partners and his board when Seattle-based Elysian joined the big boys – the announcement was fresh and the wounds were raw at the 2015 CBC held in nearby Portland, OR. The sale was done, but Cantwell announced his resignation the day before the conference opened – it was the talk of the CBC. Industry news source Brewbound had arranged a panel bringing together the A-B acquisition guys including VP Andy Goehler, former Goose Island President John Hall, Garrett Wales of newly acquired 10 Barrel Brewing, and Cantwell's former partner Joe Bisacca. Cantwell had been invited also, until the A-B team decided they didn't want him there; his other partner Dave Buehler was a no-show also.
Yeah, said Cantwell, it would have been awkward. Two year's later Cantwell's cooled off a bit – his barbs likely won't be as sharp in DC as they may have been in Portland, although he still says he'll never talk to his former partners again.
And he's been plenty busy. No stranger to the Brewers Association – Cantwell served on their board for several years and he has been a staple at CBC announcing the winners for the BA recognition awards and presenting seminars. He took a position as Quality Ambassador for the BA and spent a year and a half visiting Brewers Guilds all over the country.
He'll be incorporating some of his "emphasis on quality" message in his keynote address, he said, including some "inconvenient truths" regarding "quality, flavor and priorities". He'll also be urging brewers to maintain "the spirit of conviviality and harmony of the (craft) movement" in the face of recent challenges from outside.
In his 18-month walkabout, Cantwell said nearly everywhere he went almost 50% of Guilds' membership had opened their breweries within the past three years. He acknowledges that the BA's quality message may not have reached new brewers who have yet to join their respective Guild.
Cantwell's hiatus from brewing also gave him a chance to spend more time with his first love – writing. He completed Wood and Beer for the BA, co-written with New Belgium's Peter Bouckaert, and he is currently working on a new IPA series. "They gave me Eclectic IPA," he said, "which has proved interesting."
When he opted out of Elysian (or A-B InBev) Cantwell, instead of a 3-year no-compete, bargained for five years in the Pac-NW and one year elsewhere. He says he's ready to go at it again – probably with a brewery in the Bay Area where he currently hangs his itinerant hat.