When Seattle’s Elysian Brewing was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev earlier this year, Elysian Fields head brewer Steve Luke was as blind-sided as everyone else. Luckily for Luke, his back-up plan was already in motion.
“I formed the LLC for Cloudburst Brewing back in January 2014, way before the sale happened,” Luke says. “The sale kicked me into high gear. We had heard grumblings, we knew s— was going down, especially when you have your distributor saying ‘I think we’re gonna buy you guys!’ and you think ‘What the f—, we would never!” But in the end, they knew.”
Full of candor, Luke’s affable and mindful personality shines through in his Cloudburst Brewing, from conception to current status. “I came to Dick (Cantwell) and told him my plan but I didn’t have any money or a business plan so it would take me a while,” Luke says of when he came to the Elysian founder to inform him of his endeavor. “Honesty and transparency is key with Dick, he’s always been so great to me. I told him this could never happen but now is the time to try. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go with Elysian, I had already done everything I wanted to with them.”
Luke began to spread the gospel of Cloudburst, a brewery where the brain behind some of Seattle’s most celebrated beer recipes could flex its brawn. With only a handful of initial investors in Cloudburst, Elysian’s sale to InBev encouraged Luke to go after the support he needed in a more timely fashion. Six months later, Luke cut his ties with the new Elysian management and fully committed to Cloudburst in July.
Today, Cloudburst has 18 investors, many who came on board because of who Steve Luke is to the Seattle brewing scene. “I don’t have to tell anyone about decisions, but I certainly ask them for advice,” he says, self-effacing in his business adeptness. “I mean, I’m a brewer. But this is my thing and I’m going to do my thing.”
Luke’s “thing” is a pretty big deal, considering the breadth of Elysian’s original beers and the impact he had on the brewery as a whole. Beers like the Space Dust IPA, Gourdgia On My Mind and Split Shot stout were all built with Luke’s blueprints and direction.
Putting his most innovative yet quintessentially Seattle beers on his opening draft list, Luke’s Cloudburst Brewing opens next weekend to the public, in a centenarian building outside of Pike Place Market. A roll-up garage door greets the thirsty with metal chair-clad bistro tables along the ramp leading up to the tasting bar, with exposed, distressed wood beams and concrete floors that encase the rustic, working brewery. “Foot traffic was my number one priority with location,” Luke says. “It’s rough and old buildings resonate with people.”
For Luke and his small team of former Elyisan employees at Cloudburst, he admits that there are beers in the pipeline that will be similar to original Elysian recipes he wrote and local beer geeks will pick up what he’s putting down. The brewery itself even contains parts of Luke’s former life, like kegs and a keg washer from Elysian, along with the community support around him, like equipment that came from Fremont Brewing. The brewery also carries the weight of the expectations that come with the opening of Cloudburst.
“IPAs are what people want from me, you kind of have to give them what they want,” Luke says of the three India pale ales that are on the opening taps. “The Old Flame IPA is the ‘pour one out for your homies’ IPA, what the IPA used to be with piney, resin-y, floral qualities and inspired by Scarlet Fire (from Big Time Brewery) and Prometheus (from Elysian). We were a little concerned that people weren’t going to get it, we’ve been told that people have such high expectations for us.”
Aside from Luke, his past lives and future plans, why settle on the name of Cloudburst? He admits there isn’t necessary any rhyme or reason to the name of the brewery or the eccentric beer names and descriptions.
“At Elysian, you’re always throwing names out there” for beers, Luke says. “You think of fun words to say, ‘burst’ was a fun word and I gravitated toward it. We couldn’t just go with ‘Burst Brewing,” where cloudburst is a real word and it’s an ‘unexpected downpour.’ We want our beers to be unexpectedly flavorful.”