Steve Luke of Elysian Brewing breaks off to open Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle. He is the first major brewer to leave Elysian or 10 Barrel Brewing since they were purchased by Anheuser-Busch. Though you may not know Steve Luke, by name you probably have enjoyed his beers. He is the guy who created the Peach Pumpkin Ale, literally, for last year’s Great Pumpkin Beer Festival. He also has been heading up Elysian’s burgeoning wild/sour barrel-aging experiments and is the creator of phenomenal IPAs like Space Dust. Most of the time you can find Steve brewing small batch stuff at Elysian Fields.
Steve Luke was kind enough to find some time to answer my questions about Cloudburst just a day after he announced signing a lease on a killer new centrally-located building in Seattle.
Q: How long have you been brewing and where at?
Steve Luke: I’ve been employed in the industry since 2005 (where I spent the summer between Junior and Senior year of college making boxes and cleaning floors at Allagash), and I started brewing in 2008 (back at Allagash – after a brief stint washing kegs at Captain Lawrence Brewing and working in the Marketing Dept. at Harpoon for a year, I took a brewery operations job at Allagash and worked my way up to the brewhouse). From there, I took a Head Brewer job at a small pub in CT called Cambridge House Brewpub, where I really got to tinker with recipe development. After a year and half there, I decided to attend UC Davis’s Master Brewer’s Program. While I was there, my wife got matched at a residency program in Seattle, so I took the Head Brewer position at Rogue’s Issaquah Brewhouse. After a year there, Dick Cantwell drunkenly offered me a job at the Cask Beer Festival, and I held him to it. I’ve been running and brewing at Elysian Fields for almost 4 years now, primarily developing new recipes and experimenting with new hops and other ingredients.
Q: What is the genesis of Cloudburst Brewing?
SL: Like every young brewer, I’ve dreamed of owning my own for quite some time, and I really started to get serious and finalize my business plan 2 years ago. A cloudburst is a sudden and unexpected onslaught of rain, and I want my beers to exemplify that–to catch people off guard, to surprise some, and be robust and refreshing in style and flavor. Also, I think its just a fun word to say. The beers won’t be weather themed or anything. I’m not really a fan of themes or flagships or anything that seems forced.
Q: I assume this was a project you have been working on for some time, but did AB’s buyout of Elysian Brewing affect you or the timeline at all?
I formed my LLC in January 2014, and actually let Elysian know pretty soon after. All 3 owners were very understanding and supportive, and continue to be to this day. I had been looking at locations before the buyout, but after it was announced, it definitely kicked me into high gear with finding a location and getting the ball rolling a bit faster.
Q: What size of a space and brewery will you have at Cloudburst?
I’ve agreed to purchase to Silver City’s old brewhouse–which is an oversized 10bbl system that usually yields around 15bbls for 12-15P beers–and I’m currently sourcing used 15 and 30bbl unitanks. The space is 7,200 sf – but 2,000 of it will be off-limits for a while (it’s eventually going to be more of a formal tasting room, but until then, we’ll have a tasting room and bar that bleeds into the brewery).
Q: Do you have partners? Who are they?
I have over a dozen silent partners, but none of them own more than 5% of the company, so it’s a very egalitarian group of owners. I own the majority of the company, and via our operating agreement, I am also the sole decision maker. After many years of observing and working for breweries with different ownership structures, the most functional and efficient seemed to be owned and run by one founder (Rob Tod at Allagash, Scott Vaccaro at Captain Lawrence, and Matt Lincecum at Fremont, who I never worked for but has been a helpful mentor along the way) and I really didn’t want to budge on that.
Q: Will Cloudburst be a production brewery or a full brewpub, or just a tasting room?
Just a production brewery with a tasting room. We’re two blocks north of the Market, so there are loads of BYOF options.
Q: What kind of beers do you plan to make at the brewery? Anything you have been dying to do but haven’t had the opportunity?
I’ve been really spoiled. Elysian has always, for the most part, been hands off and has let me brewed whatever I felt like, so Cloudburst will be in a similar vein. There will be a few beers constantly on tap, but for the most part, I plan to follow my whim.
Q: Have you left Elysian or are you still with them for the time being?
I’m currently still brewing at Elysian. From the moment I told them of my future plans, they assured me that I have my job for as long as I can and want to do it. And I’ve been told that promise still holds, even after the sale. I’m grateful for how accommodating and understanding they’ve been.
Q: When do you expect to begin brewing and open at Cloudburst?
We get the keys to the place on April 1. I’m trying my best to hit the ground running on all fronts (permitting, licensing, build-out, etc.), but these things take time. I’m hoping to be open by early fall, fingers crossed!
Cloudburst Brewing has scored a sweet building, recently signing a lease at 2116 Western Ave, Seattle, WA, just a few blocks from the center of town and the Seattle Marketplace. Follow the progress at https://www.facebook.com/cloudburstbrewing/