Growing up in Puyallup, Wash. during the late 1970s in particular, you we’re acutely aware that you lived in this odd, remote corner of the country. We didn’t get much national attention up in Washington, unless something super crazy [Ted Bundy, Mt. St. Helens erupting] or inexplicably cool [The Seattle SuperSonics winning the NBA title, Ann and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart] made the national stage.
Then, after a few weeks of attention, all the outsiders would go back to caring about L.A. and New York and we went back to logging trees, building airplanes and launching Microsoft. We were fine being left alone.
What that did was create a fierce sense of regionalism. And few things emphasized the character of our area that our pride in our local beers, particularly Olympia and Rainier.
Remember, this was during the days before micro-and-craft breweries took off. There weren’t 75 kinds of lagers to choose from at the Safeway, so you had to go with what you knew. And “Oly” was one of the area standard bearers we all knew so well.
This was also during the era of the all-you-can-drink tasting room. One of the brightest memories of my childhood [I must have been about 8 or 9] was when my dad and one of his beer-addled buddies took my brother and I on a tour of the Olympia Brewery, in Olympia, Wash. The tour was really just an excuse to get to the tasting room at the end, where the adults spent what seemed like hours chugging an endless stream of free “samples” they wanted. But my brother and I didn’t care. We got to slam all the soda our grade-school bladders could have while the grown-ups got ripped to the gills on Oly. It’s motto to this day is “It’s the water.” I still don’t know how any of us made it home alive that day.
If Oly wasn’t to your liking, then you went for Rainier (aka, “Rain Dogs” or my favorite nickname, “Vitamin R”). As a kid, driving up I-5 and seeing the big red “R” logo on top of the Rainier brewery in Seattle was a cause for excitement that you had made it to the city. [I won’t go into any details about a night a buddy of mine and I ended up, um “liberating” a case from there after nearly draining the kegs in the tasting room].
One of the most-iconic things, too, for us were the incredibly creative Rainier commercials. The ad with a motorcycle coming up a road, with Mt. Rainier in the background, and the bike’s motor making the “RAIIIII-NEEEEER-BEEEEER…” sound was something we imitated for years.
Then there were the fresh and friendly wild Rainier beer bottles that roamed across the Northwest backwoods.
And Rainier had its own famous tagline, too: “Mountain fresh since 1878.”
Now? Well, Oly and Rainier are still around, but are just shells of what they once were. Olympia was bought out in 1983, was eventually owned by the brewers of Pabst and Stroh’s, and then acquired by Miller, whose parent company closed the brewery in Olympia in 2003. Olympia is still made by MillerCoors, but at a plant in goddamn Irwindale, Calif.
Rainier suffered a similar fate, as it was sold in 1977, and, after eventually becoming owned by Pabst, saw its brewery doors shuttered in 1999 as production was shifted to…the Olympia brewery. And, like Olympia, Rainier is still made, but in goddamn Irwindale, Calif.
These were just some of the beers of my youth, symbols of a time when the Northwest was this quirky outpost of the country. Rainier, in particular, remained popular during my college years at Washington State and a 12-pack in bottles was a common way to start a night of destroying our livers. However, I think the last time I had a Rainier was when I was living in Hirakata, Japan, of all places. About a year ago, I found Oly in, believe or not, the Oakland Whole Foods store. I bought a 12-pack in cans for the memories, and one of those is still chilling in the back of my garage beer fridge.
Today, my tastes have evolved, I guess. When I went up to visit my mom earlier this month, one of the first things I did was go on a beer run to the local Beverages and More [aka, “BevMo”] and the awesome Pint Defiance beer shop in Tacoma. Unique, 22-oz. bottles of locally made India Pale Ale that I can’t find in California were on the menu. I found some great ones including:
—Pike Brewing Co.’s Double Trouble IPA [8% ABV, 80 IBUs and it went great with some ribeye fajitas I made].
—American Brewing Co.’s Breakaway IPA [7.2% ABV, 90 IBUs]
—Diamond Knot Craft Brewing’s Industrial IPA [7.9% ABV, 85 IBUs. We drank this with the burgers I made our last night in Tacoma].
–And, probably the best one of the bunch, Airways Brewing Co.’s Sky Hag IPA [7.9% ABV, a whopping 99+ IBUs, and what has to be the best label I have seen on any beer since the big red “R” and Mt. Rainier adorning the Rainier beers of the past.
Oh, and of the present, too. Just as I was about to check out of Pint Defiance with my IPA loot, I saw in the bottom row of one refrigerated display that big red “R”. It was a Rainier 16-oz. tallboy. I put it in my basket and muled it back home with the rest.
It’s been chilling ever since I got back home. And I expect it to be Mountain Fresh when I crack it open.
I’m in Southern California but growing up Olympia Beer was widely available.I remember Oly fondly. You’re right, compared to micro brews now Oly may seem a little tame but it had a really crisp taste,light lager color,an all around great beer.
Thanks Thomas…Yeah, Oly was one of the Big Ones for us back in the day. Nothing crazily great, but certainly not terrible, either. Unlike Lucky Lager…
Remember the riddles in the cap?
[…] down here in Oakland, it is hard to find many good beers from the Puget Sound region. Hell, even Washington classics like Rainier and Olympia have for years been owned by some other brewery and are made in goddamn Irwindale, Calif. these days. It’s hard to represent when the […]