MYNORTHWEST BLOG

Finally, someone is resurrecting Olympia brewery pride

Sep 21, 2017, 8:08 AM | Updated: 2:18 pm
olympia brewery...
Passing the Olympia Brewing Company in 1988. (Robert Ashworth, Flickr)
(Robert Ashworth, Flickr)

Watching the land around the Olympia brewery sit idle in Tumwater is like watching the hot rod you grew up driving decay under a tarp in someone’s front yard.

In this case, the front yard is along I-5.

The site once produced Olympia Beer, and others, but has been static and silent, producing nothing for nearly 14 years. Now, someone is finally returning heritage to Tumwater, right around the Olympia brewery.

RELATED: Treasure trove discovered in old Boeing wind tunnel

“We are very excited to announce a new production facility that will be opening in late 2018 in Tumwater, Washington,” Justin Stiefel told KIRO Radio.

Steifel is the CEO, co-founder, and master distiller at Heritage Distilling Company, which hails from Gig Harbor. It has produced spirits since 2012, becoming the state’s largest independent craft distillery, and winning more awards each year than any other craft operation in North America. Heritage wants to take that success and expand across the street from the old Olympia brewery, and it won’t be alone.

“In addition to our distilleries, there will be a few other producers, breweries, South Puget Sound Community College will have a presence there including two- and four-year classes,” Stiefel said. “There will be an amphitheater for outside events. And it all overlooks the Deschutes River and the old Olympia brewing site.”

The new facility will not be on the brewery site, rather just south of the property.

Olympia brewery pride

The Oly brewery was a point of pride and tradition living in the Olympia and Tumwater area. I went to high school not far from it. My teachers spoke fondly of working summers at the facility, inspecting kegs and watching Oly stubbies come off the line. My senior pictures — as with nearly all high school grads each year — were taken along the Deschutes River just below the main facility.

For a time, it was hard to go to any pizza shop or bar in Olympia without an Oly ad hanging on the wall or posters of the beer with Evel Knievel or Clint Eastwood. But they were images of another time, when Olympia was among Washington’s beer royalty. For decades it rose to popularity along with Rainier and Heidelberg in Tacoma — what Stiefel calls the “great grandfathers” of the Washington state brew scene.

“Tumwater holds a special place in many people’s hearts in Western Washington and really the Northwest because it really started the evolution of craft beer back in the ’40s and ’50s,” Stiefel said. “It was home for Tumwater Brewing and for the Olympia Brewing Company. Our new facility is going to be part of the craft brewing and distilling center in Tumwater.”

Olympia beer hasn’t been produced on the site for years. In fact, the building hasn’t produced a drop since 2003. Olympia Beer was sold to one company, then another, before coming under the ownership of Pabst in the late 1990s (it’s now made in California). The large Oly sign seen from I-5 was taken down, and we watched a Miller sign go up in its place. Miller tried to make a go at it, producing Henry Weinhard’s there for a time, but that didn’t last long.

The Miller sign, too, eventually came down leaving a faint, vacant stain where a legacy was once on display. Since then the property has sat lifeless, and the pride it once produced was relegated to novelty t-shirts found at local bars.

There were rumors of a water bottling plant going into the facility in 2007, but that too went flat along with the economy.

A new era

There is now a chance to brew up — or distill — some of that old Oly pride. According to The Olympian, the plan is to construct up to 40,000-square-feet of buildings at a site just south of the brewery. Heritage, along with Sandstone Distillery of Tenino are the first tenants. South Puget Sound Community College will also occupy a portion. Cideries, breweries and even restaurants will reportedly come along in the future.

“This will be the first time that product is being distilled in Tumwater, legally, since prohibition,” Stiefel said. “The evolution of this concept in Tumwater really came about from the City of Tumwater, City of Olympia, and South Puget Sound Community College. They wanted to reinvigorate brewing activity and introduce distilling activity into this part of Thurston County — and remind people that Tumwater was the epicenter of brewing for a long time.”

The effort to reinvigorate the imbibe industry in Tumwater has taken years. Part of the project is to offer educational programs in brewing and distilling. South Puget Sound Community College has already got its training programs lined up. The state Legislature recently provided funding for the classes, Stiefel said.

“This is going to be a nationally recognized program for people around the country to come and learn about brewing and distilling,” Steifel said.

It will also be the next step for Stiefel. In his own way, he has been moving toward this his entire life. He studied chemical engineering in college, but he was studying long before that.

“I did my first batch in seventh grade in Spokane,” Stiefel said. “I grew up watching M*A*S*H* and I was always fascinated by what BJ Hunnicutt was doing in their tent. So I set up my own still in seventh grade and I got an A on that project.”

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would open a full distillery,” he said. “It wasn’t legal in Washington. It didn’t become legal until 2009. But the evolution of the industry has grown that fast because Washington has a tremendous history in winemaking, brewing and now Washington is leading the charge when it comes to craft spirits.”

The Olympia brewery facility still remains vacant. There remains hope it will, too, be resurrected one day. It’s not known if a new company sign will now be prominently displayed on the old building, facing I-5. But what is known, is that heritage will live on in Tumwater.

Heritage Distilling Company is an advertiser with KIRO Radio and MyNorthwest. No advertising dollars are related to this column.

MyNorthwest Blog

Capital gains tax advisory vote, Seattle vote swings...
Nick Bowman

Seattle’s 2021 election establishes large, late swings for progressive candidates as new normal

Massive swings of late votes for Seattle's progressive candidates appear to have become the new normal after 2021's general election.
19 days ago
Amazon Seattle, corporate HQ...
Nick Bowman

Corporate money wins Seattle in new form after sparking ire of voters in 2019

A slate of business-friendly candidates won all but one major Seattle race, with corporate money finding influence in more subtle ways.
20 days ago
Seattle election results...
Nick Bowman

Moderate Seattle candidates carry the night, as progressives face steep climb to close gap

The first round of Seattle and King County election results arrived Tuesday, with moderate and conservative candidates largely carrying the night. 
26 days ago
Seattle City Attorney candidates...
Nick Bowman

Contentious race for Seattle City Attorney winds to a close with decision now put to voters

Tuesday will close out what's been a contentious race between Seattle City Attorney candidates operating at opposite ends of the political spectrum. 
27 days ago
Compassion Seattle...
Nick Bowman

How Compassion Seattle became dividing line between candidates following defeat in court

The debate around homelessness during this election cycle has centered on the now-defunct Compassion Seattle ballot initiative.
28 days ago
Seattle Democracy Vouchers...
Nick Bowman

With campaign spending at record heights, is Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program still working?

Given that campaign spending has soared to record levels in 2021, is Seattle's Democracy Voucher program still working as intended?
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Finally, someone is resurrecting Olympia brewery pride