Olympia Brewing Company

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Olympia Brewing Company
IndustryAlcoholic beverage
Founded1896, 123 years ago in
Tumwater, Washington
FounderLeopold Friederich Schmidt
OwnerPabst Brewing Company
The old Tumwater brewery building in 2012

The Olympia Brewing Company was a brewery in the northwest United States, located in Tumwater, Washington, near Olympia. Founded in 1896 by Leopold Friederich Schmidt, it was bought by G. Heileman Brewing Company in 1983. Through a series of consolidations, it was acquired by Pabst Brewing Company in 1999; the Tumwater brewery was closed in 2003.


Leopold Schmidt, a German immigrant from Montana founded The Capital Brewing Company at Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River in the town of Tumwater, near the south end of Puget Sound. He built a four-story wooden brewhouse, a five-story cellar building, a one-story ice factory powered by the lower falls, and a bottling and keg plant and in 1896, began brewing and selling Olympia Beer. In 1902, the firm became Olympia Brewing Company, with Frank Kenney as the Company Secretary. It was Frank Kenney who proposed the slogan "It's the Water" to promote the brewery's flagship product. Statewide Prohibition, which began in January 1916, four years before National Prohibition, ended beer making operations. After Prohibition ended, a new Olympia Brewery (47°00′56″N 122°54′13″W / 47.0155°N 122.9035°W / 47.0155; -122.9035) was erected just upstream from the original, and Olympia beer went back on sale in 1934.[1]

Olympia was a very popular regional brand in the Pacific Northwest for half of a century.[2] It eventually expanded nationwide, repositioned as a low-price lager. During the 1970s, Olympia acquired Hamm's and Lone Star, and also produced Buckhorn Beer,[3] which had previously been a product of the Lone Star Brewing Company.[4] Until the mid-1970s, competitor Coors of Colorado had a limited 11-state distribution area; Washington and Montana were not added until 1976,[5][6] and Oregon did not approve sales of Coors in grocery stores until 1985.[7][8][9][10]

Between 1970 and 1980 Olympia faced flat revenues[11] among consolidating nationwide breweries and, in 1982, the Schmidt family, which owned and operated the brewery and company, elected to sell the company. Olympia was subsequently purchased by G. Heileman Brewing Company in 1983, which was purchased by Stroh Brewery Company in 1996. In 1999, Pabst bought most of the Stroh brands, including Olympia.[12]

As with many other regional breweries, ownership of Olympia eventually passed through several corporations including Pabst, Heileman, and Stroh's, until the brewery was eventually purchased by Miller Brewing Company. For a time, the Olympia brewery took over the brewing of other Pacific Northwest brands as their original breweries were closed one by one, including the Lucky Lager brewery in Vancouver, Washington, the Henry Weinhard's brewery in Portland, and even the brewery of its arch-rival, Rainier Beer, in Seattle. In 2002, SAB bought out Miller Brewing Co. SABMiller closed the Tumwater facility in mid-2003, citing the unprofitability of such a small brewery.[citation needed]

Pabst was purchased, along with the Olympia label, by beer industry veteran Eugene Kashper with backing from TSG Consumer Partners in 2014, and Olympia Beer continues to be contract brewed by MillerCoors at their brewery in Irwindale, California.[13]

Ag Energy Resources of Benton, Illinois purchased the machinery from Olympia Brewing to make ethanol for motor fuel use.[14]

Part of the brewery complex was heavily damaged in a fire on October 7, 2018. The administration building's south side partially collapsed, and a 3-alarm fire call caused fire units to respond from many neighboring departments.[15]

Use of artesian water[edit]

For many years, Olympia Beer was brewed with water obtained from artesian wells. The company's promotions made much of the use of artesian water in the brewing process.[16][17][18][19] However, the advertisements never explained what artesian water was, preferring to claim that the water was controlled by a mythical population of "artesians".[20] Once the brewery was taken over by a larger company, the use of artesian water was discontinued, and so was that advertising campaign.[21]

In downtown Olympia, current efforts to preserve the use of artesian water at one of the remaining public wells has been the mission of H2Olympia: Artesian Well Advocates.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

The old Tumwater brewery building in 2018.

Daredevil Evel Knievel was sponsored by Olympia Beer. Olympia paid a hefty price tag to have Evel sew patches onto his jackets, signs on his vehicles, even stitching "Olympia Beer" onto parachutes attached to his dragster. This was an attempt to take Olympia nationwide.

Olympia Beer label from 1914

Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock drinks an Olympia beer in The Graduate (1967). Paul Newman drinks Olympia in the movie, Sometimes a Great Notion (1970). Nearly the entire cast, including Marvin Gaye drinks Olympia bottles, stubbies, cans and tall boys, in Chrome and Hot Leather (1971). A neon sign advertising Olympia beer can be seen in the window of the liquor store in American Graffiti (1973). Clint Eastwood promoted the brand in several popular films, including Magnum Force (1973), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Eiger Sanction (1975), Every Which Way but Loose (1978) (in which his orangutan Clyde also indulges), and Any Which Way You Can (1980). The werewolves of the Colony in the Howling in 1980. Farmer Vincent and his family in Motel Hell(80). Rebecca Balding is seen drinking Olympia in bed in Silent Scream (1980). The Blues Brothers Band drinks $300 worth of Olympia in 'Bob's Country Bunker' tavern in The Blues Brothers (1980) John Denver drinks an Olympia in "Oh, God!" (1977). Signage and cans being consumed are also easily visible in The China Syndrome (1979). The brand was also featured in the movie Friday the 13th Part III (1982) and Airport 1975 (1974). A neon light Olympia Beer sign can be seen in the roadhouse bar in the vampire cult-classic Near Dark (1987) and in the Matt Damon film Promised Land (2012). In the independent B-movie Clawed: The Legend of Sasquatch (2005), the teen-age campers and the adult hunters were drinking the brand. Josh Brolin's George W. Bush drinks a barely recognizable bottle of Olympia beer in W. (2008). Bill Hader's character drinks several cans of Olympia Beer in The To Do List (2013). Many of the characters in The Hollywood Knights drink Olympia beer in stubby bottles. It can also be seen in the 1983 American horror/thriller film Cujo.

The second word in American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival's name is derived from an Olympia advertising campaign.[23]

The movie House of Games includes a set with cases of Olympia Beer stacked toward the back of the room.[citation needed]

In a Mickey Rooney movie from the Andy Hardy series, the title character has to change a tire on his dad's car. On the street in front of their house, Mickey and his dad remove a case of Olympia Beer from the trunk to get at the spare tire jack.[citation needed]

Olympia Beer was praised as one of the top 25 beers in the world in a 2012 MensJournal.com review article.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brewery Gems, An Illustrated History of the Olympia Brewing Company (Retrieved on October 25, 2009).
  2. ^ "Beer dot fading away". Daily News. (Bowling Green, Kentucky). Associated Press. May 12, 1978. p. 9A.
  3. ^ Beer Advocate. What Happened to Buckhorn Beer?, (Retrieved on November 2, 2006)
  4. ^ The Buckhorn Museum. Fact Sheet, (Retrieved on November 30, 2008).
  5. ^ "Brewer plans Spokane plant". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). December 27, 1975. p. 3.
  6. ^ Lazurus, George (September 28, 1976). "Coor's beer adds two more states to market area". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). KNS. p. 31.
  7. ^ "Alas, another Coors tale". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). (editorial). October 2, 1984. p. 10A.
  8. ^ "Coors steps up Oregon sales effort". Ellensburg Daily Record. (Washington). UPI. October 5, 1984. p. 9.
  9. ^ Detzel, Tom (April 11, 1985). "Coors making another try for retail sales in Oregon". Eugene Register-Guard. Oregon. p. 12D.
  10. ^ "Coors rolls out in Oregon". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). July 23, 1985. p. 5A.
  11. ^ Tri City Herald, Schmidts may lose Olympia beer helm 2/21/1980
  12. ^ Victor J. Tremblay, The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis (Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2005), p. 305
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-01-10. Retrieved 2015-06-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Benton ethanol plant clears hurdles". The Southern. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
  15. ^ "Tumwater brewery fire ignites city's frustration over property access, lack of progress". theolympian. Retrieved 2018-10-10.
  16. ^ "Here is water." Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). (advertisement). February 14, 1934. p. 2.
  17. ^ "Thousands ask us why..." Ellensburg Daily Record. (Washington). (advertisement). August 28, 1956. p. 8.
  18. ^ "The best-known secret in brewing". Heppner Gazette-Times. (Oregon). (advertisement). August 20, 1959. p. 4.
  19. ^ "Artesian thirst-aid kit". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). (advertisement). June 14, 1982. p. 16.
  20. ^ Kelley Advertising & Marketing: Olympia Beer: A Good Campaign Accelerates the Death of a Brand Archived 2012-12-06 at Archive.today . Accessed 2008.11.07.
  21. ^ Beer Advocate: Olympia Beer. Accessed 2008.11.07.
  22. ^ "It's Still the Water" Thurston County PUD Report - CONNECTIONS, Summer 2009, Vol. 3, No. 3 - http://www.wpuda.org/PDF_files/Connections/Summer2009final.pdf
  23. ^ Bordowitz, Hank (2007). Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated. p. 390. ISBN 978-1556526619.
  24. ^ http://www.mensjournal.com/expert-advice/the-25-best-beers-in-the-world-20120712

External links[edit]