Rainier Brewing Company
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|Founded||1878 in Seattle, WA|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
Andrew HemrichEmil Sick
|Owner||Pabst Brewing Company|
Rainier Brewing Company (1878–1999) was a Seattle, Washington, company that brewed Rainier Beer, a popular brand in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Although Rainier was founded in 1884, the Seattle site had been brewing beer since 1878. The beer is no longer brewed in Seattle, nor is the company owned locally. In the late 1990s, the company was sold to Stroh's, then to Pabst Brewing Company, though Miller contract brews most of Pabst's beers. The brewery was closed by Pabst in 1999 and sold.
The brewery itself is a well-known fixture in the south end of town, adjacent to I-5 just north of the Spokane Street Viaduct. The plant is also home to the Tully's Coffee headquarters, Bartholomew Winery, Red Soul Motorcycle Fabrications, as well as artist lofts, band practice spaces, and a recording studio. The trademark red neon "R" that sat atop the building was replaced with a green "T" built by Western Neon, when Tully's was using the plant to roast coffee. The neon "R" is now on display at Seattle's Museum of History and Industry which was refurbished by local Seattle sign company Western Neon. The green "T" was removed on September 30, 2013 by Tully's, and a red neon replica "R", built by Western Neon, returned to the top of the brewery on October 24, 2013. The brand is currently owned and operated by Pabst Brewing Company. In Canada, it is brewed and distributed by Sleeman Breweries as Rainier Lager.
The original brewery dates all the way back to 1854 when A.B. Rabbeson opened Washington Brewery, which was Seattle’s first commercial brewing company. In 1872, Rabbeson renamed his brewery Seattle Brewery. They launched Rainier beer in 1878 and would produce and distribute Rainier for the next decade. Concurrently, John Kopp and Andrew Hemrich founded Seattle Brewing and Malting in 1883. In 1888, Rabbeson sold his brewery, along with the Rainier brand, to Kopp and Hemrich.
The Prohibition era
Kopp and Hemrich produced Rainier beer in Washington until 1916, when the state of Washington enacted its own prohibition, 4 years before the 18th amendment enacted the nationwide prohibition. During this time they opened a brewery in San Francisco where they brewed Rainier beer until 1920 when the 18th amendment was ratified. The company survived prohibition by producing a variety of different nonalcoholic products.
Following the repeal of the Prohibition, the brewery was purchased by Lethbridge, Alberta brewers Fritz and Emil Sick, who then repurchased the Rainier brand and began brewing Rainier in 1935. The brewery went through several names, such as Sick's Seattle Brewing and Malting and Sicks Rainier Brewing Company, during the 1935–1977 period.
After Rainier Brewing Company resumed producing "Rainier Beer" after the end of Prohibition and its advertisements became ubiquitous in the Seattle-Tacoma area, a rumor began circulating that the brewery's owner, Emil Sick, had bribed a Washington state committee with free beer to name the local mountain "Rainier". This, however, is an urban legend and can still be heard today among Tacoma residents who preferred the alternate name of "Mount Tacoma". Sick did, however, purchase the local baseball team and named them the Seattle Rainiers for this purpose.
Sick's also brewed Rainier at a branch brewery in Spokane. The Spokane brewery closed in 1962.
From 1952 to 1964, Rainier came packaged in a series of decorative beer cans known as the Rainier Jubilee Series. First in the series were a set of Christmas cans marketed in late 1952 and again in late 1953; these cans are rare and highly collectible today. The Christmas cans proved such a success that Rainier's use of decorative Jubilee Series cans continued for over a decade, with thousands of different designs. Most of these are not as rare and collectible as the Christmas cans, but the "reindeer" cans (which were sold only in Alaska), and the first pull tab Jubilee cans (made only in the last couple of years of the Jubilee Series) are also considered rare.
Other brands of beer brewed by Sick's Rainier Brewing during this time included Rheinlander and Sick's Select. Later, the Rainier brewery would also take over brewing Heidelberg beer after its brewery in Tacoma, Washington, closed. Each of these brands (as well as rival Northwest brands Lucky Lager, Olympia, and Blitz-Weinhard) were once staples in the Pacific Northwest beer market, but starting in the 1960s and 1970s began losing market share to the major national brands.
1970s and 1980s advertising campaigns
During the 1970s, Rainier ran a number of memorable television ads in the Pacific Northwest, largely conceived by Seattle designer Terry Heckler, assisted by several of his staff, especially Ed Leimbacher, writer/producer for Rainier print, radio and TV for a dozen years. Sound man Joe Hadlock of Bear Creek Studio joined the cohorts of Heckler Bowker for 14 years of creating noise and music for these advertisements.
Some of these surrealist advertisements noted by Seattle Magazine included the Running of the MFRs (Mountain Fresh Rainiers) (a parody of Running of the Bulls featuring bottles with legs), and frogs that croaked "Rainier Beer" (a motif appropriated many years later by Budweiser). Mickey Rooney appeared in several TV ads, most notably a parody of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald's "Indian Love Call" from the 1936 MGM film Rose Marie. Mickey was dressed in a Mountie costume alongside his wife Jan as they sang. (Most airings of this commercial ended with Rooney pouring a bottle of Rainier into her proffered glass, but occasionally a version was aired in which he poured the beer into her cleavage.) One ad featured a motorcycle that revved "Raiiiiiiiii-nieeeeeeeer-Beeeeeeeer" while zooming by along a mountain road. (A version of this commercial that played on radio featured the sounds of different brands of motorcycles making the "Rainier Beer" revving sound.)
Other ads featured a Lawrence Welk double (played by actor Pat Harrington, Jr.) leading his band in "The Wunnerful Rainier Waltz", complete with bubble machine and soloists blowing on beer bottles; and a performance of a parody of the song "You're the Tops" while thousands of Rainier bottle caps fell like dominoes in a giant "R" frame. (The whole commercial was reportedly shot on the first take, a great relief since it took all day to set up.) Rainier also produced humorous posters such as a "National Beergraphic" parody of a National Geographic Magazine cover depicting tourists encountering an MFR in the forest, and a Flash Gordon/Star Wars poster, "Fresh Wars", that recalled the bar scene in Star Wars: Episode 4. There were even costumed MFRs that made promotional appearances at supermarkets during this period.
Several commercials were parodies of movies, TV shows and famous spokespeople of the time. For example, a couple made references to popular Saturday Night Live skits: one with a Gilda Radner lookalike in her role as Roseanne Roseanneadanna in a Weekend Update skit for Rainier Lite commercial; another had characters called the R-Heads, which was a reference to the Coneheads, with Rainier 'R' logos on the top of their heads. Two commercials featured a Tarzan character where his yell is "Raaaiiinn-iiieeer!". A commercial featured a silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock who would morph into a beer bottle. Another commercial featured a John Houseman imitator when Houseman at the time was a spokesperson for Smith Barney. Another series of commercials featured a Lee Iacocca impersonator walking through stacks of beer cans. One final series of commercials was the Rambo like character called "R-bo", played by Dan Roland. The "R-bo" commercials were filmed in three parts; only two of those commercials aired, however. The third commercial was never seen, because Rainier Brewery was bought out by another brewing company.
In 1977 the brewery was sold to G. Heileman Brewing Company, and passed through several more hands before finally winding up owned by Pabst, which closed it in 1999. The Rainier brand was sold to General Brewing Company, which moved production to the Olympia brewery in nearby Tumwater, Washington. The Olympia Brewing Company closed in 2003. Rainier Beer is now brewed under contract in Irwindale, California.
In 1999, Sleeman Breweries of Guelph, Ontario, a division of Sapporo Breweries, acquired Stroh Canada which owned the Canadian rights to a folio of brands, including Rainier. Sleeman then became the Canadian manufacturer and distributor.
In 1987, Rainier was awarded a silver medal by the Great American Beer Festival in the category of Best American Light Lager. The GABF recognized Rainier again in 1990, 1998, and 2000 with the gold medal for Best American-Style Lager as well as silver medals in the same category in 2003 and 2005. Both Rainier Light and Rainier Ice have received medals, in their respective categories, from the GABF.
Rainier "R" logo
The red Rainier "R" logo has become an icon of the Rainier Brewing Company, dating back to the 1900s. The logo has gone through a few redesigns, having adopted the current "R" logo since the 1950s. Before that, the logo contained baseball style word mark with the "R" logo, shown in early 1900s advertisements up until the 1950s. After that, the word mark changed to go with the revised "R" logo, and it's still being used today. Around that time, a red neon "R" logo sign was placed on top of the brewery, which was only lighted on one side. After Tully's leased the brewery in 2000, they replaced the iconic "R" with a green neon Tully's "T" sign. The original red "R" sign was sold to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), in which it's now on display at its new location at South Lake Union, Seattle. On September 18, 2013, Tully's (under new owners) decided to replace the green "T" with a replica of the red "R" sign. The green "T" sign was removed on September 30, 2013, and the new red "R" sign was installed on October 24, 2013. The replica "R" sign is different from the original "R" sign; along with the new "R" having lights on both sides, the new sign is made of lighter aluminium, and it has LED lights, requiring them to only replace the lights every five to seven years.
In popular culture
- The Seattle grunge group Mudhoney was humorously photographed in 1988 with cans of Rainier Beer. The image can be seen on the inside CD cover of the band's Superfuzz Bigmuff + Early Singles release.
- In the 2008 film Twilight, set in Forks, Washington, Rainier beer appears prominently in several scenes, and is referred to as "Vitamin R". Character Charlie Swan is seen drinking the beer in subsequent films in the Twilight series.
- In 2004, a black bear received substantial media attention for having consumed 36 cans of Rainier beer in Baker Lake, Washington. After gaining access to a cooler of beer that belonged to campers, the bear avoided cans of Busch beer and used its claws and teeth to open and then consume the cans of Rainier. A wildlife agent said at the time that "this is a new one on me ... I've known them to get into cans, but nothing like this. And it definitely had a preference."
- In the A&E 2012 television series Longmire, the series' main character Sheriff Walt Longmire exclusively drinks Rainier beer, and can be seen drinking it throughout the series. In the pilot episode, a colleague accuses Longmire of drunk driving after empty beer cans are found in his car; Longmire explains the presence of the empty beer cans by saying "Every man who's ever had a beer with me will tell you the same thing—I drink Rainier, always have, always will. Those beer cans, they weren't Rainier, none of them. I picked 'em up because I hate looking at litter. Everyone knows that, too." Longmire pronounces the beer's name "rahn-YAY" in an approximation of a French pronunciation, which may be inaccurately seen as a mistake. Many Washington natives (especially the existing youth culture) do favor this pronunciation, however it is used commonly either in jest or as an affectionate nickname. In the final episode of season 1, "Unfinished Business", Denver detective Fails (portrayed by Charles S. Dutton) uses the "ray-NEAR" pronunciation commonly associated with the beer's namesake mountain.
- In Alaska in the mid 1980s, Rainier Beer was affectionately known as Raindeer beer.
- The beer reached #1 on the list of top 100 beers by Cold Cans.
- "Iconic Rainier 'R' returns to Old Rainier Brewery". KING-TV. October 24, 2013.
- Yenne, Bill (2004). Great American Beers: Twelve Brands That Became Icons. St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing Company. p. 119. ISBN 0-7603-1789-5. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
- Kashper, Eugene. "Rainier Beer History". Rainier Beer Website. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
- Clark, Norman H. "The Dry Years: Prohibition and Social Change in Washington". Washington State Historical Society. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
- Greg Lange, Saloons close on the eve of Prohibition in Washington state on December 31, 1915., HistoryLink, November 6, 2003. Accessed 1 December 2007.
- "Rainier". Snopes. March 18, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
- Star, Rick (August 1999). "Rainier Brewery: Rest in Peace". Northwest Beer Notes. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
- Paul Dorpat and Walt Crowley, Rainier Beer -- A Snapshot History, HistoryLink, February 18, 1999, revised February 8, 2001. Accessed 1 December 2007.
- Hoffman, Andy (March 17, 2009). "A Few Too Many". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
Sleeman purchased the Stroh Brewing Co. portfolio of discount beers in 1999 for $39-million. With brands including Old Milwaukee, Pabst Blue Ribbon, the deal helped Sleeman double the company's volumes but in a category with lower margins than premium beer
- "Bear drinks 36 cans of favorite beer". USA Today. 18 August 2004. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- "Boozy bear plunders campers' beer". BBC News. 19 August 2004. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- "Episode 4: Rainier". Cold Cans.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rainier Brewing Company.|
- Rainier Brewery: Rest in Peace (Internet Archive)
- History of the Rainier Jubilee cans
- Guide to the Rainier Brewing Company Advertisements and Other Materials at the Museum of History & Industry, Seattle
- "Rainier Beer Ad: Bill the Beerman and Rick the Peanut Vendor", YouTube. Uploaded October 20, 2007. —Surrealist early 1980s TV ad featuring real-life vendors "Rick the Peanut Man" Kaminski and "Bill the Beerman" Scott.