Historic Washington brewery doomed

Miller Brewing company said Thursday that it will close its brewery in Tumwater, Wash., ending a 106-year brewing legacy and eliminating the last major brewery in the Northwest. Nearly 400 workers will lose their jobs.

The brewery is probably best known nationally for the brand of beer long produced beside waterfalls on the Deschutes River — Olympia, whose “It’s the water” slogan was famous in the beer world.

“Significant investments would be required to upgrade this facility to standards where other breweries are,” said Michael Brophy, a Miller spokesman. “We cannot justify the cost of its operations beyond the date that we’re planning to close it.” Miller company intends to keep the buildings and grounds in good repair with hopes of finding a buyer, but industry analysts agree there’s little chance that the facility will be used as a brewery.

The plant produced about 1.7 million barrels last year, compared with 6 million to 7 million in a typical Miller brewery. Brands produced in Tumwater include Henry Weinhard’s, Hamms, Mickey’s, and the Skyy Blue malt beverage. The plant also brews beverages including Olympia beer under a contract with Pabst Brewing Co. Those brands will continue to be produced, but at other plants.

The original Tumwater brewery was started in 1896 by Leopold Schmidt who, attracted by the artesian wells in the area, sold his brewery in Butte, Mont., and started a company (initially named Capital Brewing Co.) that would eventually have five breweries. After the end of Prohibition, Olympia Brewing Co. built a new brewery nearby. Olympia added a new brewhouse in 1960, bought Hamm’s brewery in 1975, and merged with Lone Star in 1976.

Pabst bought Olympia in 1983. The Tumwater brewery seemed to get a new lease on life in 1999 with the demise of Stroh Brewing Co. and its Rainier brewery in Seattle. Stroh sold Rainier and other brands to Pabst Brewing Co. Pabst then sold the Tumwater brewery to Miller.

With the closing of Rainier in Seattle, Blitz-Weinhard in Portland and now Miller in Tumwater, the Northwest has lost all its old regional breweries. That leaves the Redhook Ale Brewery, a microbrewery started just 21 years ago, the largest in the state.

“Redhook is the biggest brewery in Washington state — who would have thought that?” said Paul Shipman, chief executive officer of the Woodinville-based brewery now owned in part by Anheuser-Busch.

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