When you think of Olympia, Washington, what's the first thing to come to mind? If you're from around here, you might think of the Capitol building. Or maybe the abundance of bars, banks, and drive-thru espresso stands as mentioned in a previous article. This town could also represent for you the bevy of Teriyaki restaurants and nail salons that have infiltrated every shopping center in a 40 mile radius. You may not even be from around here, and could just not care at all. Well, I'm out to educate you all! There is more to this town than legislators and lattes! This quaint little town contains one historical landmark, one that is slowly being eaten up by the caustic acid of time: The Olympia Brewery.
Anyone who has visited or lived in this town before mid-2003 can probably still smell the pungent, sweaty gym sock-redolent aroma of hops in the air once they near the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Capitol Way. That, my friends, was the smell of local gold. The Olympia Brewery was known for producing, among other varieties, Olympia Beer. The facility pictured above ran from 1896 up through the start of Prohibition. After that dark, dark time in America's history was over in the 1930s, a new facility was built just a little farther up the Deschutes River. For a time, they also brewed other local brands, such as Portland's Henry Weinhard's and Seattle's Rainier. When I toured the facility in 2002, Skyy Blue malt beverages were being run through the machines, signifying a new era in contemporary alcohol consumption.
I have to admit, I've never tried Olympia beer. I do know that it was marketed for its use of the special water that used to be taken directly from the aquifers below Tumwater. Obviously, the trademark "It's in the Water" can no longer be use. I've consumed the water in Tumwater and found it to be decidedly un-special, although I'm sure that beer made from it can't taste much worse than Miller Lite, because nothing tastes much worse than Miller Lite. As far as I know, Olympia beer is still being made by Pabst, the company that acquired the label's brewing rights back in 1983. It's also brewed in Saskatoon, Saskachewan Canada. I also am aware of a few little pop-cultural tidbits surrounding this legendary brew:
1. It was featured in Friday the 13th Part 3. How many other beers can say that?
2. It was Benjamin's favorite beer in the film The Graduate.
3. It is also Clint Eastwood's character's brew of choice in the film Every Which Way but Loose.
Between the years of 2000 and 2003, the facility was no longer known as the Olympia Brewery, but as the Miller Brewery; however, citizens would just as soon perform self-lobotomies as call it by its new corporate designation. SAB Miller acquired the facility and promptly closed it due to its lack of profitability. That's the modern era for you. The buildings remain empty, slumping hulks that are actually kind of creepy, but appeal to my inner-urban spelunker. I'd better hurry, though, if I'm going to do anything about it. It appears that a Japanese businessman has purchased the plant for the purpose of bottling water.
God Bless Capitalism.