Posted February 14, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Features

Water to Beer: A Timeline of Industry and Drinking

Illustration by RUBY THOMPSON

Illustration by RUBY THOMPSON



Olympia’s history as a brewery town goes back to just seven years after Washington turned from United States territory to a state of its own. A relatively unbroken legacy spanned from the 1896 establishment of Capital Brewing Company by Leopold Schmidt until 1983, when Olympia Beer was acquired by Pabst Brewing Company. The following timeline represents a few choice moments in Olympia’s transition from muddy logging town to the place we know today.


1895: Brewmaster Leopold Schmidt travels from Montana to Washington state as part of the Montana Capitol Commission’s efforts to accelerate settlement in the former Washington Territory.

Schmidt and his brother locate an area in the vicinity of the old capitol’s construction site, near the base of Tumwater Falls. The Schmidt brothers select the future site of Capital Brewing Company based on its high number of natural artesian wells.

On September 18, Local paper “The Daily Olympian” runs a story entitled “Leopold Schmidt Announces Plans to Build Brewery.”

1896: First brewery is constructed from local timber, the source of the area’s first big industries.

1902: Schmidt rebrands his company as Olympia Brewing Co. and adopts slogan “It’s the Water.”

1906: Original brewery reconstructed and expanded with Chehalis brick, Tenino sandstone, and plenty of local sand, gravel, and lumber. The 1906 brewhouse still stands today, and remains iconic of the brewery’s early role in local industry.

1914: Leopold Schmidt dies. His son Peter inherits the company.

1915-16: Washington state prohibition begins. Brewers have one year to sell off remaining stock. Olympia production switches to fermented and sparkling beverages, including two carbonated juices, Appleju (apple “champagne”) and Loju (a loganberry variation).

1918-21: World War I causes sugar shortages that compromise the soft drink industry and severely limit production. The Schmidt family is eventually forced to sell the old brewery, which is then repurposed as a paper mill.

1933: Prohibition repealed! Peter Schmidt orders the construction of larger brewery buildings upriver from the 1906 building, rather than repurchasing and retrofitting the aging structure.

1935: Olympia Brewing Co. becomes the first West Coast brewer to introduce the 11oz. stubby bottle.

1950: Olympia’s first beer cans are released after over a century of solely bottle and draft production.

1951: Capitol Lake dam and lock construction is completed. The Deschutes River mouth and south end of Budd Inlet, formerly connected by wetlands, become separated by the man-made lake.

Family photo taken at Capitol Lake, 1954

Family photo taken at Capitol Lake, 1954
Courtesy of Rob Ketcherside

1955: Brewery “bottle shop” employee Ted McGill starts O’Bee Credit Union to serve the financial needs of his coworkers and their families.

1957: As the county seat, Olympia hosts its first Lakefair to celebrate the new recreational capacity of the lake.

1960s to ‘70s: Zip-tabs introduced, making old-fashioned can-openers and beer keys obsolete for Olympia Beer drinkers.

The brewery reissues its 1900s memorabilia—which accounts for many of the Olympia Beer collectibles popular since the brewery’s closure.

1964: Schmidt family buys back the 1906 brewery from Western Metal Craft, which used the space for making cabinets. The “old brewery” becomes storage for the newer brewery buildings upriver.

1974: Leopold “Rick” Schmidt becomes president of the family business.

1978: Rick Schmidt, among other prominent community figures, is arrested for lewd conduct in the Capitol Lake Bathroom Bust: an intensive local police sting that targeted the popular gay cruising spot. Schmidt resigns from his position the next day.

1983: Pabst purchases Olympia Brewing and continues to operate the factory complex as-is for two years before selling to General Brewing. Several employees use severance as an opportunity to purchase local drinking establishments.

1985: Pabst moves out–gutting buildings and selling off large vats and machinery in the process. General Brewing moves in.

1993: Fish Brewing Company opens a brewhouse and pub restaurant at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Legion Way in downtown Olympia. Fish Brewing begins to use the Olympia Brewery’s 5 p.m. whistle at its own brewery building. Fish Brewing blows the whistle to this day.

1999: SABMiller buys the Olympia Brewery facilities from General Brewing. Relations with state, city, and tribal officials become fraught with water right disputes over the years of Miller’s operation in the area.

2003: Miller leaves on Jan. 13, placing an indefinite halt on alcohol production within brewery grounds as part of its settlement. Miller continues to produce a light lager under the Olympia name in Irwindale, CA.

2004: Fraudulent entrepeneur L. Eric Whetstone skips town with investors’ money after promising to establish a bottled water company in the former brewery’s facilities. Court proceedings result in a foreclosure on the property.

2013: Miller Brewing Co. cooperates with local officials to bring a close to its 10-year brewing moratorium on the historic brewery site. King5 reports “Beer could come back to old Olympia brewery in Tumwater.”

Leopold Schmidt's 1906 Brewhouse

Leopold Schmidt’s 1906 Brewhouse
Courtesy of Michael D. Martin