Seattle Brewing and Malting letterhead c.1900

The History of Rainier Beer

In 1978 the Rainier Brewing Company of Seattle observed their Centennial - celebrating 100 years of Rainier Beer. The un-supported claim was that beer had been brewed on that site since 1878. The familiar slogan: "Rainier...since 1878" was merely a catch phrase dreamed up in San Francisco in the early '30s by the marketing people at Louis Hemrich's Rainier Brewing Co.

Actually, Hemrich & Kopp started their brewery on the Seattle site in early 1883. From steam beer to lager, the site saw improvements in brewing, and plant construction, that eventually became the Bay View Brewing Co. Then in late 1892, plans were made for the Bay View plant to merge with two others to form the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company. A brand of beer was then needed to identify the new company's product, and the name of the mountain that dominated the southern view was chosen. On January 10, 1893, "Rainier" was adopted as one of the brands for the new firm, and soon became their flagship mark.

Rainier was the creation of a great brewing family - known as the "House of Hemrich." The brand was then furthered by another brewing family - the Sicks, who's brewing dynasty was referred to as the "House of Lethbridge."

Rainier was born in the Territory of Washington, re-located to San Francisco, then to  Canada, and finally returned to Seattle only to suffer the fate of most great regional brands - a corporate buyout. The brand survives, but is now a contract brew for Pabst, and produced in a southern California plant owned by Miller.

So, the story of Rainier is not that of a brewery, but of the Rainier brand itself, and the story of the two families that made it all happen.

Part 1 of the Rainier story begins with a breif overview of the "House of Hemrich" (below), and covers the period prior to Repel - in Seattle, San Francisco, and Canada

Part 2 of the Rainier Beer story deals with the period after Repeal in 1933, both in San Francisco, and briefly in Seattle.


The House of Hemrich

An internet search for Rainier Beer or Andrew Hemrich will often result in the following: 

"Rainier Beer dates back to 1878, when Andrew Hemrich, a German immigrant, started the Seattle Brewing & Malting Company."
This is totally incorrect, and when repeated over and over it eventually becomes accepted as the "truth". The Rainier story did begin with Andrew Hemrich (born in Wisconsin - not Germany).  He was the eldest son of John Hemrich, who was a German immigrant, and a master brewer in his own right. John settled in Alma, Wisconsin, in 1855 and established a brewery that would continue in operation until closed by Prohibition in 1920. His story is covered in his biography (John Hemrich). He also raised a large family that included five boys who followed the family tradition of brewing:
 
1.)  Andrew (b. 1856) left Alma at an early age and was employed in numerous brewing enterprises before finding his way to Seattle in 1883. There, he and a friend from Montana, established a small brewery which produced "steam beer"  (photo below). He is credited for founding the Bay View Brewing Co. and for establishing the Seattle Brewing & Malting Company in January of 1893. He also has a separate biography of his own - (Andrew Hemrich).
 
2.)  John, Jr. (b. 1858) assisted his younger brother William in running the family brewery in Alma. Then in Sept. 1890 he and William established the Bay View Beer Depot & Bottling Works in New Whatcom (now Bellingham). He died in 1904.

3.)  William (b. 1860) took over the family brewery in Alma - assisted by older brother, John. In 1888 they sold their interests and they too moved to Seattle. William was involved in the family's brewing activities until they were shut down by state-wide prohibition in 1916.
 
4.)  Alvin (b. 1870) also worked in the family's Alma plant, and after a job with a brewery in Victoria, B.C. He then bought the North Pacific Brewery in Seattle and established the Hemrich Bros. Brewing Co. He also purchased a brewery in Grays Harbor County, WA, establishing the Aberdeen Brewing Co.

Following Prohibition he established two Seattle breweries - the Hemrich Brewing Co., followed by the Apex Brewing Co., and he too has a separate biography (Alvin M. Hemrich).

5.)  Louis (b. 1872) worked in the Bay View Brewery, and was the other "Brother" in Alvin's "Hemrich Bros. Brewing Co." After his older brother, Andrew, died in 1910, Louis became the president of Seattle Brewing & Malting. Then in 1915, when state-wide prohibition shut them down, he built a new Rainier Brewery in San Francisco. Consequently, he too rates a biography of his own (Louis Hemrich).

6.)  Emma (b.1851) was John's oldest child, and only daughter. She wasn't personally involved, but her husband, Frederick Kirschner was very much a part of the rise of the House of Hemrich. So, his contribution warrants a closer look (Frederick Kirschner).

 

Bay View Brewery c.1886 - image
Early photo of the Bay View Brewery, ca. 1886

 

Seattle Brewing and Malting Company
(1893-1916)
 

Rainier Beer label, Seattle c.1906 - image
Rainier Beer label, Seattle ca.1906

Rainier Pale Beer label, Seattle c.1906 - image
Rainier Pale Beer label, Seattle ca.1906


The following is from One Hundred Years of Brewing, published in 1903: 

"This syndicate was a consolidation (1892) of three plants - the Bay View, founded in 1883; Claussen-Sweeny, established that same year; and Albert Braun Brewing Company, established in 1890. The last named plant was closed shortly after the consolidation was effected."

The officers of the new association represented the old firms: Andrew Hemrich, president; Albert Braun, vice-president; Edward F. Sweeny, secretary; and Fred Kirschner, treasurer. They could not have foreseen that in less that ten years this firm would grow to be the world's sixth largest brewery and the largest on the west coast (as can be seen in the 1913 letterhead below - even allowing for artistic license). For a time, before Washington State introduced prohibition in 1916, the Georgetown brewery was the largest industrial establishment in the state of Washington.

 Seattle Brewing & Malting letterhead 1913 - image

In 1904, Georgetown incorporated -- a “company town” safeguarding the business interests of its brewery. Company superintendent John Mueller was soon elected both mayor and fire chief. The number of taverns and roadhouses doubled, and by 1905 it required 25 horse teams to daily fill the Seattle appetite for Rainier Beer, the flagship label of the brewery. Production by then had reached 300,000 barrels per annum. The company now employed more than 300 men, and there was room to build worker homes beside the Duwamish River that then still curved through Georgetown.

Rainier Beer Distributor San Francisco - image

John Rapp, SF Rainier Beer ad, c.1902 - imageDistribution was now world wide as shown in the 1902 ad shown here (right). The company shipped to Canada, Hawaii, the Philippines, Singapore, and even Australia. Bottlers such as John Rapp and Son of San Francisco distributed Rainier Beer to their local areas. The earlier, blob top bottles were usually embossed with only the name of the local agent/bottler, but carried a "Rainier Beer" label on the reverse. Two examples of these embossed bottles are:
"K. M., Oakland" or "Kirchner & Mantie - Oakland, Cal." and "John Rapp & Son, S.F., Cal." Some of the later, crown top bottles still had paper labels but also had "Rainier" embossed on the bottle, as well as the bottler's name. Two examples are: "Rainier Beer - Fresno Bottling" and "Rainier - Beer Bottling Works - Reno, Nev."

Rainier Beer label from the Pacific Bottling Works of Vancouver, B.C.

In early 1902 the Pacific Bottling Works was engaged as their agent/bottler in Vancouver, B.C. (see above). Then the following year,1903 ad for Rainier Bottling Works,  Victoria, B.C. - image in February of 1903, the company purchased the Victoria, B.C. branch of the Pacific Bottling Works and announced the establishment of their own Rainier Bottling Works (ad at left). The plant was located in the B.C. Cold Storage building, and used the modern crown cap system. Kegs of beer were transported from Seattle by ship and the beer was bottled in the distinctive green, crown top bottles for the Victoria market. The half-pint was their specialty. Examples of these bottles are shown (below).  The bottles would also have had paper labels but I've yet to see an example.


Washington State Prohibition

In 1910 women had been granted the right to vote, and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was still at work. So it's no surprise that on November 3, 1914, Washington State citizens voted to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcohol, including beer. Brewers were forced to wind down their production, and had one year to deplete their inventories, and dismantle their operations.


November 1914 ad

Louis Hemrich was now president of Seattle Brewing & Malting, along with company stockholders, decided to move operations to California - in the belief that national Prohibition would never pass. This move was also chosen by their subsidiary, Independent Brewing Co., and Tacoma's Pacific Brewing & Malting.


Rainier Brewing Co. of San Francisco
(1915-1920)

On 30 Sept., 1915, the San Francisco Evening News reported:

"The new brewery is located on Bryant St. between Fifteenth and Alameda Sts. is in production and its beer will be ready for the market in early Spring. It is brewed entirely from San Francisco water, and was awarded the Grand prize (highest possible award) at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915."

1915 ad announcing new Rainier Brewery in SF - image
newspaper ad 30 Sep. 1915

As promised, on 1 April, 1916, the Evening News announced that Rainier Beer was now ready for the market, and further:

"The bottling, as heretofore, will continue to be in charge of John Rapp & Son, who will have the exclusive distribution of the bottled beer. The draught beer, however, will be marketed entirely by the Rainier Brewing Company in the future."

  John Rapp & Son electric delivery wagon for Raninier Beer - image

Unfortunately, the future was to be a short one. Not only was national Prohibition to be adopted in 1920, but a partial prohibition was imposed by President Woodrow Wilson in January of 1918. The purpose was to conserve grain for the war effort in Europe. The alcohol content of beer was limited to 2.75% and output was restricted to 70% of the brewery's previous year's production. In September of 1918, the president issued an outright ban on the wartime production of beer.

On 16 January, 1920, the 18th amendment took effect and national prohibition became the law of the land. While some brewers chose to shift production to near-beer and soft drinks, most were forced to close, effectively destroyed the brewing industry.

While Louis Hemrich did produce near-beer and other products, he laid plans to produce full strength beer for his long standing foreign markets - particularly Canada. 

 

Rainier Brewing Co. of Kamloops, B.C.
(1921-1927)

The western Canadian province of British Columbia had long been of interest to the Hemrichs. Andrew was a principal in the Victoria Brewing & Ice Co. in Victoria, BC, and in 1891 he hired an agent there for his Bay View Brewery's "Export Beer".

Canada also endured period of prohibition starting on Oct. 1, 1917. It was repealed in British Columbia by a referendum, in 1920 (effective 1 January, 1921). On December 10th, 1920, the Kamloops Telegram announced that the Imperial Brewing Co. had been purchased by principals of the Rainier Brewing Co., and on 4 January, 1921, it was incorporated as the Rainier Bottling Works, Ltd., a B.C. company that Rainier had established in 1903, in Victoria. The following June the company's name became the Rainier Brewing Company of Canada, Ltd.

Rainier Brewing Co. beer label Kamloops, BC c.1921 - image

In 1927 the Hemrich family closed the Kamloops plant and began consolidating their holdings. Curiously, they sold the rights to the Rainier brand in Canada along with the brewery. In 1928 Coast Breweries, Ltd. was established through the merger of the Silver Springs Brewery and the Victoria-Phoenix Brewing Co. They then purchased the Westminster Brewery and the Rainier Brewing Co. of Canada. The Rainier plant was closed, but the name lived on in Canada. And with the repeal of Prohibition in Apr. 1933, Rainier was again being brewed in San Francisco by Louis Hemrich's Rainier Brewing Co.


Rainier Breweriana

Rainier Beer, paneled etched beer glass, Mt. Rainier - image
etched & paneled Rainier Beer glass

Rainier Beer tray - "Evelyn Nesbitt" - image
Rainier Beer tray - "Evelyn Nesbitt"  

etched & paneled Rainier Beer glass - image
etched & paneled Rainier Beer glass

Rainier Beer stein,  by Diesinger - image
Rainier Beer stein, ca.1904
"A Good Judge Knows Rainier"

Rainier poster for 1903 from Sacramento - image
Rainier poster for 1903 from Sacramento

Seattle Brg. & Mltg. beer stein by Mettlach, c.1900 - image
beer stein by Mettlach, ca.1895



Reverse on glass sign

Rainier Beer tray - "Lady and the Bear" c.1913 - image
Rainier Beer tray - "Lady and the Bear" ca.1913
Rainier Beer curved enamel sign
curved enamel sign
half-pint green bottle SB&MCo., c.1898 - image
half-pint beer ca.1898
Seattle
Rainier poster for 1909 - Wallace, ID - image
Rainier poster for 1909 - Wallace, ID
pint and half-pint green beer bottles, c.1903 - image
pint and half-pint beers ca.1903
Victoria, B.C.

Rainier Beer tray, the Cowgirl - image
Rainier Beer tray "The Cowgirl" ca.1906

 

Rainier Beer tray, cigar & cap-lifter - image
Rainier Beer tray "cigar & cap-lifter"

  


A book on the Rainier Brewing Co. and the Rainier brand is in the works ......
so there won't be many additions to this page.


Rainier Beer Collectibles - For Sale

Rainier beer glass, Around Here It's Rainier

Post-prohibition Rainier beer glasses. Go to: GLASSES

RainierDiamond Draft acrylic tap

Rainier tap handles. Go to: TAPS

Rainier Beer coaster from Honolulu, c.1937

Rainier coaster from Honolulu c.1937. Go to: MISC. COASTERS

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