Aberdeen Brewing Company letter header - graphic

 Aberdeen Brewing Company, c.1907
Aberdeen Brewery, ca.1907

 History of the Aberdeen Brewing Company (1902-1915)
successor to
Grays Harbor Brewing Co. (1900-1902)

and the Pioneer Brewing Company (1933-1944)

The Aberdeen Brewing Company was not this city's first brewery. In late 1887 Louis Blum & H. E. Anderson purchased property on Walnut Creek (now Wilson Creek) for their Grays Harbor Brewery & Bottling Works. However, in mid-1889 the operation was purchased by Ferdinand Toklas¹, a San Francisco businessman who was a principal in Toklas, Singerman & Co.

Then in 1890, the plant was dismantled and removed to Ocosta (about 12 miles SW of Aberdeen). On the 1st of April,1892, it was re-opened as the Grays Harbor Brewery, under the ownership of Richard & Mary Sandback, managed by H. Barthel. They were a lager beer producer, but the beer may have been lacking since it closed for good the following year.

Three years later in early July of 1896, John Hemrich and son, Louis, principals in the Seattle Brewing & Malting Co., considered the establishment of a brewery and cold storage plant in Aberdeen. The townspeople were greatly interested in the project and offered to donate a site and some building material in the aid of the enterprise. Unfortunately, John Hemrich died the following month and the project was abandoned.

Grays Harbor Brewing Co. stock certificate - imageIn 1900 an investment group, headed by Louis kern, did proceed with a similar plan and established the Grays Harbor Brewing Company. The plant, with a 100,000 barrel capacity, was planned and started by German brewmaster, Ernest Bloch. The new company was incorporated in 1901. A stock certificate (left), signed by Kern on the 5th of February, 1901, shows an image of the planned, wooden frame plant.Aberdeen Brg. Co. 1907 ad - image

However, the venture was under capitalized. In August of 1901 contractor's liens totaling about $2000 placed the project in receivership. In November of 1901, Alvin Hemrich (see his biography) purchased the brewery from the receiver for $3000 and went forward with plans for a more modest brewery. Ironically, it was his father and brother who had considered this very same project in 1896.

Alvin organized a stock company (that included his brother Louis), which was incorporated with a capital stock of sixty thousand dollars. The first officers of the company were Alvin Hemrich, president; E. J. Guaver, secretary and manager: and H. L. Smith, treasurer.
By the time production commenced, in May of 1902, Alvin had dropped the name Grays Harbor Brewing Co. in favor of the Aberdeen Brewing Company. He had also hired brewmaster, Ernest Bloch, as manager of the plant. Bloch had overseen the start-up of the Claussen Breweing Assn. in Seattle.

The first draught beer was placed on the market on the 21st of May, and was warmly received. However, their bottling works was not fully operational until early July. The bottling line had a capacity of 10 Barrels, or 1680 quart bottles per day.

The first bottles were filled on July 8th and promptly delivered to local outlets. Their first ad was run on the 21st of July and announced:

"Aberdeen Brewing Co.'s - Bottle Beer! Is now on the market in Pints and Quarts. It Has No Equal. Telephone 901. Ask for our A.B.C. Prima."

The firm also obtained a contract with the Eagle Brewing Co. of S.F. to bottle their "Prima Lager" for Bay Area distribution. On the 9th of July of '02, 100 barrels were shipped to San Francisco on the steamer Santa Monica. 

Aberdeen Brg. Co. Lager Beer trayThe brewery's output for the first year was 8,500 barrels, a significant amount of which was exported to San Francisco. The initial capacity of the plant was 50 barrels of beer per day, and much to Mr. Hemrich's surprise he found that an increase in capacity was necessary to meet the immediate demand. Within months of opening he was purchasing the necessary equipment to double the plant's output to 100 barrels per day. He also found it necessary to increase the bottling works capacity. The capital expenditure now equaled $100,000.

With an improved bottling plant they found it more profitable to bottle their own beer and ship casks packed full of cork-finished bottles to their San Francisco distributor. The weekly shipments, by water and rail, consisted of approximately 100 casks. Each cask contained six dozen quarts of beer, which were packed in sawdust for protection.

Their promotional literature stated:

"OUR BEER IS HONESTLY MADE - That means careful brewing, purity of ingredients, cleanliness, proper aging. We do not sacrifice any of these essentials to save expense. That would be a short-sighted policy. The quality of the beer must be maintained.
You get the full value of your money in every glass of Prima Beer you buy. It is healthful, nourishing and satisfying. Send for a trial case today."

A trial case certainly sounds reasonable! And to counter Olympia's slogan, "It's the Water" - Aberdeen claimed that "It's the Material." That sounds reasonable as well!
The Prima brand was used by other brewers to describe their beer, as it's the German slang word for "excellent." However, the only Prima Beer in the Northwest was from Hemrich's Aberdeen Brewing Co.

Prima Lager Beer label - image

Golden Age beer label - image

The Company's trade mark was its initials - ABC, which can just barely be made out on the brewery's wall, in the image above. The ABC trade mark on the butt of a beer barrel can be seen clearly on two of the embossed quart bottles (below). These bottles were produced in both quart and pint sizes. They were also manufactured with two different lip finishes: crown and blob. The blob was made to accept a cork, which was used in their export trade.

Aberdeen Brg. Co. embossed bottle - photo

Slug plate logo on Aberdeen Beer bottle - photo

Prima Beer embossed bottle - photo

Embossed bottles ca. 1902-1906.

1907 ad for Aberdeen Brg. Co.'s Prima Beer - graphic

Another slogan - that sounds like wishful thinking - is stated in the ad above:
"It's the Beer that makes Milwaukee Jealous."
I would be surprised if anyone in Milwaukee even knew where Aberdeen was, let alone having tasted their beer! But I'm sure that it made the fishermen and lumbermen feel lucky to have such a fine product available locally. In addition to "Prima" lager beer and "Aberdeen Porter" the brewery also produced a "Golden Age" lager beer. The Aberdeen Herald printed an ad that said: "For Brain and Brawn Drink Golden Age Bottle Beer - Healthful and Pure." This brand can be seen advertised on the stag tray and label shown above.

Golden Age tip tray from Aberdeen Brg. Co. - photoBy 1906 the brewery employed 25 people, and produced $200,000 worth of beer a year. Increased sales and demand required even further expansion. In order to increase capacity an annex to the plant was erected in June 1907.

The brewery had also installed a new ice plant, which was then consolidated with the two other plants of the city. They were now supplying all the ice for the Aberdeen area, and were selling as much ice as beer.  The water for the brewery and ice plant came from their own well, sunk 200 feet deep in order to tap the aquifer far below the bottom of the harbor and sealed off from the salt water by a thick layer of hardpan. In May of '08 they drilled an additional well at a cost of $2000.

The company purchased a Witteman carbonating outfit in 1907 and began producing a line of sodas under their "Prima" brand, as well as a product called "Puritas Water." A Daily Bulletin ad on 31 October announced: "Puritas Water delivered at your home. Costs but a trifle." Two years prior they had obtained a Witteman "gas collecting outfit" which was used in the brewing process.

      Annex to Aberdeen Brg. Co. - image

Alvin Hemrich was assisted by his son Elmer who, by 1910, had become proficient enough to assume the post of assistant manager of the Aberdeen plant.  In the following year, just prior to his twenty-first birthday, he was placed in full charge of the brewery. With Elmer now manager and vice-president of the brewery, Alvin was free to devote all his attention to his other responsibilities in Seattle as president of both the Hemrich Bros. Brewing Co. and of the Claussen Brewing Association.

Concurrent with Elmer assuming greater responsibilities was the introduction of a new product. On the 11th of March, 1911, the Grays Harbor Post published an announcement that the Brewery was now offering a dark Bavarian style beer called "Original Erlanger."

Erlanger ad, c.1911 - image

Original Erlanger beer label ca.1911

However, Prima remained their flagship brand, and was considered a premium beer. It must have been an excellent product for it to compete in the San Francisco market.

While Prima was the best seller in the brewery's home market they did have competition from other brands. The Crescent Bottling Works of Aberdeen and Centralia were agents for the Independent Brewing Co. of Seattle, and they distributed Independent's Old German Lager. Additionally, they contracted with Independent to brew and bottle Glenweiser Beer which Crescent marketed as a budget brand. 


ABC etched glass - Aberdeen Brg. Co. - photo
etched glass - author's collection

Prima Lager match safe
celluloid match safe from the Cartwright collection

Prima Lager Beer etched glass - Aberdeen Brg. Co. - photo
Anderson collection

Aberdeen Brewing Company clock & calendar - photo

perpetual calendar - Bryan Anderson collection

Prima Beer dice game - Aberdeen Brg. Co. -  image

Hand held dice game


Prima soda siphon bottle - Aberdeen Brg. Co. -  image

Prima seltzer (click on image to enlarge)


Aberdeen Brg. Co's. Golden Age Beer tray, c.1912 - image "Golden Age" Beer match safe -  image

Match safe with raised lettering on ends for striking match.
On top: "Golden Age Beer"
On Bottom: "Loggers Pal"


In 1915 Washington voted to go dry, with statewide Prohibition to go into effect on January 1st, 1916. This terminated the production of all alcoholic beverages - four years before national Prohibition. Most breweries were forced to close, but the Aberdeen Brewing Co. stayed open by increasing their production of soda waters. This enterprise was named the Prima Bottling Works, and used the Prima logo. An example of one of their soda siphon, or seltzer bottles, sporting an etched Prima logo, can be seen above. Along with their bottling works the brewery still had a high capacity refrigeration plant which allowed them to remain in the retail ice business. They also introduced a cereal beverage, euphemistically called "near-beer." By law these beverages could contain no more than ½ of 1% alcohol, and could not use the word "beer" on the label. The company named their product "Golden Age" the same as their once popular brand of beer. At this same time Alvin Hemrich was producing a near-beer called "Lifestaff" at his Hemrich Bros. Brewery in Seattle.

North Coast Products - In 1918 a new business entity was formed when the Aberdeen Brewing Co. was dissolved, and the North Coast Products Co. purchased $2,091.46 worth of bottles and $1,753.50 worth of signs from the old company. Elmer Hemrich remained vice-president and treasurer, and continued manufacturing ice, soda waters, and a cereal beverage called "Hop Jack."

Ice Delivery Company - In 1920 the ice manufacturing part of the business was sold toAberdeen ice pick - image Russell G. Hall, who had established the Hoquiam Ice Co. eight years earlier. However, in 1924, the entire plant was sold to Hall, and North Coast Products was liquidated. This divestiture allowed the Hemrichs to concentrate on their new ventures. They established the Surf Packing Company, with razor clam canneries in Grays Harbor and Alaska. There was even a Hemrich Bait Co., in Aberdeen for a short time.

Quinalt Club's Special Brew label - imageQuinault Products - At some point after taking control of the soda works, R. G. Hall incorporated the Quinault Products Co. Their "Beverages of Quality" included "Quinault Club Special Brew" which appears to have been a near-beer. The principals in the company were Russell G. Hall, president; M. T. Thorpe, vice-president; and Fred Amacher, secretary and treasurer. Their brewmaster was Louis Marelich.
With the repeal of Prohibition eminent, Alvin and Elmer Hemrich were making plans to re-enter the brewing business - but not in Aberdeen. Alvin was starting up the Hemrich Brewing Co. in Seattle, and Elmer (
see biography) had purchased the old Columbia Brewery in Tacoma. But the Aberdeen Brewery was not finished.

Hall, and his partners were also planning to enter the brewing business. With their experience brewing "Quinault Club" they planned to re-open the brewery with the real thing.


The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages, was ratified in January 1919, to go into effect the following year, on the 16th of January 1920. Brewers believed that a product containing less alcohol than their previous 6% brews would be permissible. This issue was resolved by the Volstead Act of 28 October 1919, which established the enforcement guidelines, and defined "alcoholic beverages" as those containing more than "one half of one percent" alcohol by volume.
However, this new law proved extraordinarily difficult to enforce, and was routinely violated by respectable citizens. By 1931 Prohibition remained largely un-enforced, and was deemed a failure. The public was demanding action, and FDR was swept into office partly because of his promise to end Prohibition. On 20 February 1933, only 12 days prior to his taking office, the 21st Amendment was passed. However, the Repeal amendment still required ratification by the states.
Then on 7 April 1933, the Volstead Act was amended by redefining the term "intoxicating beverage". This change effectively ended Prohibition by legalizing a beverage containing up to 3.2 percent alcohol. This allowed brewers to start production secure in the knowledge that real beer would be flowing again. On the 5th of December 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, overturning the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition. Now pre-prohibition strength beers of 6% could once again be brewed in America.


Pioneer Brewing Company

Pioneer Brewing Co., keg butt - image

Anticipating the promise of Repeal, renovations began at breweries all over the nation. The following is a newspaper account from Hoquiam's Washingtonian of 14 January 1933:

"Aberdeen, Jan.13 - Preparations for immediate manufacture of legal beer in Aberdeen at the Old Aberdeen Brewing company brewery were started today when crews of workmen began renovating the plant, it was announced by R. G. Hall. This is one of the four largest breweries in the state which survived the era of prohibition in Washington and which is being prepared for immediate manufacture of legal beer if congress passes legislation legalizing this product.

Although no announcement was available on plans under which the brewery will be operated it was made known that crews began today tearing out floors, repairing equipment and generally rehabilitating the brewery.

It was also revealed that Ernest Bloch, brewmaster who built the plant in 1901, is visiting the harbor with friends. Mr. Bloch is widely known in this district and the product of his vats turned out in pre-prohibition days was declared of recognized quality.

The brewery is adjacent to the Ice Delivery company plant operated by Mr. Hall and the ice and heating equipment serves both.

Mr. Hall's announcement was made after workers began their task today and merely was that the plant was being put in shape and a set-up studied in preparation for any action by congress.

Other breweries which can be put into large scale production in this state are at Spokane, Walla Walla, and Tacoma.

Mr. Hall indicated that when the plant is ready there will be a grand open house celebration for the whole harbor. He did not say whether or not pretzels will be served."

With the April 1933 revision of the Volstead Act permitting 3.2% beer, the nations brewers went into action - and the folks in Aberdeen were ready. Brewing began immediately so that after 60 days of lagering (aging) their beer would be available to a thirsty market.

The firm was to begin operation as the Pioneer Brewing Company, Inc., but it was also known as the Aberdeen Brewing Company - at least for the first year. The Pioneer Brewing Co. was the first Washington State brewer to apply for the newly required U-Permit - a government licensing number. Their Wash-U-1200 can be found on early labels.
By the end of June '33 Pioneer's first batch of beer was ready for consumption. The following appeared in Aberdeen's Grays Harbor Post on 1 July 1933:

"Local Brew Is Now On Market -- Aberdeen's Newest Industrial Plant Make Deliveries To Local Retailers --

Pioneer beer, Grays Harbor's locally manufactured brew, appeared on sale in Aberdeen and Hoquiam on Wednesday morning. About 200 cases comprised the initial delivery but the first-day supply was inadequate. However, additional deliveries are being made daily thereafter and an adequate supply for local consumption will be provided within a short time.

Deliveries of the new beer are being made in two new ton-and-a-half trucks just purchased from the Braley Motor Company, the latest type of panel delivery machines, brown in general color and with the name and insignia of the new company in gold leaf.

The brewery this week was the scene of intense activity as workers were busy getting ready for the start of delivery business on Wednesday. Many new workers have been added to the plant's crew.

The beer which went on sale Wednesday was started in April and is more than 60 days old, one of the oldest beers thus far put on the market here. It is a pilsner type, pale in color. The color is due to the natural brewing and aging process and to the fact that the beer is un-carbonated. It is the color of the higher grade pilsner, lager beers."

Pioneer Beer label, c.1934 - image
Pioneer beer label, c.1934

While the public was eager for Pioneer's new product, their enthusiasm soon went flat. These first batches had to be accompanied with an explanation that the reason that it wouldn't froth like other beers was that "Pioneer Beer is not artificially carbonated." Letters to the newspaper suggested that perhaps the management of the brewery should hire some of the local bootleggers to teach them how to make a beer that would have a frothy "head".

Apparently all was put right and the firm prospered. In March of 1936 the brewery announced the introduction of its "Wuerzburger Bock Beer". As their new brew master, Otto Meier, described it -
"it's a formula based on an old Bavarian beer. It's richer, and heavier in body, a little sweeter, and darker in color through generous use of roasted malt." Meier also made a Pilsner Style beer, and a Special that he called "Cellar D." Otto Meier had replaced their Prohibition era brewer, Louis Marelich.

Pioneer ball tap knob ca.1935Pioneer went on to have an eleven year run. But the shortages endured during the war years were crippling. Not only were brewing ingredients rationed, but the raw materials need for bottle caps were also in short supply. And if that wasn't enough, there was a manpower shortage as well. Consequently, in June of 1944, the business was sold and the plant permanently ceased operation.

Russell G. Hall owned and operated the plant for 24 years, and helped establish the Pacific Northwest Brewers' Association, serving as its first president. In 1945, the year after closing the brewery, Hall started the Far West Frozen Food Co. He also established Pioneer Beer crown capseveral business in the plywood and wood processing industry.

At the time the brewery sold Martell W. Brown was secretary of the firm, and Gordon Pulien was their last brewmaster. It was unusual that the brewery produced primarily one brand, and that other than draft beer, they sold only in bottles - never offering "Pioneer Beer" in cans.

The Pioneer plant was located at 408 South Lincoln, but now there are no signs that it ever existed.


Labeled Pioneer beer bottles - image

Labeled bottles (above) and crate for long neck bottles (below) from the Balderston collection.

Labeled Pioneer beer bottles - photo

Pioneer Beer neon sign - image

"Pioneer Pete" back-bar figure - image
"Pioneer Pete" back-bar chalk figure



While Aberdeen's Pioneer Brewery had closed - the brand continued. The 1944 purchase was executed by W. D. Bryan, president of the Mutual Brewing Co. of Ellensburg, and the Silver Springs Brewing Co. of Port Orchard. However, Bryan was acting on behalf of the Williams Brothers, Inc. of Tacoma who owned these breweries.

In 1943, Bryan purchased the United Union Breweries plant in Walla Walla - also as an agent of Williams Bros. The Ellensburg plant was closed in February of '44 and most of its equipment went to the Walla Walla plant to increase capacity. A year later the firm purchased the assets, equipment and brewing formulas of the Pioneer Brewing Company.  Operations at the Aberdeen plant were also discontinued and the Walla Walla plant carried on the activities of the three units.

In the fall of '45 the name of the firm was changed to the Pioneer Brewing Company of Walla Walla.

For more on the history of Pioneer Beer and the historic plant in Walla Walla - go to:  Pioneer Brewing Co., Walla Walla, Wash.    



 ¹ Ferdinand Toklas was the father of Alice B. Toklas.  Alice was the protégé of Gertrude Stein, and author of the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook - famous for its cannabis brownie recipe.


WARNING - I've seen phony match safes from seven different WA breweries - all with graphics taken from my history pages. The fakes I'm aware of are supposedly from: Hemrich Bros. Co., Seattle Brewing & Malting, Bellingham Bay Brewery, Aberdeen Brewing Co., Albert Braun Brewing Assn., Columbia Brewing Co., and the Washington Brewing Co. of Everett.

Fake Aberdeen match safe
Fake Aberdeen match safe.
(graphics taken from header at top of this page)


Article by

You can purchase this article which was featured in the ABA Journal for March-April, 2010 - Go to: PERIDOCIALS



  • Thanks to the late Steve Papac for his Grays Harbor history and City Directory look-ups, and for providing many, early newspaper articles from Aberdeen.
  • To Western Washington University's Center for Pacific Northwest Studies (CPNWS), for image of the brewery.
  • To Dale Sleeman for the image of the Grays Harbor stock certificate.
  • To Bryan Anderson for the perpetual calendar-clock and etched glass images.
  • Special thanks to Jon Meyer for the great letterhead at the top of the page, and the Golden Age Beer tip tray with the stag image.
  • To Dick Balderston for the images of the Golden Age "fireman" tray, Golden Age label, the Pioneer keg end, and the labeled Pioneer bottles.
  • To Mike Magnussen for the image of the neon sign and the "Pioneer Pete" chalk.
  • To John Cartwright for the celluloid "Prima" match safe.

For any comments, additions, or corrections - or for Aberdeen items you wish to sell - please
contact me:

Brewery Gems - beer stein logo

All contents including images are copyright by BreweryGems.com
 and can not be used without permission from Brewery Gems.
© 2004 ~ All Rights Reserved.