Columbia Brewing Co. of Tacoma - header

Columbia Brewing Company (1900 - 1933)

and successors

Columbia Breweries, Inc. (1933 - 1953)
and the Heidelberg Brewing Company (1953 - 1979)


Columbia Brg. Co. personnel - image

A bearded Emil Kliese, president, is shown seated far right. His sales manager, William Kiltz is seated at left.

Emil Kliese was a 35 year old, German-born brewmaster who had emigrated in 1883, and by 1890 was working at a brewery in St. Louis.

In the mid-1890's, Kliese made his way west securing a position with the newly established Capital Brewing Co. (later the Olympia Brg. Co.) in Tumwater, WA. By 1899 he was their head brewmaster. A business opportunity arose when some Tacoma investors wanted to open another brewery in that town. They required an expert brewmaster, and he wanted to operate his own brewery. So he, along with, William C. Kiltz, filled for articles of incorporation on the 8th of February, 1900 "to brew and sell at wholesale and retail beer and other malt beverages" at a company to be known as the Columbia Brewing Company.

The new firm had an initial capitalization of $50,000. William Kiltz was sales manager and Emile Kliese was owner, president and brewmaster.

The brewery's start-up was aided by the larger Pacific Brewing & Malting, a major shareholder. By 1906 it controlled Columbia, but allowed it to operate independently and market its own brands of beer.

Tacoma's newest brewery was on line by the end of April, 1901, at which time the city boasted of 95 bars.

The plant was located at 2120-2132 on South C Street. It was a five story, wooden frame building built over an artesian well. The brewery's output was about 50 barrels per day. (image below)

Columbia blue & red pre-pro beer tray Columbia Brg. Co. black tray

Columbia Brg. Co. oval tray c.1901

Columbia Beer glass sign, c.1910 - image
reverse-on-glass "lens"

Columbia's Alt Heidelberg Beer glass -  image
etched beer glass

Columbia's Old Pilsner tip tray -  image
tip tray

Columbia Brewing Co. bottle cap lifter, c.1910
Columbia Brewing Co. bottle cap lifter, ca.1910

 Columbia Bgr. Co. Golden Drop Beer label

As can be seen on the trays, glass, and label (above) the brewery had a number of brands of beer, Columbia, Golden Drop, Golden Foam and Old Pilsner. They were also shipping their beer to the San Francisco market to help with the shortages resulting from lost production after the 1906 Fire & Earthquake. Rather than ship bottled beer they found a bottler that escaped destruction - the North Star Bottling Works.

Columbia Export Beer by the North Star Bottling Works.

Their logo featured the figure of Columbia who was also referred to as Lady Liberty and was often pictured in a patriotic mode. Columbia was also used to represent bounty and prosperity, and we see both representations in the trays  and etched glass (above).

Then in September of 1912 they added Alt Heidelberg [Old Heidelberg] to their line-up.

Columbia's Alt Heidelberg label, c.1912 - image
Alt Heidelberg label. ca.1912


Columbia Brewery, ca.1916
The Columbia Brewery, ca.1916


Columbia Bottling Co. header - image

The Columbia Bottling Company (1916-1921)

Columbia's Golden Foam non-alcoholic beerWhen Prohibition came to Washington State in 1916, four years earlier than national prohibition, the Columbia Brewing Co. continued operations as the Columbia Bottling Co. producing Golden Foam, a non-alcoholic beer (near-beer).

Colo near-beer label -  imageIn November of 1916 the company announced a general remodeling of the plant to manufacture fruit drinks, cider, and other soft drinks, including birch beer. The also produced Chocolate Soldier, Blue Jay, and Green River. In May of 1918 they replaced Golden Foam with near-beer called Colo.

Emile Kliese's younger brother, Paul, succeeded him as the brewmaster at Columbia in 1918, and Emile died the following year.

A German brewer, Otto Birkmaier started at the brewery in Oct. 1917, as assistant brewmaster, after a year with the Star Brewery in Vancouver, WA. For the previous 10 years he served as brewmaster for the Eastern Oregon Brewing Co., The Dalles.

The Kliese family sold their shares in the Columbia Bottling Co. in early 1921. The company was then re-organized as the Columbia Brewing Company.

Columbia Brew label, c. 1932 -  imageWith the re-organization, Birkmaier assumed the position of brewmaster, and on 9 Aug. 1921, after months of experimenting, he introduced an improved near-beer. This new beverage was Columbia Brew, made from the choicest hops, malt, and water from their own artesian well.

Otto Birkmaier remained in the position of brewmaster until his death in June of 1945. During his lifetime he was one of the most highly regarded brewers in the country.

Another employee that would devote many years to the brewery was Albrecht "Alfred" Messmer. Alfred immigrated from Germany in 1923 and by 1930 was a machinist for Columbia. He aided brewmaster & engineer, Birkmaier, in the expansion plan set in motion two years later by the brewery's new owner. A master machinist and engineer in his own right, Messmer would oversee numerous projects over the following 35 years as plant engineer.

REPEAL - 1933


Columbia Breweries Inc. Jan. 1945 letterhead
letterhead, ca.1945

Columbia Breweries, Inc.

On 14 July of 1932, with National Prohibition certain to be repealed, Elmer E.Special Columbia Brew label -  image Hemrich and a group of other Seattle investors established Columbia Breweries, Inc. and purchased the old Columbia Brewery for $100,000. Elmer was a member of the House of Hemrich, a brewing dynasty in the Northwest - (see biography). Rather than enlarge the old frame building it was dismantled and a larger concrete structure was built in its place. To get the new plant ready for full production he began brewing operations with a near-beer called "Special Columbia Brew."

On April 7th of 1933, Columbia was the first Tacoma brewery to offer the public legal beer in over 17 years. And the first legal beer in Seattle was provided by Elmer Hemrich's father, Alvin, from his Hemrich Brewing Co.

Columbia Brew label, c.1933 - imageT
he April 1933 revision of the Volstead Act permitted the sales of 3.2% beers. So the Columbia Brew disclaimer, "contains less than ½ of 1% alcohol by volume" was blocked out and replaced with, "does not contain more than 3.2 per centum of alcohol by weight or its equivalent by volume." The need for near-beer had finally passed, but full strength beer would not become legal until January of 1934.

For another 3.2% beer introduced in 1933, Elmer used a slight variation on Kliese's 1912 Alt Heidelberg label. Then in Jan. 1934 he adopted the original 1912 label to reflect the return of pre-prohibition strength beer - (see both labels below).

About this time Hemrich chose the figure of the "Student Prince" as the brewery's symbol. Consequently, he commissioned a local sculptor, Karl Biber to create a frieze to be placed over the new Brew House door. The sculptor was brother-in-law to Hemrich's brewmaster, Otto Birkmaier. It was Otto who had recommended adopting the Student Prince as the company's symbol.

This is the clay model for the figure, less the triangle with the "CB-INC" monogram (below).

Clay model of Columbia Brewing Co's. Studen Prince - image

The Student Prince was the main character in "Alt Heidelberg" (Old Heildelberg) a popular play that opened in 1903. Then in 1924 the play was made into a successful operetta titled "the Student Prince," and was also made into a silent movie of the same name. The operetta was revived in the '30s, so the Student Prince was a very popular, and recognizable character to connect with the brewery.

Photo of Student Prince frieze - image

In 2005 (after 73 years) the concrete frieze was removed - purportedly to preserve it from damage. In 2001 it was for sale and a Tacoma restaurant in the Brewery District had expressed an interest in preserving the iconic piece. But it had dropped out of sight until now. For the October 12, 2021 release of their new "Heidelberg Beer" the 7 Seas Brewery placed this historic piece on display. It's now back where it came from, as the 7 Seas is located in Tacoma's old Heidelberg Brewery.

Columbia Brewery's Alt Heidelberg beer label, c.1933 - image
Alt Heidelberg label, 1933 - 3.2% beer

Columbia Brewery's Alt Heidelberg beer label, c.1934 - image
Alt Heidelberg label, 1933 & '34 - 4% beer

For the return of full strength beer in Dec. 1933, Hemrich used a label (above right) that was identical to the graphics used from 1906 to 1916.

Alt Pilosener label c a.1934In 1934, Hemrich revived Columbia's original Old Pilsner brand renaming it Alt Pilsner Lager Beer, and used a Bavarian village scene to evoke the Pre-Prohibition era (at right).

Columbia Lager beer label -  imageHowever he wanted a more modern look for his new Columbia Lager Beer (at left) so he used the graphics from the label of his earlier 3.2% Columbia Brew (above).

In 1935 Hemrich introduced a label with a side view of the Student Prince, copied from Biber's sculpted freize (above), and dropped the pre-prohibition style labels. This label was also used on their 22 oz. bottles which were a standard size used prior to Prohibition.

Alt Heidelberg Pale Beer label c.1935
Alt Heidelberg Pale Beer label c.1935

Alt Heidelberg Beer label, c.1935In a later update of the above label they settled on a frontal view, and variations of this label (at right) would be used for thirty years.

Columbia Christmas Beer label c.1934Hemrich also introduced a seasonal beer for the 1934 Christmas celebrations. However, the brewery didn't make it annual event like the Spring release of their Bock beer.

With his experience in Alaska, building two canneries there, Hemrich recognized the high cost of shipping incurred by accounts in south-east Alaska and established a rapid delivery system by leasing a power-boat (a modified sub-chaser) for delivering kegs of beer. It seemed like a good idea at the time but it didn't turn out well. On June 6, 1935, the Seattle Daily Times wrote the following:

"Elmer Jakeway, formerly of Seattle and Skykomish, and his wife escaped injury when their 104-foot cruiser, Alt Heidelberg, burned yesterday in Alaskan waters with a loss of $40,000, according to AP dispatches from Ketchikan. The cruiser was used to distribute beer for Columbia Breweries, Inc., of Tacoma.
Another passenger and two sailors also escaped, rowing to shore. Jakeway¹ left here this spring."

In October of 1935, Hemrich sold his controlling interest in the brewery to Joseph F. Lanser, one of the original investors. Elmer then started his own business in Tacoma as a contract brewer d.b.a., Elmer E. Hemrich's Brewery, Inc. East Idaho Brewing letterhead

In 1937, Columbia acquired controlling interest in the East Idaho Brg. Co. of Pocatello, ID. The new company was incorporated in April, 1937 as the East Idaho Brewing Company, Inc., with J. F. Lanser and brewmaster Otto Birkmier on the board of directors. The new company adopted Alt Heidelberg as its flagship beer, displacing Idallo Beer. When Columbia sold its interest in the plant in 1942, Areo Club Beer became its flagship brand.

Columbia Brewery, c.1936 -  imageLanser continued with Hemrich's expansion program with the $120,000 construction of a Bottling Shop, a portion of which was devoted to a canning line. This shop completed the third unit of their building program, the first two being the brew house and cellars. The brewery (at left) as it appeared in 1938.Alt Hedelberg Guest Beer can -  image

In February of 1936, Columbia was the first Pacific Northwest brewery to introduce canned beer. It was named Alt Heidelberg Guest Beer (at right), and as explained on the back of the can: " is a beer just as you would taste it as a guest in our brewery..."

Another beer the company canned was Finer Flaver Ale. This brand was produced for a food market chain owned by the West Coast Grocery Co. of Santa Monica & L.A. The following year the contract was taken over by the Monarch Brewing Co. of L.A.

About 1938 saw another new beer added to the Columbia line-up. It was called Atlas Beer. It doesn't appear to have been a strong seller, and in 1940 they changed the name to "Atlast" but that didn't seem to help and it soon disappeared. There's probably a story behind the brand name, but I've yet to learn the details.

Columbia's Atlas Beer label Atlast ball Knob   Columbia's Atlast Beer label 

In 1939 Norman Davis replaced Joseph Lancer as president of the brewery. Lancer stayed on until '42. He then sold his share of the company and left for Phoenix where he purchased controlling interest in the Arizona Brewing Co. - brewers of A-1 Beer. Coincidentally, his A-1 plant would be purchased in '64 by the Carling Brewing Co. after first taking over his old Tacoma plant.

Columbia Brewery drawing, ca.1941
20" x 12" drawing of the Columbia Brewery, ca.1941

One of Davis' early decisions was to discontinue the faltering Atlast brand in '41. However, he did find a replacement in the product line with the introduction of an entirely new style of beer. Columbia Ale made its debut in that year.

Columbia Ale display piece - image

Brewmaster Birkmaier developed the ale, which was a top fermenting beer, and a first for the brewery. The old English style Ale immediately gained a following and remained a popular seller for 17 years. When Carling purchased the brewery in 1958 they discontinued the product and replaced it with their Red Cap Ale, but the new ale never sold as well as Birkmaier's. Otto died in 1945 and was succeeded by Anders W. Erikson.

With the country at war with Germany it was decided to re-introduce the figure of Columbia, but in her most patriotic incarnation - the Statue of Liberty (below left). So, this image was to grace their new Columbia Ale and Beer labels. They also played down the Germanic figure of the Student Prince by reducing his image on the Alt Heidelberg labels (below right).

Columbia Beer label, c.1940 - image

Alt Heidelberg Beer label, c.1940 - image

Alt Heidelberg Bock Beer label - image

Another product made its appearance in the in the '40s, although infrequently.
It was a German tradition to brew a dark beer in the Winter and releasing it in the Spring - called Bock beer. An Alt Heidelberg Bock label is shown here (at right)

The Export Beer label (above) that introduced the "Lady Liberty" motif was soon updated with metallic gold & silver borders, and the slogan: "Toast of the Coast." (below)

Columbia Ale label 32 oz. - image

Columbia Beer label 12 oz. -  image

Recovering from war time shortages of malt and machinery was a slow process, but in a few short years their production was at max capacity. By 1948 Columbia Breweries had added four new officers and announced it was about to begin a massive expansion project. This would enable them to increase production of their Heidelberg beer and Columbia Ale to meet the current and projected demand.


Heidelberg Brewing Co. letterhead, ca.1956

Heidelberg Brewing Company

In 1949, Columbia Breweries, Inc. was restructured, changing its name to the Heidelberg Brewing Co., but choosing to continue doing business as Columbia Breweries. On July 15, 1953, the brewery officially adopted the name of Heidelberg Brewing Company. At this time they chose to drop the "Alt" from their flagship brand simplifying it to just Heidelberg Beer. This recognized their adherence to newer brewing practices and doing away with the "old" or alt.

The late '40s and early '50s saw a huge growth in sales, due in part to the vigorous advertising campaign that sought to blanket the Northwest with the image of the Student Prince. The figure (below) leapt out at you from billboards and print media.

Heidelberg Brewery's Student Prince

 Below are a few examples of promotional pieces from the late '30s and '40s...

...and the '50s.

The year 1954 began another period of expansion with the installation of a second brewing line and additional storage tanks in a four story addition. The new cellar had storage for over ½ million gallons of beer for aging. The brewery now had triple the capacity that it had in 1947, at 750,000 barrel/year. Heidelberg was now the largest brewery north of San Francisco and west of Milwaukee.

The plant also had a new brewmaster, Michael M. Kneip, Jr., who had been with the company since 1933. He had worked his way up to assistant brewmaster by 1945, and now succeeding Anders W. Erikson, Kneip continued as the brewery's brewmaster into the '60s.
 Heidelberg Brewery, c.1954 - image
This is the brewery (at left) as it appeared in 1954 after the $800,000 project was completed. The tall, windowless building at the end of the block is the cellar.

In 1958 Carling Brewing Co. of Canada purchased the Heidelberg Brewing Co. for $3,500,000. This added Carling Black Label, and Red Cap Ale to the line-up, and ended Columbia Ale - but not Columbia Beer. However, Heidelberg Beer remained its best seller.

Heidelberg Beer label, c.1958 - imageCarling then made a further move to modernize the Heidelberg label by introducing a rounded triangle shaped border, with the Student Prince reduced even further (at right). By 1965 the image of the popular figure was dropped entirely.

Carling's Black Label was never a big seller in the Northwest, but Heidelberg continued to be a regional favorite.

Since 1956 Carling had been licensed to brew and market the Danish beer, Tuborg, and had been producing it at their Natick, MA plant. Then from '73 to '75 the company also brewed Tuborg in both their Baltimore and Tacoma plants. During this period the Heidelberg Brewery was also doing business  as the Tuborg Brewing Company.

Heidelberg Hydroplane button
To Carling's credit, they actively supported regional sporting events, and sponsored boat races, milk carton derby races, and ski schools at Mt. Hyak. Most notable sponsorship was the Miss Heidelberg, an APBA Gold Cup winning hyroplane.

In 1976 Carling of Canada sold their American Division which then merged with the National Brewing Co. of Baltimore, creating Carling-National Breweries, Inc. Three years later Carling-National was purchased by the G. Heileman Brewing Co. of La Crosse, WI.

Prior to the purchase of the Heidelberg Brewery, Heileman had acquired the Rainier Brewing Co, in Seattle. Unfortunately this multiple acquisition ran afoul of the antitrust laws. Owning two major plants in such close proximity gave Heileman too large a share of the regional market, and they were forced to close one of the plants. So, in the Spring of 1979, after 3/4 of a century of brewing in Tacoma, the old Columbia Brewery closed its doors for good.

For over 30 years the brewery laid vacant and decaying. There had been plans to transform the Heidelberg Brewery into a hotel, but this never came to pass.

In June, 2011, The News Tribune reported that Tacoma's Columbia-Heidelberg Brewery's demolition has begun.
A historic buildings inventory report completed in 2003 noted "expansion has totally destroyed any traces of the old brewery." In a staff report prepared for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the city's historic preservation officer noted that "the earliest buildings present on the site date from post-Prohibition construction in the mid-1930s [and] significant remodeling and construction activities occurred in the 1950s and 1960s."

By July
, the Brewery District had lost its last intact brewing complex


¹  Elmer Jakeway returned to Ketchikan and was hired as manager of the Pilsener Brewing Company, a position he held until the brewery closed in 1942.


Article By



Columbia Ale label

Four different Columbia labels from the 40's.  Go to: MISC



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. Brewing 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 Columbia match safe
Fake Columbia match safe

taken from header at top of page.

Below is the real match safe.

Columbia match safe


  • To Mike Magnussen for the image of the black rimmed pre-pro tray, and the Columbia Ale "bubbler" sign.
  • Thanks to Steve Bieber for the image of the clay frieze designed by his grandfather.
  • To the Birkmaier family for sharing the stories of Otto Birkmaier.
  • To Andy Littrel for the Special Columbia Brew label.

  • To Jory Knowlton for the authentic match safe.
  • And to Jeff Henry for the 1956 Heidelberg letterhead.


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