Rheinlander Breweries of Seattle

Rheinlander header

Century Brewery Association

Collectors of NW Breweriana are familiar with the tagline: "Rainier Beer...Since 1878", but many would be surprised to learn that it wasn't until 1935 that the brewery, on Seattle's Airport Way, brewed any Rainier Beer. But first, there was Rheinlander.

With the end of Prohibition in 1933 the Century Brewing Assn. was established by a Canadian group headed by the Sick family to purchase one of the closed breweries for entry into the Seattle market. The Bay View Brewery had been closed by state-wide prohibition in 1915, and in the 1920's it was converted into a feed mill. The company chose this building for its plan to convert it to a state-of-the-art brewery. In his 1958 memoirs, Emil Sick recalled:

"In the summer of 1933, we commenced rebuilding. All we kept of the old brewery actually were the walls, which we reinforced with concrete and steel. Our first cellars were all equipped with wooden tanks made by a cooperage in Vancouver, BC. The brewing equipment was taken out of the defunct Crystal Brewing Co. in Regina, Saskatchewan, together with certain bottling machinery from the same and another closed brewery."
The exterior also had a major makeover. A 1934 trade journal article described the plant as:
"...striking in an exterior coating of silver-hued, aluminum paint, with navy-blue trim.
The article continued: Quite unique in the aggressive advertising campaign launched to feature the company's entrance into the beer merchandising field, is the erection of the largest Kirsten high-intensity Neon sign in the world atop the brewery, illuminating the words 'Century's Rheinlander Beer' in green and red. This huge sign contains in its superstructure 13 tons of steel. It is 97 feet long and 37 feet high."

Century Brewery's neon sign c.1934

In January of 1934, Rheinlander Beer was released in pre-prohibition full strength, after aging in wood for 90 days. The brewery's brewmaster, Karl Heigenmooser, was born and trained in Munich, Germany, and so his Rheinlander was a Muenchner-style lager - darker than a Pilsener, with a touch of sweetness, and light on hops.

In an effort to offer the most flavorful beer possible many breweries offered unpasteurized Draught (draft) beer in half-gallon jugs. The Century did the same but also came up with a novel option. In addition to the half-gallon and quart offerings, they developed a carry carton to hold three 22 oz. bottles of draught.

Rheinlander 22 oz beer label Rheinlander Draught label

For the Christmas season Heigenmooser crafted a Kulmbacher-type brew, which was even darker and heavier than his Munich-inspired brew, but was only produced for the 1934 and '35 seasons.

Another seasonal brew, produced in limited quantities by most U.S. breweries of this period, was a Bock Beer. Oddly, Rheinlander Bock was only produced once - for the 1935 Spring release.

Rheinlander Holiday Brew labelRheinlander Bock label

In July of 1935, a major development took place that changed the company. When state-wide Prohibition hit Washington, brewers had to either produce non-alcoholic beverages, move to a different state, or close down. The Hemrich family, makers of the popular Rainier Beer, chose to move to San Francisco and build a new brewery there. With the end of Prohibition they were again supplying western states with Rainier Beer. They also announced that they planned to reopen the Georgetown plant in Seattle - the pre-Prohibition home of Rainier Beer.

To counter this threat, the Century Brewing Assn. made a royalty deal with the
Rainier Brewing Co. which allowed the use of the Rainier name for production and sales in Washington and Alaska. The royalty was $.75/barrel with a $75K per year minimum. The Century Brewing Assn. name was then changed to Seattle Brewing & Malting.


Seattle Brewing & Malting Company

Century Brewery c.1937
Century Brewery with new signage

The Century Brewery's brewmaster was now overseeing the production of both Rheinlander and Rainier beers, and was about to undertake some new challenges.
first & second Rheinlander beer cans
In mid-1936 canned beer became a reality and the Brewery released its first canned Rheinlander before the year was out. They also adopted the new "stubby" bottle.

This Munich-style Rheinlander may have paled in comparison to their new Pilsener-style Rainier beer, since Heigenmooser was tasked with  formulating a new lighter style. His Extra Pale Rheinlander was introduced in May of 1937, in both bottles and cans. The following month Heigenmooser announced his retirement and left for Delaware where, rather than retiring, he took another brewmaster position.

The following year saw further changes for the Rheinlander brand. It was to be moved to a new home.


Rheinlander Brewery, Inc.

Rheinlander Brewing Co Inc

This plant on Airport Way was the previous home of the Apex Brewing Co. Following the death of its founder, Alvin Hemrich, and the death of Elmer Hemrich, the family chose to sell the brewery. In January of '38, Seattle Brewing & Malting Co. (called SeaBrew by insiders) purchased the company.
However, SeaBrew planned to use the plant solely for the production of their Rheinlander beer and did not continue with the "Apex" brand. The adjacent Century plant would then focus solely on the production of the recently acquired Rainier brand.

One noticeable change in their branding was dropping the Germanic font on the labels and promotional material. Even their canned Rheinlander Pale Export had a changed font.

By July of 1938, the plant at 2918 Airport Way was producing both Rheinlander Beer, and Rheinlander Ale. The beer and ale was brewed here, but bottled in the nearby main plant. To set Rheinlander apart from other beer and ales they claimed their brews were enriched with valuable malt-yeast vitamins B & G.

Rheinlander Ale vitamins B&G   Rheinlander Inc. tap knob

Production at this location was to last but one year. In May of 1939, the Horluck's Brewery had been purchased by the Sicks' enterprise, and undergone an extensive remodel. In October of '39, the Horluck plant was to become the new home of Rheinander Beer.


The Century Brewery

The new Century Brewery c.1939

With Rheinlander's new home in the old Horluck plant came the appropriate signage that read "Century's Rheinlander" with the "Rheinlander" portion sourced from the sign previously atop the main plant.

With production now in the new Century Brewery, the labels were unchanged except for Seattle Brewing and Malting identified as the producer rather than Century Brewery - but not so for the tap knob.

Rheinlander label c.1939  Rheinlander ball tap knob c.1939

By April of 1940, a new label was designed and the Vitamin B & G claim was dropped. Oddly, the new look wasn't given to the canned Rheinlander as can be seen on the sign below. This makeover may not have done much to increase sales as the brand was struggling. In September of 1941, Rheinlander was discontinued and the Century Brewery was now the home of Sick's Select Beer.

Rheinlander beer sign c.1940

This essentially closes the Rheinlander chapter. However, 20 years later the brand was resurrected and hung on until 1992.


Sicks' Rainier Brewing Co.
and successor
Rainier Brewing Co.

In 1961, Sicks' Rainier Brewing Co. had Rainier Beer as their flag-ship brand, but not much else. Sicks' Select had been replaced by Brew 66, and that was now only offered on draft. They needed a budget brand for the grocery store trade so they reintroduced Rheinlander Beer - and added Highlander Beer as well. The company then established two divisions, the Rheinlander Brg. Co. and the Highland Brg. Co., to act as brand managers. Yet both divisions distributed each other's products as well as their own - which I don't understand.

The 1961 Rheinlander Beer can had a steel top, one version lists the producer as the Highlander Brewing Co., while others list the Rheinlander Brewing Co. This version was soon followed by an aluminum "soft top" that made piercing easier. In '63, the cans were fitted with an aluminum "tab top" or "zip top."

Rheinlander brand 1961-70

In 1970, they were still using the steel can with the zip-top lid, but with a new design. This was soon followed by an all-aluminum version.

Rheinlander brand from 1970-89

Finally, in 1989 another newly designed can was introduced. The brand was to last another five years until it was terminated in '92.

Rheinlander brand from 1989-92

Rheinlander Breweriana

Rheinlander beer coaster

 Rheinlander ball tap knob - image

Rheinlander Draught beer sign, c.1934 - image

Rheinlander TOC sign c.1934

Century Brewery calendar 1935
1935 calendar graphic

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