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History of the Yakima Brewing Company (1938-1953)

1940 display ad for Selah Springs beer In November of 1934 the Yakima Brewing Company was incorporated by C. F. Guenther and James Sells. Yet it wasn't until the beginning of 1938 that production started.  The delay may have been monetary, but little has been written about this brewery so it's only a guess. The brewery would have been primarily been supplying taverns with keg beer, but soon would have followed with bottled beer. Their first display ad was from the Bellingham Heard in April of 1940, showing their "Selah Springs Beer" in a long neck bottle. The following September the brewery introduced Selah Springs in a quart size bottle (label below), as well as an 11 oz. stubby.

Selah Springs  quart beer label
A small item in the Oct. 16, 1941 issue of the Kennewick Courier-Reporter quoted a James Sells as saying that he was returning from Selah were he had recently sold his interest in a business there. This appears to have been Sells' share in the Yakima Valley Brewery since that would have been about the time that Fred Martin purchased controlling interest in the Brewery. Alfred John Martin, was the son of the noted Spokane brewer, Reinhard Martin.



1942 ad for Martin's BeerTo honor his late father, Fred named the brewery's flagship brand, "Martin's Beer" and In March of 1942, an ad appeared in the Bellingham Hearld introducing the brand. According to the ad, the beer was available in stubbies, quarts, and long necks.

The ad's header referenced two generations of skilled Martin brewers, and the text claims that the family has been making beer in Washington since 1886¹. While its not legible in the ad, the bottle's label also states that the beer was "made from Martin's formula used in the State of Washington since 1886."

Martin's Beer label c.1942The timing of Fred's Selah venture was unfortunate, but he could not have foreseen the outbreak of WW2 mere months after his move. Soon, war-time restrictions and quotas, as well as manpower shortages were crippling small, regional brewers. Gas rationing prevented brewers, of all sizes, to ship outside their immediate areas which meant eastern brewers had to withdraw from western markets. Now beer was only available on draft or in bottles since cans were to be used only for the military. Also, bottle caps were in short supply prompting ads urging the purchase of quarts rather than 11 oz. bottles in order to reduce the number of caps used.

However, Martin's Yakima Valley Brewing Company hung on in spite of the shortages. While the war ended in 1945 (May in Europe and Aug. in Japan) shortages continued well after the war. With the food and supply chain destroyed all over Continental Europe, they were facing famine on a epic scale. In March of '46 president Truman ordered breweries reduce their usage of brewing materials by 30% of their previous year's output. The most effect on breweries was the restriction on those ingredients that were consumed as table food, like corn and rice (which was banned entirely). The quota on these ingredients carried into 1948. However, the regulation prohibiting the use of the beer can for civilian use was terminated in August of '47.

Yakima Valley Brewing had never used the beer can, but due to bottle shortages opted to install a canning line. Instead of the flat top style they adopted for the crown cap sealed can, a.k.a. the cone-top can. In June of 1949, Fred dis-continued "Selah Springs Beer" and introduced "Martin's Beer". The new container had a newly designed label which was also used on their bottled beer. See examples below.
Brewers' Best label from Yakima Valley BC
Martin's cone top beer can c.1948Sales of "Martin's Beer" appears to have met expectations and the brewery placed numerous display ads in regional newspapers. However that slowed in mid-December of '50. It appears that the brewery was struggling and they introduced some new brands, hoping to increase sales. "Brewer's Best was a national brand that should have provided some needed brand recognition.

Another brand Fred introduced after 1950³ gives an insight into another of his business dealings. "Old Bavarian" was a brand originally used by the Sunset Mercantile Co. of Wallace, Idaho until it was purchased by the Williams Brothers of Tacoma in 1946. The Pioneer Brewing Co. of Walla Walla was also owned by the Williams Brothers who then used the brand until the brewery was damaged by fire in December of '49. Fred then took up the brand as a result of a deal with the Brothers. The conditions of this deal were not made public, but the Williams Brothers were known to have purchased interest in small breweries in order to obtain quotas of rationed commodities for their Silver Springs Brewery in Tacoma.

Old Bavarian style beer label c.1950 Hi-Wings Beer label c.1950

Goebel Beer label IRTPThe final label is for "Hi-Wings Beer" which remains a mystery. It may have been a contract beer for a grocery chain or a private label for a beer distributor, but nothing is as yet known about this brand other than it was in use prior to 1950 - given the IRS tax paid statement. It also appears to have been designed to decieve buyers by mimicing a Goebel label.

These additional brands did not provide enough revenue to save the brewery. Non-payment of state and federal taxes resulted in a tax lien on the company for $3,800, which in turn prompted the RFC to recall their promissory notes and real estate mortgages. The government's Reconstruction Finance Corp. filed a foreclosure notice in December of 1953, and on August 5, 1954, the RFC auctioned off the real estate and equipment of the Yakima Valley Brewing Company to satisfy a $300,000 judgment.

 







YAKIMA VALLEY BREWERIANA



Selah Springs ball tap knob Selah Springs neon Selah Springs bottle cap


Selah Springs reverse-on-glass beer sign
reverse-painted-on-glass beer sign

 

Martin's Cone top beer can  Martin's ball tap knob Martin's stubby beer bottle 

 

FOOTNOTES:

¹ Fred Martin should have known that the year 1886 was incorrect. His brother was born in New York in 1886 and the family arrived in Spokane in 1889.

² Expansion of the brewing industry in the post-war years put regional brewers at a distinct disadvantage, especially with respect to advertising. Brewers’ Best Associates, Inc. of New York City was formed to give smaller breweries a leg up in this regard. The company offered franchises for the Brewers’ Best brand which was to be “nationally advertised, locally brewed beer.”

³
The label notation: "Internal Revenue Tax Paid" was only required prior to 1950.  

 

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Martin's stubby Martin's 1949 stubby, plus the 1942 version - go to: Bottles


 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Thank you to Maria & Jeff Martin for providing information on the family business.

 

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