Is Rainier Beer returning to Seattle?

For the last couple weeks, the beer news around Seattle has not been exactly happy. The biggest beer company on earth purchased one of our beloved local breweries, the latest maneuver in Anheuser-Busch’s continuing efforts to exploit the growing popularity of craft beer. But today we learned about some happy news from the world of “big beer.” Sure, this news involves a big beer company looking to capitalize on the craft beer craze, but in a much more palpable way.

According to a report in the Seattle P-I, the company that owns Rainier Beer is seriously considering bringing the brand back to Seattle. And as if that isn’t good enough news, they’re talking about branching out and making beer other than the old standard Rainier Beer. I’m talking about ales based on the brewery’s pre-Prohibition recipes.

Rainier Beer is part of the Pabst family of historic beer brands: Rainier, Lone Star, Olympia, Schlitz, and so on. Eugene Kashper purchased Pabst last fall and has expressed an interest in returning those historic brands to their regional prominence. This week, Kashper visited Seattle to consider locations for the new Rainier brewery and tasting room.

The plan would see the lager—the flagship Rainier Beer—brewed out of state, as it is today. The new brewery and tasting room in Seattle would focus on brewing the good stuff, employing local brewery workers, and using locally sourced ingredients, all while playing nice with other local breweries.

Below, I share the story as it appeared in the Seattle P-I.

Read the complete story on the Seattle P-I website.

That's me, circa 1984, in one of my many Rainier Beer shirts.
That’s me, circa 1984, in one of my many Rainier Beer T-shirts.

A piece of Seattle died when Pabst bought Seattle’s own Rainier Brewing Company and shut down its South Seattle brewery in 1999.

The classic illuminated Rainier “R” has was restored to its rightful throne in 2013 after several years of intrusion from a Tully’s “T,” but we still know that the old brewery building along Interstate 5 no longer produces Seattle’s favorite lager.

But its new owner eyes a homecoming.

Eugene Kashper, an American beer entrepreneur, last fall bought Pabst Brewing Company, which owns several regional beers — what he calls “American heritage brands” — such as Schlitz, Lone Star, Olympia, National Bohemian and Rainier. Pabst now owns 2.6 percent of the American market share of beer.

Like larger companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, which recently announced its acquisition of Seattle-base Elysian, Kashper wants to expand his company’s reach into craft brewing. But he wants his “local legend” brands to tap into their own histories and re-establish their roots.

“These breweries played such an important role in the life of the community,” he said. “… They haven’t gotten as much love as they deserve.”

Kashpher, who is based in Los Angeles, is visiting Seattle this week to explore the local expansion of Rainier, which was established in 1878. His vision includes a return of brewing operations to Seattle — Rainier is now produced in California — and a tasting room in which beer lovers can explore a range of Rainier brews beyond the classic lager.

Those additional recipes would come from pre-prohibition Rainier recipes and possibly include ales and stouts.

“People want to try new stuff,” Kashper said. “… I think it will only add to our brewing cred to add some of these historical products.”

The production of the lager, however, would remain out of state.

The plan is partially a response to the local microbrewing movement. In the past five years, neighborhoods like Ballard, Fremont, Georgetown and South Park have sprouted several micro- and nano-breweries owned by locals who churn out novel Cascadian dark ales and imperial ryes.

Kashper wants Rainier not to compete with these neighborhood breweries, but to peacefully co-exist with them. Besides, he said, after a couple of heavy IPAs, beer drinkers often finish their nights with a lighter beer such as Rainier.

“What we want to promote is great beer culture,” he said. “All of our values are craft values.”

Kashper is scouting local sites, including Rainier’s historic brewery and malt house, as possible locations for Rainier’s craft brewing operation.

“Hopefully people will be more excited when we start making some of the products this brewery (historically) made,” he said.

He would hire a Seattle-area brewmaster and locally source the ingredients that go into the new beers.

Kashper hopes to select a location for a new brewery and tasting room in a few months.

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