When I was at the grocery store the other day, I saw two Pacific Northwest legends in the cooler near each other; Rainier and Olympia beers began life in my neck of the woods, and have been brewed for well over 100 years. Olympia was brewed originally in Washington’s state capital. The Rainier brewery’s owner even started a baseball team – the Seattle Rainiers – to advertise his product. While both brands depict legendary northwest mountains, they are now owned by Pabst and have been moved out of state.
The flavors of these beers won’t win awards, but their stature in PNW popular culture has allowed them to be the enduring kings of the cookouts.
Seattle is a place now where craft beers and international brands are readily available, especially from Mexico. Granted, many of them are good. But at one time this area was a mid-sized blue collar region where local beer labels carried hometown pride and became famous namesakes. Every region has at least one – Lone Star in Texas, Primo in Hawaii, Coors in Colorado, and even Red Stripe in Jamaica.
But in the early 1980s, no Seattle high school party was complete until the Big Red R arrived – either in keg or rack form – and righteously extracted from the trunk of a jacked-up Camaro.
The stunning Mrs. BelRedRoad shares tales of her father’s drinking “Oly” when she was growing up. They were both cheap, had generally good flavor, and depicted local mountains of notoriety. Both brands were also well known for their TV commercials (shown below). Rainier made fun of itself, professing the existence of “Wild Rainiers” and motorcycles that said “RayyyyNeeer….Beeeerrr” as it was running through the gears. They even had talking frogs long before Budweiser. Olympia – banking on the fact that no one knew what an Artesian Well was – claimed the water came from secretive Artesians that also played jokes on people.
The old Olympia Brewery closed in 2003.
The former Rainier Brewery in Seattle – now the Tully’s Coffee roasting plant and art studios – stood with its iconic giant lit red R viewable from Interstate 5. The famous R is now housed at the Museum of History and Industry.
So sing a round of Oly Oly Oh, or crack open a Wild Rainier. They may no longer be from Washington, but they still make a hometown proud!