Olympia Brewing Company History

The 1906 brew house built by Leopold Schmidt rises above the trees just beyond Tumwater Falls. Schmidt already owned a successful brewery in Montana when a business trip to Olympia tipped him off to the presence of exceptional springs nearby. The artesian wells of Tumwater, it turned out, were perfect for brewing beer. Schmidt sold his Montana brewery, bought five acres of land along the Deschutes River waterway and opened a new brewing company in 1896. His timing couldn’t have been better. When news of gold in the Klondike hit Seattle the following summer, Schmidt was poised to ship beer to every gold rush town in Alaska.

Schmidt believed that to make a good beer had to use first-rate ingredients and pay his workers well. At a time when the average barrel of beer sold for $3.25, Schmidt charged more than twice that amount—and customers

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Olympia Brewing Company, 1906.

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gladly paid. “It is unqualifiedly the best beer made on the West Coast,” wrote one local newspaper editor, “and that is saying much.”

Leopold Schmidt died on September 24, 1914, just weeks before voters in Washington chose to “go dry” and outlawed alcohol sales. Though the company tried to stay in business by making fruit juice and jams, it

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was forced to shut down operations in 1921.

Image on left: Leopold Schmidt, born and raised in Germany, acquired his first brewery experience in the mining boomtown of Butte, Montana. He met and married his wife, Johanna, when he returned to Germany to study the art of brewing beer at the Worms Brewing Academy. The couple moved back to Montana in 1879 and eventually on to Washington.

Schmidt’s sons sold the brick brewhouse and turned their attention to other ventures, always hoping the day would come when they could start brewing

again. In 1933 when Prohibition was finally repealed, the family was ready and waiting. Within a year they managed to reorganize the company, offer sales of public stock and build a fine new brewery overlooking the Upper Falls. Members of the Schmidt family continued to run the Olympia Brewing Company until 1983. The brewery endured for 20 more years under several corporate owners before closing again in 2003.

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Image above right: The “new” brewery as it looked in the 1930s when Prohibition was over. Local architect Joseph Wohleb designed the initial structure, which was expanded many times over the following years.