An hour’s drive southwest of Seattle, Olympia, Washington’s a small town with a harbour built for morning strolls and compact center for dining and shopping. I was surprised to find an eclectic series of sculptures along its waterfront.
Staying at the Hilton Doubletree made for a convenient place to call home while in town to enjoy fine craft beer, food and scenic beauty. Tip: try to book into one of their lovely suites with lots of desk space and relaxed seating.
Tumwater is famous for being one of the first American settlements in Washington State. Originally known as Newmarket, the title changed to Tumwater, named after Tumchuck, a Chinook word to describe “throbbing or noisy water”.
Along the Deschutes River stands a historical site: the remains of a brewery begun by Leopold Schmidt. German-born Schmidt arrived in the US in the late 1860’s and worked in Montana during the Gold Rush. He later got a job working for Pierre Valatin, a Frenchman who owned a successful brewery in Deer Lodge.
Following that, Schmidt (along with partner Raymond Saile) opened their own brewery in Butte – the Centennial Brewing Company – and this planted the seed for what would later become a beer success story.
But first, Schmidt would return to Germany in order to learn more about brewing. It was there he met his future wife Johanna, and once his studies were finished, they returned to the US.
When Schmidt learned of Artesian wells in the area, he sampled and tested the water, finding it perfect for producing German pale lager. He bought five acres of land at the mouth of the Deschutes River and with his brother Louis, planned their dream brewery.
Schmidt was also the first to work with pure yeast culture. This trend caught on quickly among his peers — because of this, Olympia beer was considered the highest-quality beer around.
Olympia Brewery couldn’t keep up with demand, running around the clock. In 1904, Schmidt made plans to expand into a tall brick facility, shutting down the smaller wooden brewery. An innovative man, Schmidt used individual electrical motors, considered very efficient in brewery production.
Schimidt left a lasting mark on both Tumwater and Olympia. As Olympia brewmaster from 1974 to 1997, Paul Knight recalls the brewery in its heyday. At the time, factories and mills were also in operation along the river. Olympia Brewery produced 1.5 million barrels in 1961, the year Paul started in production. He attended brewery school in 1972 and was promoted to brewmaster two years later.
During the war, the brewery became a paper company. After The Depression and Second World War, it was turned into housing. Visitors came from all over the world to visit the brewery.
In fact, the Olympia Brewery building complex has evolved with every historic event of the century, contributing to the community’s economy at every turn! A new brewing and distilling center is in the planning stages. The remains of the buildings in the above photos range from 1905 to 1945.
The historic brewery served as the perfect introduction to visiting the Schmidt House, where local historian (and one of the original settlers of the area) Don Trosper gave us a short background into the town’s history and how the Schmidt family prospered over the years.
During the Prohibition, their Western hotel chain (with branches in many major Northwest cities) eventually became known as today’s Westin Hotels. The Schmidt family also started a bus company that later became part of the Greyhound Bus Lines.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Schmidt House also offers free guided tours on alternate Tuesdays. Visit the website for more info.
It was then time to head to the Third Annual Tumwater Artesian Brewfest, being held at the Tumwater Valley Golf Course.
This was a great opportunity to sample over 45 Pacific Northwest craft beers, including the original Olympia beer on tap. They were also a couple of local wineries and artisan cider makers on site. The $20 tickets included five tokens and a drinking glass.
Beer lovers came in droves to enjoy a sunny afternoon celebration of all things beer, complete with music and food trucks. Oh, and I did mention beer stein holding? This feat of strength brought out guys and gals hoping to claim bragging rights (and a local vendor gift card) for holding out their arms with a pitcher full of water the longest.
My fave pour of the day? Everett’s Lazy Boy Brewing IPA: a winning combination of Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic hops.
At the end of the evening, three winners were crowned Best of the Fest:
1. Good Life Brewery, Bend, OR: Comatose Brew
2. Iron Horse Brewing, Ellensburg, WA: Irish Death
3. Seattle Cider: Pumpkin Spice
As usual, I make excellent use of Roam Mobility’s talk, text and data plans when heading to the US. Their coverage is pretty extensive and I received flawless connectivity during my Olympia weekend. Find just the right combo package for your travels (to the US and Mexico) on their website.
I was a guest of Visit Olympia. Opinions, as always, are my own.