Not so long ago, Tumwater was nationally known for its Olympia Beer, which used the slogan “It’s the water,” referring to the unusual artesian water used to brew the beer.
The locally owned Olympia Brewery was sold to corporate brewers in 1983 and the brewery was closed in 2003, but the city’s brewing history has not been forgotten. On Saturday, the city of Tumwater and the Olympia Lacey Tumwater Convention and Visitors Bureau are celebrating that history with the city’s first Oktoberfest.
“We want to keep the Tumwater brewing history alive,” said George Sharp, executive director of the visitors bureau. “The Olympia Beer tasting room had more than 100,000 people come every year. Since I’ve been executive director, we still have people call about once a week asking about the tour.”
Sharp and Tumwater City Administrator John Doan say they get questions about the brewery wherever they go.
“You say you’re from Tumwater and people will say, ‘Didn’t you make beer there?’” said Doan, who came up with the Oktoberfest idea. “There’s a recognition that people across the country have of the beer-making history here. We wanted to figure out what we could do to celebrate that.”
“I was in Vancouver, B.C., this year for an outdoor adventure show,” Sharp said. “People would come up and say, ‘I remember coming to the brewery there. I went on the tour when I was a kid.’ The same thing happened in Fort Worth.
“I was amazed.”
The city and the visitors bureau want to make the most of that fame and preserve that legacy. The Oktoberfest will offer opportunities to taste more than a dozen beers — including Fishtale Pale Ale, brewed in Olympia, and Olympia Beer, now brewed in California. There will be hard cider available, too, and soda for designated drivers.
Those with memories of the brewery are invited to share their stories, which will be videotaped for future use.
“There are great stories about the interconnection of the city and the brewery in the 1930s and ’40s,” Doan said. “If the city started to run low on its water supply, the brewery would turn a valve and its water would go into the city water supply.”
Live music will include some oompah by the American Legion German Band as well as country by Broken Trail Band and funk and R&B by Harmonious Funk Band.
There also will be a costume contest for those who come in German-style garb, plus a table decorating competition (bring paints or permanent markers if you’d like to give it a try) and a beer-stein-holding competition.
Holding a beer stein might not sound all that difficult, but it’s quite a challenge, Sharp said.
“It’s a one-liter stein that will be filled with water,” he said. “They have to hold it straight out; they can’t let it go down at all.”
The world champion in the event held a stein for about 9 minutes, Sharp said, while the average person can hold it for about 4.
Also on tap for the festival: volleyball, football and an oversize version of beer pong played with large trashcans and a volleyball.
Given that beer pong usually involves launching a pingpong ball into a cup of beer and then watching the opposing team drink the beer, this sounds like a dangerous (and costly) variation.
But in this case, beer pong won’t be a drinking game. “The large garbage cans will be filled with water,” Sharp said.