It’s been almost 100 years since Olympia beer flowed from the old brick brewhouse still standing 101 feet tall on the banks of the lower Deschutes River.
The weather-beaten brewhouse has seen far better days. The odds that it will be redeveloped grow longer with every passing year.
But a history talk at the Schmidt House in Tumwater last week was proof that community interest in the brewhouse remains strong.
An overflow crowd of 60 people gathered at the home built in 1904 by brewery founder Leopold Schmidt to hear former Olympia Brewing Co. brewmaster Paul Knight recount the beer-making days in the grand old brewery.
When the brick brewhouse was built in 1906, it was revolutionary in its design, using gravity to reduce energy costs, Knight said.
Relying on old brewery records and architectural drawings of the beer production, Knight walked us through the making of a 350-barrel batch of beer, enough to fill 116,000 beer bottles. It was Brew No. 63, which started at 7 a.m. March 20, 1907, attended to by seven brewery employees.
Going into the recipe at various stages of the process were about 400 barrels of water, 11,900 pounds of malted barley, 3,400 pounds of rice, 200 pounds of hops — including crops grown in the Puyallup and Willamette valleys — and about 3 gallons of yeast slurry. It took about 12 hours of cooking, straining and cooling in several different vats and kettles on descending floors of the building before the brew was ready for the fermentation tank on the bottom floor.
If all went well, the finished product was ready for wooden kegs and bottles in about 15 days. If something went wrong in terms of heating, cooling and mixing ingredients, the batch of beer quickly turned into pig feed, Knight explained.
Prohibition in Washington brought an end to beer-making in the brewhouse in 1916. The Schmidt family turned to production of nonalcoholic beverages, but a sugar shortage during World War I hastened the demise of those products.
The brewery production line was sold off as scrap metal during World War I and World War II. However, the kettle used to cook the rice still sits in place on the second floor.
Knight went to work for the Olympia Brewing Co. in 1961 in the modern brewery. He was head brewmaster in charge of the brewing plant from 1974 until he retired in 1997. Over the years, he developed a keen interest in how beer was made in the old brick brewhouse.
Knight debuted his talk and slide presentation Thursday after spending about a month putting it together. It ends with audio of the brewery whistle blowing for the last time when the brewery closed June 20, 2003.
“Driving by the empty brewery — it breaks my heart,” Knight said, echoing sentiments of former brewery employees and other members of the community.
The fate of the brick brewhouse is shrouded in uncertainty, but at least Knight has taken the time to tell the old brewery’s story, including the production of Batch No. 63.
DOCUMENTARY DRAWS CROWD
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday was heaven for anyone with an abiding interest in high-altitude mountaineering and the 1963 American expedition to Mount Everest.
The 984-seat center was filled to the rafters and another 100 people were turned away from The Evergreen State College’s 2013 Unsoeld Seminar Series featuring the documentary film “High & Hallowed: Everest 1963.”
The film sheds light on arguably the greatest Himalayan climb of all time — the first ascent of the West Ridge of Mount Everest by Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein.
Unsoeld went on to become a founding faculty member at Evergreen. He died in an avalanche during a climb with Evergreen students on Mount Rainier on March 4, 1979.
The seminar series in his memory began in 1986, and I dare say the 2013 rendition will be hard to top.
Two of the seven living members of the 21-member expedition to Everest in 2013 were in the room, including Hornbein and Jim Whittaker, who was the first American to summit Mount Everest by the more traditional South Col route.
Also in attendance was Dee Molenaar, the 95-year-old mountaineer, author and artist from Burley, who in 1953 spent 10 days trapped in a tent at 25,000 feet on K-2 — the second-highest Himalayan peak. So how did he pass the time waiting for the severe storm to pass? He painted the mighty mountain from memory.
What Hornbein and Unsoeld accomplished in 1963 is almost incomprehensible. Only 30 climbers have attempted the West Ridge route in the 50 years since — 14 have succeeded, but 16 have died trying.
What makes the climbing duo’s feat even more remarkable is their descent, which included surviving an overnight stay at 28,000 feet without shelter or oxygen. Unsoeld lost nine toes to frostbite.
On Wednesday night at the performing arts center, Unsoeld’s spirit filled the hall, joining his family, former students, admirers, his climbing cap and his mummified toes in a glass jar.