Documentary may boost Olympia’s beer profile

An Olympia man wants to make a documentary titled “Ghost Breweries” that honors the history behind abandoned brewhouses across the U.S.

Bret Dodd would like to begin filming this summer and plans to cover 14 breweries in 10 states, including the old Olympia Brewery. One of those stops will explore Over-The-Rhine, the former brewing district in Cincinnati, Ohio, that was founded by German immigrants.

Dodd has launched an online fundraising campaign with a goal of generating $35,000. The money will go toward filming and production costs, said Dodd, who posted a two-minute video trailer online at ghost-breweries. The video shows photos of the Olympia Brewery in the early 1900s, while a narrator describes “a story of hope and tradition, a story of death and rebirth” for the brewing industry in America.

Dodd said his documentary will focus on the historic, architectural and economic value that these original microbreweries bring to their communities.

“At some point the industry needs to tip their hat at where it all came from, and it started from immigrants building these breweries,” Dodd said. “Once they’re demolished, you can’t bring them back.”

Dodd also has a personal connection to beer. He once owned Speedway Brewing Co. in Lacey, and his late father logged 25 years at the Olympia Brewery. The latter site stopped making beer in 2003 after more than 100 years in business — and has sat vacant since.

However, a partnership led by Tumwater and a local developer recently announced a proposal to turn the historic brewhouse into the Craft Brewing and Distillery Center. Stakeholders say the revamped brewhouse on the Deschutes River could serve as an “incubator” for small craft brewers as well as an educational hub for the local beer industry.

Although the proposal is still in the early stages, Dodd lauds its potential to attract tourists and preserve an iconic piece of local heritage.

“Every time I’m driving over the Capitol Way bridge, I always look at the brewery and wonder what’s going to happen to it,” Dodd said. “You wish that something good would happen to it.”

News of the project has generated excitement in the local brewing community. Lacey resident Bryan Trunnell and fellow small-batch brewers had already floated the idea of forming a cooperative with a communal set of brewing equipment. The setup could help establish small brewers in the beer business with minimal expense, he said.

“We were already talking about the potential of the place,” Trunnell said of the brewhouse redevelopment proposal.

About a year ago, Trunnell and Erik Heimann co-founded Kastellan Brauerei, which produces about two to three barrels of German-inspired beers a month. Kastellan’s beers are sold at a handful of local establishments. In 18 months, Trunnell expects to retire from his day job with the National Guard and pursue brewing full time, he said.

Trunnell said the brewhouse proposal ties in well with beer’s history in the Olympia area — and has the potential to spark a craft brewing boom similar to the one in Bend, Oregon.

“There’s no reason why Olympia shouldn’t be a beer destination,” Trunnel said. “Getting something started is a good thing.”

Rob Horn, who brews beer in his west Olympia garage, praised the Tumwater brewhouse project as an opportunity for smaller brewers to grow. Horn hopes to transform his Triceratops Brewing venture from a hobby into a source of income. His goal is to sell his beer on local taps and perhaps someday open a tasting room.

Horn said this is an exciting time to be a “nanobrewer” in an area that embraces locally produced goods. He pointed to up-and-comers such as Kastellan and Top Rung Brewing in Lacey as leaders in the local nanobrewing movement.

“When you start to draw attention to a region, everybody ends up benefiting,” said Horn, a firefighter at JBLM who recently got an associate’s degree in brewing technology. “Make this a tourist destination when it comes to craft beer. It’ll draw a lot more commerce.”

Horn has collaborated with fellow nanobrewers to create Low Tide Lager. Proceeds from each keg will benefit the Sand Man, a historic tugboat on Olympia’s waterfront. Trunnell said the newest batch of Low Tide Lager is in the finishing stages and will soon return to the taps at Old School Pizzeria in downtown Olympia.

Check it out

To view the video trailer for “Ghost Breweries” and learn how to contribute to Bret Dodd’s documentary project, visit

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869