Our Northwest

Beer merger stirs memories of NW brews

Friday, September 18, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

News that the parent companies of Budweiser and Miller beer might merge drips with irony, at least for those with a long memory of Northwest beer brands.
    An Associated Press story that ran in yesterday’s Seattle Times quotes a market researcher who said Anheuser-Busch InBev seeks to buy SABMiller because of eroding market share and competition from smaller craft-beer breweries, which now make up 11% of the U.S. market.
    When longtime local brewer Rainier Beer was sold in 1999, Paul Shipman, founder of Redhook Ale in Woodinville, told the Seattle P-I that Rainier was simply "too small to be big and too big to be small."
     That was in the midst of the consolidation era, when the number of traditional breweries fell from 175 in 1960 to 21 in 2005. Among the casualties were Rainier in Seattle and Olympia in Tumwater.
     What’s ironic is, Rainier lager was too small to compete in 1999, while today Bud and Miller lager are feeling heat from the small guys.
     Mega-mergers scooped up many of yesteryear’s prolific Northwest brew brands. Besides local giants Rainier and Olympia, there were others: Blitz-Weinhard (Portland), Lucky Lager (Vancouver), Rheinlander and Brew 66 (Rainier sub-brands), Buckhorn (an Olympia sub-brand), and Heidelberg (Tacoma).
     Other brands not necessarily local but commonly seen and advertised in the Northwest included Carling Black Label, Falstaff, Hamm’s, and Schmidt (“animal cans”).
     The Rainier and Olympia brands have passed through several owners since the 1970s, but you still can buy beer with those names in the Northwest … though both are now brewed in Los Angeles.

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Comments on this post

personJon09/20/2015 08:30 AM
Thanks for your notation, Kurt. That particular fact was reported by the Seattle P-I on 11/13/2007, after the Redhook-Widmer merger. I had omitted the key word "traditional," which has now been amended. Traditional being, breweries that didn't focus on craft beer, or microbrews.
personKurt09/19/2015 03:19 PM
Where are you getting your facts?  There were over 1,500 breweries in the United States in 2005, not 21. In 1983, 51 brewing concerns were operating a total of 80 breweries. This is the low water mark for breweries in the 20th century.

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