Rainier Brewing Co. decided to get crafty with its first new beer release in nearly 20 years, and to do so the brewer reached back into its storied past to create a recipe similar to what was available in the post-Prohibition 1930s.
Rainier Pale Mountain Ale will begin showing up in stores, bars and restaurants this week. It’s the culmination of an effort to revive Rainier’s tradition of brewing in the Pacific Northwest.
“The idea came up in discussions with the brand team and how we can get back to the roots of Seattle and the Seattle Brewing and Malting Co., which was the original parent company of Rainier,” explained Greg Deuhs, master brewer with Pabst Brewing Co., Rainier’s current parent. “Looking back into the portfolio of those beers, it’s obvious that there were many craft-style beers made going back to the 1870s. It’s only logical to say, ‘OK, let’s bring back some speciality beers under the Rainier name and bring them as close as we can to Seattle.”
The “close as we can” part means Woodinville, Wash., which will mark a return of Rainier brewing operations to Washington State for the first time in 13 years. Earlier this year, Pabst entered into a brewing agreement with Craft Brew Alliance, comprised of Redhook Ale Brewery, Widmer Brothers Brewing (Oregon), and Kona Brewing Co. (Hawaii). Pabst will use the Redhook Brewery to make Pale Mountain Ale as well as other Rainier brands.
Redhook, founded in 1981, is an iconic brand in its own right. With a resurgence of craft breweries in Seattle and across the country, it only makes sense for Rainier, a 137-year-old brand, to attempt to grab a piece of that market share.
“Rainier has had pale ales, porters, stouts — the whole range of craft beers,” Deuhs said. “So what you think of as a craft beer today was made turn-of-the-century 1900s.”
But it’s not like there were barrels of century-old beer lying around in local warehouses for Deuhs to sample. In order to create a recipe for Pale Mountain Ale, he had to rely on what was known about the ingredients and characteristics of beers of that era. And make it palatable to a new generation of beer drinkers getting their fix from a variety of award-winning small breweries right in Seattle.
“We do have some historical data, but not a whole lot, from Rainier,” Deuhs said. “We do know what hops were available in Yakima Valley and Washington State at the time, as well as Oregon. In this case all of our hops come from Yakima Valley and we have an idea of what the malt characteristics were in the 1930s, so putting together a beer was, I wouldn’t say straightforward, but there are a lot of clues available to bring back something Rainier would have brewed in the ’30s.”
Deuhs, who is based in Milwaukee now after working at Redhook from 2008-2012, had to overnight beer on ice from Woodinville to Pabst leadership in Los Angeles to conduct conference-call taste tests.
“We went through a number of test brews before coming up with a beer that met what we wanted to do — have a solid malt backbone with the Northwest citrus hop finish,” Deuhs said.
He called the finished product a “good American pale ale” and said it’s a “more hearty brew for the Pacific Northwest.” Deuhs also called the beer very drinkable and not overwhelming which is part of the reason for packaging it in throwback 16-oz. “pounder” bottles.
The opportunity to taste the beer at Redhook recently drew a crowd of media members and Rainier promoters. Deuhs said it was important that the new offering be identifiable to the Rainier family, and after finishing off a bottle I can attest that the taste reminded me of a slightly hoppier version of Rainier’s classic lager, with its crisp finish.
“This is the first step on the road,” said Michael Scott, Rainier brand manager. “We didn’t want to go too far away from our core lager that everybody loves and enjoys and has for years.”
A craft beer born out of the past and featuring retro-style bottles and labeling plays right into the hands of a company which was celebrated in 2013 for returning a giant neon “R” to its old brewery along Interstate 5.
Deuhs called all of it, including the company’s Tabs for Trees program, part of an effort to “give back to the Rainier roots.”
“Rainier has such a rich heritage in Seattle and throughout the Northwest,” said Kurt Stream, Seattle field representative for Rainier Brewing Co. and a local beer author and historian. “Our goal with this new beer is to honor and build on that.”
The new brew will retail for $11.99 for a 6-pack — which is really an 8-pack when you look at the ounces, said Deuhs. It will be distributed throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Northern California.