Beer Beginnings–Where to Find Brewing History in Thurston County

Thinking back to growing up in Olympia, one memory stands the test of time – the Olympia Brewery. It was a time when you could count on smelling the unique, yeasty aroma while driving through Tumwater and still hear the whistle blow every afternoon at quitting time.
The Olympia Brewery has always been part of this community, whether you are a beer drinker or not. Just take a drive around the area and you’ll see historic examples still standing, reminding us of these roots. Whether it’s the original brewery on the Deschutes River, the Schmidt House, Tumwater Falls Park or the now empty modern day brewery at the top of the falls, this rich history is alive and ready to be explored. Read more on ThurstonTalk.

A local brewer’s impact on SPSCC’s new Craft Brewing and Distilling program

What is a college to do when an entire community has identified a need—and an opportunity—to build an educational program that will support the growth of one of the most exciting industries in existence?  Do it.
South Puget Sound Community College has always been dedicated to building workforce education that responds to the needs of the South Sound region. So when the Thurston Economic Development Council, City of Tumwater, and a collection of local craft beverage makers came together with us to identify that education was one of the gaps holding back this local industry from booming, we knew exactly how we could help.
That’s why SPSCC is launching our brand new 2-year Associate in Applied Science degree program in Craft Brewing and Distilling this fall. And industry leaders like Top Rung Brewing Company are helping lead the charge and speak for our local brewers as we build the program.
Top Rung’s co-founder and Business Manager, Casey Sobol, is the head of the college’s advisory committee for the new program. We visited Casey and his business partner Jason Stoltz at their brewery to talk about their success and thoughts on building the workforce needed to support the growing local industry.
“What we really need is community collaboration to grow and bring in the workforce needed,” said Casey. “What we’re missing is the education—the technical and chemistry side of brewing. Then there’s the business plan and investors. You need both to be successful.”  Top Rung has seen a 50% growth year over year since opening.
Our program includes general education, core requirements, and electives. Core requirements include chemistry classes, maintenance and manufacturing courses, and significant business curriculum. After finishing their core requirements, students can get cooperative work experience through internships and begin applying their skills in their chosen specialty area: brewing, distilling, or cider making.
For more information on the program, visit

Antique Planes and Artisan Spirits Landing on March 11 – Washington Made Spirits Soar Again At The Olympic Flight Museum

Antique Planes and Artisan Spirits Landing on March 11 – Washington Made Spirits Soar Again At The Olympic Flight Museum

The Washington Distillers Guild will be holding the Second Annual South Sound Spirits Gathering at the Olympic Flight Museum on Saturday, March 11, 2017. This is a 21+ event, from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., open to the public to enjoy spirit samples from 20 Washington State distilleries.

Tumwater City Administrator John Doan says, “We are excited to again be home to the South Sound Spirits Gathering. Washington’s spirits represent the bounty of the state, and skill and creativity of craft distillers. We invite everyone to come experience the spirits of Washington along with the hospitality of Tumwater.”

The Olympic Flight Museum will create a unique backdrop for the tasting, with several of the distillers on hand to answer questions about their products, the distillation process, and where the industry is heading. Washington Distillers Guild President Steve Stone says, “We are excited to showcase the variety of Washington spirits to the South Puget Sound community with the help of the City of Tumwater. We received such strong support from the surrounding communities last year that we had to make this an annual tasting event.”

In addition to the March 11th tasting, the Guild has organized the South Sound Distillery tour to take place March 10th. Tickets are available for an additional $25 and transportation is provided.

Bottle sales will be available, providing guests the chance to take home favorites as well as some less accessible Washington spirits, with a portion of the tax sales to benefit the Washington Distillers Guild. Lyft will be promoting SAFE RIDES for the event as well. New Lyft members may use the code: SAFERIDESSSG17 for free credits. Proceeds support the Washington Distillers Guild.

Ticket Sales begin on 2/10/2017 for the Second Annual South Sound Spirits Gathering at

Last year was a sold out event, so please plan ahead! Space is limited!

The support of the Olympic Flight museum and the Tumwater Lodging Tax Fund makes this event possible. Sponsoring hotels include Best Western of Tumwater and TownePlace Suites Olympia. Please contact the hotel to book.

For further information and sponsorship opportunities, contact Holly Robinson, Events Chair at Washington Distillers Guild,, 206-512-7896

Contact information for the general public:

Cider apples have terroir, too

Across the country, industrious entrepreneurs are creating unique craft beer, cider, and spirits with amazing stories. These beverages are really agricultural products and the source of their raw ingredients (apples, barley, wheat, or hops) is critical to the flavor profile. Producers of these craft beverages have discovered what farmers have long known. Like grapes that make great wine, these raw ingredients have a terroir – a unique set of characteristics related to climate, soil conditions, and farming practices that translate to unique characteristics and flavor profiles of beverages. This is true for apples too.

The owners of Aaron Burr Cider in rural New York State have proven that the source of their fruit is paramount to the uniqueness of their product. This husband and wife team collect cider apples by gleaning wild apple trees. It’s a labor of love that creates premium cider.

Watch Aaron Burr Cider’s Hard Cider the Hard Way story:cider-apple-have-terroir


Why are local grains important?

The Cascadia Grains Conference asked why local grains are important? Grains have unique flavors and characteristics, based on the region and conditions in which they’re grown. For producers and consumers of craft beer and spirits (and chefs, foodies, etc.), the expansion of local grains creates a robust palette to create and experience unique flavors, colors, and textures in food and beverages. Local grains are important to our economy and the future of craft beer and spirits. View the Why Local Grains? video.


PRODUCTION OF SMALL GRAIN CROPS – wheat, barley, oats, and rye – has been a key feature of farms in Western Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia since the fur-trade era of the mid‐1800s. Today, these crops and alternative grains (e.g. quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat) are grown in rotation with high‐value fruit, vegetable, and bulb crops, as well as on pastures and haylands. In addition to their economic value to the farmer, these crops have important agroecological functions on the farm, including reducing nutrient leaching, increasing soil organic matter, breaking disease and pest cycles, and providing on-farm feed sources.

CONSUMER DEMAND for local grains, whole grain products, and alternative and gluten-free grains has increased tremendously over the past few years. Farmers and processors have been responding with expanded and diversified plantings, differentiated products, and efforts to develop new supply-chains. Still, developing localized markets west of the Cascade Mountains is not easy as the Pacific Northwest grain economy is focused on a small set of market classes (e.g. soft white wheat) produced mainly east of the mountains for export to international and national markets. A primary challenge is the lack of critical handling and processing infrastructure, which has been moved, dismantled, or repurposed for non‐ agricultural uses. Also, the generational knowledge of growing grain has been lost in many corners of our region.

● Farmers learn about grain production, connect with scale‐appropriate buyers, and learn strategies on increasing demands for cereals used for artisan breads, brewing, distilling, and poultry and livestock feeds.
● Processors & end-users get an inside look into grain production, quality, and brokering relationships to get the grain you want and need.
● Investors, brokers & local government officials get the scoop on rising investment and policy opportunities.

Register today!


Local WSU Extension strengthening agriculture connections in Thurston County

Posted on behalf of Washington State University (WSU) Extension of Thurston County.

We envision a vibrant farming community, delicious fresh local food and beverages, an interlinked economy of producers, processors, brewers, distillers, bakers, restaurateurs, and practical agricultural research and education. The agriculture program at the WSU Thurston County extension office is proud to work on these issues with a diverse group of partners and organizations in South Puget Sound.

In 2017, the WSU Extension agriculture program in Thurston County is enthusiastic about several initiatives:

Join us at the 2017 Cascadia Grains Conference (January 6-7)

Once again WSU extension is working with a diverse, talented group of partners to put on the Cascadia Grains Conference. Our local office is coordinating the  “Economics of Grain” panel discussion on Saturday, January 7; and an equipment track gathering on Friday, January 6, for which we’re assembling a full-scale array of grain production equipment, and four expert grain producers to talk about equipment and how-to’s for establishing a grain enterprise in western Washington. Two other great options for Friday are the brewing and distilling tour, the hands-on baking workshop, and the pairing dinner at the Schmidt House. Register at

Craft brewing and distilling barley trials proposed

WSU Extension submitted a grant proposal to evaluate barley varieties for the craft brewing and distilling industries to support community-wide efforts to establish a Craft Brewing and Distilling Hub in Tumwater. If funded (keep your fingers crossed), we’ll utilize a breeder-extension-farmer-craft brewer/distiller collaboration to evaluate barley varieties for organic production and value-added processing. We hypothesize that unique flavors exist among the diverse germplasm in the WSU barley breeding program that will be of interest to craft maltsters, brewers and distillers. Nine barley breeding lines and/or varieties will be evaluated for valuable agronomic and end-use characteristics important to maltsters, brewers, distillers and farmers.

Small Farm and Ranch Management Class begins January 11

We’re very excited to offer this quarter-long class, January 11 – March 22, which provides practical information about whole farm planning, ecologically-based, diversified production systems, and alternative marketing techniques. Students will gain knowledge of the practical aspects of sustainable small acreage production systems for a wide variety of enterprises. The course involves guest lectures from local farmers, field trips, as well as classroom instruction. Students will develop a whole-farm plan during the class. Course instructors Lydia Beth Leimbach and Stephen Bramwell have over 25 combined years of experience in professional farming and farm production teaching. Register on our website.

More research and education initiatives!

Other initiatives we are working on for 2017 include farmer workshops (topics such as hoop house construction), a rotational grazing research initiative to co-manage for critical species and livestock production, farm nutrient management planning, and others. For updates, you can sign up for our e-newsletter updates (contact, or visit our Facebook page ( or visit WSU Thurston County agriculture program website (

Turn the pages of “50 Images from the Archives” to unfold a brewing legacy

The Olympia Tumwater Foundation published an online book with 50 Images from their archives, featuring a sample of photos from the Olympia Brewing Company and the founding Schmidt family.

50 Images from the Archives



Click image to view “50 Images from the Archives.”


You’ll find Tumwater’s first “Artesian” well and more photos and story captions about building a brewing legacy. Thanks to our partners at Olympia Tumwater Foundation for sharing gems from their archives! We’re working together to Bring Brewing Back!

The work was funded in part by the Thurston County Heritage Grant Program. More images will be available to the public in 2017.

Contact the Olympia Tumwater Foundation at (360) 943-2550 for more information.

A new program is brewing

Tell anyone in the Northwest that you are from Olympia and they usually connect it to the Olympia Brewery and historic brewhouse.  And even though they no longer operate, they have set Thurston County apart as a center for brewing and distilling.

wa-state-ranksPhenomenal growth in the craft beer, cider, and spirits industries has led to a lot of local buzz. Washington State, a national and global leader in these areas, provides an ideal location to further grow these industries. And just like any industry boom, education is needed to support the new workforce and funnel new jobs into the local economy.

That’s why SPSCC is excited to bring a new program with three areas of focus to our South Sound community: Craft Brewing and Distilling.

What has SPSCC been doing?

Preparing to launch a world-class educational program in Fall 2017

SPSCC has worked with the community and a board of industry advisors to build a program outline for Craft Brewing and Distilling (which also includes cider-making). The program outline was endorsed of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges in Nov. 2016 and our team is now continuing the collaboration to develop curriculum for the new program, which should wrap up in Spring 2017. Cider Making and Brewing studies are set to launch in Fall 2017 with Distilling to follow one year later in Fall 2018.

Developing state-of-the-art craft beverage facilities

Every new program needs the space to learn and complete labs in. SPSCC, in collaboration with the City of Tumwater, is seeking a public/private partnership to develop the facilities needed for education, business incubators, and industry support. This space is forecasted to created 662 jobs locally with ripple effects across agriculture, supply chain and business sectors.

Offering non-credit classes to the community

In addition to program-building, the college has been building relationships with local craft beverage makers and gauging community interest by offering non-credit classes in brewing and distilling classes for more than a year.  Upcoming classes include:

Learn more about our progress

Stay up-to-date on program development and additional milestone achievements.  Follow this blog and receive email updates when we’ve got something great to share.

Saving the Old Brewhouse, one owl at a time

The Old Brewhouse (built in 1906 for gravity brewing) was home to the early Olympia Beer production, which began over 120 years ago in Tumwater. Preserving this iconic structure is important to our heritage. It’s the foundation of the Craft Brewing and Distilling Center, which builds on the legacy of brewing by creating a destination for people to connect the past brewing tradition and experience the future of craft beer, cider, and spirits.

barn-owlOne of the most iconic buildings in the state, the Old Brewhouse was donated to the City of Tumwater earlier this year (2016). The building is in rough condition and needs some immediate attention. With help from the Olympia Tumwater Foundation, a group of volunteers is planning to install emergency weatherization measures (roof and window coverings) to protect the structure from further decay. But before this building is sealed up, a pair of barn owls who have used the tower as their nest for the past few years needed new nesting habitat.

First, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist confirmed the identity of the owls. Barn owls nest in the spring, therefore autumn and winter are good times to encourage them to find new places to rear their young.


Former Olympia Brewing Company brewmaster and volunteer, Paul Knight, mounts one of four new barn owl boxes near the Old Brewhouse

Next, volunteers from the Old Brewhouse Foundation constructed several owl boxes to serve as alternate nesting habitat. The boxes were designed with instructions from Cornell University (find them here). With permission from the property owner, the volunteers selected the best spots around the Old Brewhouse site and mounted the boxes this week. Four new nesting boxes now adorn trees on the property and will make great alternatives for nesting owls next spring.

The future of the Old Brewhouse

The City has applied for grants to fund a portion of the first phase of the Old Brewhouse rehabilitation. Additional monies will need to come through other grants, foundations, and private sources. The total cost to restore the Old Brewhouse is estimated to be $6.5 million.

How will the Old Brewhouse be used in the future? The six-story structure could be a viewing tower, a museum, a model gravity brewery, or a combination of uses. The answer will ultimately depend on  development of the remaining buildings on site, trail and road access, and a community conversation.

Learn more about barn owls  and the Old Brewhouse.


Wannabe winos and aspiring distillers alike will find something to explore with a variety of tasting rooms, tours and classes around Thurston County. While plans brew for the recently proposed Craft Brewing and Distilling Center spearheaded by the City of Tumwater in partnership with South Puget Sound Community College (more information here), chart your tasting tour with some of the ideas below. Leave the driving to the experts with a custom tour by Lifestyle Valet. For those who choose to self-tour, don’t forget to find a driver!

  • Blind Pig Spirits recently set up a tasting room in downtown Olympia to sample it’s five small batch products ranging from Apple Pie Moonshine to Single Malt Vodka. Tasters can take it a step further with the Moonshine 101This hands-on workshop teaches distilling basics and includes a batch of booze and a t-shirt.
  •   Sandstone Distillery in Tenino pairs distillery tours and tastings of its artisan spirits with a side of local history inspired by the region’s Sandstone quarries. Given the Bourdon family’s longtime roots in this region and also in honor of the industry for which the business is named, distiller John Bourdon cold-filters his Vodka through fractured sandstone. The result is a clean, crisp spirit with a true connection to its source. Make sure to ask for a peek of his new 1940’s era tank that’s currently being restored to its original glory. It’s a great story of local history coming back to life as told by KING 5 – watch for yourself at this link.
  • Situated conveniently in the Lacey Libation District, Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs serves up sips of its handcrafted organic liqueurs infused with flavors of herbs and fruit. With nearly 20 different flavors of small batch, organic goodness, tasters will find a variety of liqueurs to sample ranging savory sage or fennel to sweet rose petal or honeysuckle.
  • Fish Brewing Company in Olympia recently received the “Best Beer in the World” for Fish Tale Ale’s Beyond the Pale at the World Beer. Stop in to sample this award-winning ale, and choose from 15 other artisanal breweries on your South Sound Craft Crawl. This tour begins with a map of participating breweries that will stamp a special “Craft Crawler’s Course” passport at each stop. Maps may be picked up at the Visitor Information Center (103 Sid Snyder Avenue), in addition to each brewery throughout the south sound. A full list of breweries and printable map and passport can be found at
  • If sipping fine wines is more your pace, don’t miss the South Sound Wine Trail. From the fancy prohibition-era tasting room at Medicine Creek Winery to Stottle Winery’s sleek spot, the six vintners on the trail offer award-winning sips and a unique northwest experience. Click here for a map that will help chart the course.

 Thurston County is truly becoming a craft lover’s paradise. Stay tuned for more updates and additions to the craft culture.