Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's the Water - Keepin' it Real, Oly-style

Even if you've never been to, never heard of my home town of Olympia, odds are you've still heard of our beer.

Olympia Beer has always been considered a working-man's type of beer. A simple, refreshing lager, who's biggest selling point, as well as it's slogan was "the water". The brewery was located right next to the Deschutes river, and essentially right on top of one of our city's many artesian springs, thus providing multiple sources of naturally ultra-pure water for brewing. Leopold Schmidt, the founder of the Olympia brewery, recognized that starting with pure, crystal-clear artesian water was the key to making a superior beer. Around here, it seems that people agreed. Olympia beer was once carried by nearly every tavern and pub in the Pacific Northwest and was the preferred beer for my Grandpa's generation. Alas, long story short, the Schmidt family sold the brewery, which eventually ended up being owned by Miller (who was at that time partly owned by the evil Philip Morris Company), who rather quickly after purchasing the plant, decided that it wasn't profitable enough and summarily shuttered the brewery for good, choosing instead to brew Olympia beer out of it's Irwindale, California plant.

If you're still with me after this seemingly random crash course in the ups and downs of our local beer, hang in there, I'm getting to my point. ;)

The basis, the inspiration and the slogan for Olympia beer has always been "It's the Water", and once upon a time it was. Now the artesian wells that used to supply and endless flow of naturally perfect water sit unused, their precious water re-routed to storm drains and sewage pipes, an utter waste. Meanwhile, Miller is making our city's beer with God knows what kind of municipal, probably chlorinated, fluoridated water that they simply filter the bejeezus out of. It's not the same.

And so after paragraphs of rambling and bitching, I finally arrive at my point. I will not go gently into that good night. I am an Olympia girl, born and raised and a tree-hugging granola to boot. There still exist just a handful of the once abundant artesian spring wells around town, the best known of which is in a downtown parking lot, of all places, flowing quite unglamourously out of crooked pipe, burbling 24/7 for anyone who wants a cool drink. And many do! People bring empty milk jugs and giant Culligan water bottles down to the Diamond Lot to fill with the one-of-a-kind water. Local restaurants boast about serving the artesian water. It's reputation is such that it is a selling point for them.

So, when Bill and I held our mini brew-fest this past weekend, it was a no-brainer that we would use the artesian water as the basis for our wine and beer. It may not be fancy, but the difference in taste - especially when compared with our well water - is obvious. The result is a better, purer-tasting brew, with the fringe benefit of stickin' it to the man. Awww yeahhh....

And so it is with my stubborn, hippy chick, fight-the-power attitude that a new, finnicky generation of home brewers like us insist on sticking by the old ways for the sake of (barring any brewing mishaps) a superior brew. I think you'll agree that not only is it the water that makes all the difference, but the passion for the craft.

If you ever find yourself in our soggy little neck of the woods, stop by and have a pint of Bill's Pilsner (tentatively named "The Billsner") or a glass of my rhubarb wine and tell me if you can taste the difference. ;)