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Welcome to Amazing Tap Handles - The Tap Handle Museum. Here you will find photos of the Museum's collection of beer taps, along with brewery info. Have a look around the Museum, and use the contact form in sidebar to leave me feedback about the site, talk about taps, or if you have a rare tap handle you'd like to sell to the Museum. I'd love to hear from you! Please, no inquires about buying taps - they're not for sale.

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Photos or tap descriptions used in this blog may not be misrepresented as your own. Photos may not be used for financial gain whatsoever, as the uniqueness of the photo would unfairly associate a seller's product and reputation with this site. Tap descriptions may be used word for word as long as this blog is cited as the source, and a link is provided to this site.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tap Handle #328: Rainier - Mt. Rainier Nature Scene

I suffered some disappointment last year when I purchased a tap like this one and it never arrived. I got my money back, but had a hard time finding another until now. It's pretty rare, since the original brewery has long since closed. It's a beautiful tap with bright colors depicting Mt. Rainier in the background, with  a waterfall scene in the front. If you want to acquire one, pay close attention to the trees, which chip easily. I believe this tap was produced in the 90s, during the Heileman or Stroh ownership days, although it's entirely possible it could also have been used during the later Pabst or Miller days prior to 2003.

Rainier Brewing traces its origins back to 1854, when A.B. Rabbeson started Seattle’s first commercial
brewery, Washington Brewery, which was later renamed Seattle Brewery. In 1884, Edward Sweeney established the Claussen-Sweeney Brewing Company in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. Around the same time, Andrew Hemrich, the son of John Hemrich (an immigrant from Germany and a master brewer) left Wisconsin and arrived in Seattle in 1883. Hemrich and his friend John Kopp founded the Bay View Brewing Co. below Seattle's Beacon Hill, which boasted a cool, freshwater spring and a view of Elliott Bay. In 1893, Sweeney's brewery merged with Hemrich's brewery, the Albert Braun Brewing Company, and Rabbeson's Seattle Brewery to form the Seattle Brewing & Malting Company, with Hemrich as president, Braun as vice-president and Sweeney as secretary. In less than ten years they grew to be the world's sixth largest brewery and the largest on the west coast, despite closing the Braun Brewery. The number of taverns and roadhouses doubled, and by 1905, 25 horse teams were required daily to fill the Seattle appetite for Rainier Beer, the flagship brand of the brewery. Ads touted Rainier's "medicinal" properties, a setup for its later nickname of "Vitamin R". The beer was so popular that an urban legend sprang up that nearby Mt. Rainier was named after the beer, and production reached 300,000 barrels a year, while the company employed more than 300 workers. In 1913 the company consolidated in Georgetown and the Bay View plant ceased brewing and instead functioned strictly as a bottle-works.

In 1914, Washington State citizens voted for Prohibition. Louis Hemrich, younger brother of Andrew, was president of the company (Andrew had died in 1910), and he decided to move operations to California in the mistaken belief that national Prohibition would never pass. While Hemrich did produce near-beer and other products, he also decided to produce beer for Canada by buying the Imperial Brewing Co., renaming it the Rainier Brewing Company of Canada, Ltd. Even though the Canadian Rainier plant was later closed, the brand name remained popular in Canada. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Rainier was brewed in San Francisco by Hemrich's Rainier Brewing Co.

In 1933, Canadian brewer Fritz Sick and his son Emil leased the idle Bay View facility and founded the Century Brewing Company. In 1934 they were able to purchase the property, and in 1935 they also acquired the Northwest regional rights to the Rainier brand and returned production to Seattle in a newly enlarged plant, on whose roof the company eventually installed a giant red rotating "R" neon sign which became an iconic local landmark. The brewery went through several names, such as Sick's Seattle Brewing and Malting and Sicks Rainier Brewing Company. Sick purchased the local baseball team and named them the Seattle Rainiers. Other brands of beer brewed by Sick's Rainier Brewing during this time included Rheinlander and Sick's Select. Sick's had also brewed Rainier at a branch brewery in Spokane, but that brewery closed in 1962.

During the 1970s, Rainier ran a number of memorable television ads, including the Running of the MFRs (Mountain Fresh Rainiers), featuring bottles with legs; frogs that croaked "Rainier Beer" (long before the Budweiser frogs); a spot with Mickey Rooney dressed in a Mountie costume; and a motorcycle that revved "raiiiiiiiii-nieeeeeeeer-beeeeeeeer" while zooming along a mountain road. The company often used pop culture look-alikes for its ads, such as the Brews Brothers and the R-Heads (parodies of SNL characters); a Lee Iacocca impersonator walking through stacks of beer cans, and a Rambo like character called "R-bo".

In the 1960s and 1970s Rainier began losing market share to the major national brands. The Sick family had left the brewery during this period and the brewery had been renamed Rainier Brewery. Molson bought a 49% stake in the company, and forced some economic changes. In 1977 the brewery was sold to G. Heileman Brewing Company. The brewery survived a close call when Heileman was forced to choose a brewery to close due to anti-trust laws and chose to shutter the Heidelberg plant. But in spite of loyal drinkers, advertising, and several new products including the infamous Rainier Ale (whose green bottle, green label, and strong flavor caused locals to affectionately nickname it "Green Death"), the brewery still struggled. The marketplace pressures of competing with national brands and the emergence of craft breweries was too much, as Rainier's ownership passed through several hands. In 1996 Stroh bought the company, but in 1999 the Rainier brand and recipe were sold to Pabst, and production of the beer shifted to the old Olympia Brewery. That same year, Miller purchased the Olympia Brewery and began making Rainier there under contract with Pabst. Finally, when the Olympia facility was shuttered in 2003, Miller contracted brewing of Rainier in Irwindale, California, where it is still brewed today.

The old Rainier Brewery complex was purchased by a development group, and in 2000 Tully's Coffee Corporation leased it for its new headquarters. The famous glowing red "R" sign was replaced by a neon green "T" sign. In 2003, a developer purchased the property and created the ArtsBrewery complex. That same year saw another developer begin the revitalization of the Rainier Cold Storage (the old Sweeney's Brewery site) into residential, retail, and office spaces. The iconic red "R" sign was moved to the Seattle Museum of Science and Industry. (Note: to the right is a photo I shot of the sign while I visited the museum on my recent trip to Seattle in September.)

Rainier is a pale lager brewed with pure spring water, golden barley and verdant hops to produce a beer rich in taste and texture. Fermented slowly with a pedigree yeast culture under tightly controlled conditions, it comes forth with a satisfying malty flavor over a slightly fruity background. It won a silver medal at the 1987, 2003, and 2005 Great American Beer Festivals, as well as a gold medal in 1990, 1998, and 2000. Weighted average on is 1.89 out of 5 (it is almost certain that the original recipe that was so popular around the turn of the century is not in use).

Rainier Beer Official Website

Once more I am indebted to for assistance in providing history of the brewery, as well as

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