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In 1906, the Seattle Malting and Brewing Company ran an advertisement showing a young girl toasting her grandfather with a foamy glass of Rainier Beer.
*See also: Finding a Seattle Beer for Your Turkey Bird
"Beneficial to young and old...," reads the text of the ad. "No medicine can equal it as a tonic."
Proof that brewers have never let scruples get in the way of moving product, the "bewildering" ad is one of hundreds of images Kurt Stream uses to tell the history of beer in the Emerald City in his new book, Brewing in Seattle.
Part of the Images of America series - books that go heavy on the photos and light on the type - Brewing in Seattle is limited in its role as a history text. But it's nonetheless an often insightful and fully entertaining browse for those uninitiated into the history of Rainier, Redhook, and the slew of craft breweries that now dot the city.
Not to say that those phases of Seattle's brewing history are equally represented. Rather, this book could be described as a 24-pack Rainier, a sixer of Redhook ESB, and maybe a pint of the Pike Brewing Company's Naughty Nellie, three beers I recommend you sip on for this trip down the history of Seattle suds.
From the outset of the book, Stream does a commendable job explaining the origins of the Rainier beer now in stores. Rainier was first brewed in Seattle between 1893 and 1916, and then again from 1934 to 1999. The beer was also produced in San Francisco for a time in the early 20th century, and to further confuse things, Rainier celebrated its "beercentennial" in 1978, even though 1878 doesn't appear to have any significance in its history.
Stream also unwinds complicated aspects of the early brewing business, such as the common pre-Prohibition practice of "tied houses" - taverns that were given start-up money by a brewery in exchange for only serving that brewery's beer. That's illustrated by a note on beautiful Rainier letterhead asking the King County auditor to grant Ole Winger a liquor license.
But most entertaining throughout Stream's telling of Rainier's history is his keen eye for the delights of beer advertising - as brilliantly displayed by images of shameless marketing to minors - including an entire chapter devoted to the Wild Rainiers campaign that gave the brewery a resurgence in the 1970s. The Seattle brewery sparred with Budweiser over its use of horses pulling wagons full of Rainier in advertising, only to see Budweiser in the 1990s rip-off Rainier's ad showing frogs croaking "Rain-ier."
After the first 104 pages of the book are drowned in the history of Rainier, Stream devotes a fast 22 pages to the beers that emerged between 1982 and now, with a heavy emphasis on Redhook and, to a lesser extent, Pike Brewing Co.
The book does well in describing the forgotten significance Redhook played in reversing a troubling trend of brewery consolidation that gobbled up Rainier in the late 1970s. But, oddly, the more contemporary the subject matter for Stream, the more stale his photos become, with a good number of exterior shots of breweries around town rounding out the craft brewing portion of the book; the brief discussion of microbrewing makes clear that the full story of this era of Seattle brewing is still being photographed.
Like a can of Rainier, the book has its shortcomings. While Stream devotes a few photos to describing a mundane transfer of management at Rainier in the 1960s, we are given almost no information about how the brewery came to be sold to Heileman in 1977 and the end of a Seattle-controlled Rainier Brewing Co. The subsequent sale to Pabst, which would doom local production of Rainier, is also dealt with in a single, matter-of-fact sentence, with little of the explanatory context that is devoted to far more trivial aspects of the beer's history.
But Brewing in Seattle is also like a Redhook. Even if it isn't the best crafted book you consume this year, it's certainly pleasant, and, better yet, a safe bet to bring Christmas cheer to a beer-loving loved one.