Brewing runs deep in Tumwater. Very deep.
Best known to many as the former home of the Olympia Brewery, Tumwater is reclaiming its storied past in hopes of becoming a modern-day hub for craft brewing and distilling.
To anyone familiar with Tumwater’s roots, the revitalization of the historic brewing district and the effort to bring new life to the city, which turns 150 years old this year, likely comes as little surprise.
“It’s really hard to meet someone in Tumwater whose family has been here for (some time) that can’t tell you a brewery story. Everybody has a brewery story. Their dad worked there, their brother, their grandfather. They went there after school to get root beer. The community really has been defined by the brewery,” said the city’s communications manager, Ann Cook.
Given the city’s history, Tumwater is ideally positioned to capitalize on the state’s rapidly growing brewing and distilling industries. According to 2017 data from the Brewers Association trade group, Washington is home to 369 craft breweries (and counting). That’s a 170 percent increase compared with 2011.
One of the most significant initiatives underway is the preservation of the Old Brewhouse, which was constructed in 1896 and owned by German brewmaster Leopold Schmidt. Once home to the community’s largest private employer, the building is now a symbol of the city’s past and a beacon for its future.
The building has fallen into disrepair over the years and currently is unsafe to occupy. But the city is working to change that. Take, for instance, the restoration of the Old Brewhouse Tower. Emergency repairs were made in 2017 and, with partial funding through a Heritage Capital Project Grant, efforts are underway to make further renovations, including seismic reinforcement.
Once the building is stable and suitable for occupancy, residents and tourists may eventually enjoy such amenities as an interpretive center, a museum, a tasting room for local brewers, and some public space, said Cook.
There’s also the Craft District project, located in sight of the brewery. The project will be comprised of multiple buildings on more than 5 acres. It is expected to include a brewery, a cider maker, restaurants, retailers, and an outdoor amphitheater for community events. Several tenants, including Heritage Distilling Co. of Gig Harbor and South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC), already have committed to occupy the space.
“We’re hoping this is the kickstart of actually having the brewery district plan come to fruition and draws attention to what we call the ‘new, old brewery’ — so the brewery complex post-Prohibition on the north side of Custer — to attract interest in redevelopment of those properties,” said Chris Carlson, Tumwater’s permit manager.
Added Mike Matlock, the city’s community development director, “It’s a very exciting project for us. It will certainly be a game-changer for the brewing district and, probably fair to say, will be a game-changer for Tumwater, at this point, in a positive direction.”
What’s especially interesting is that the project will serve as the home of SPSCC’s new Craft Brewing and Distilling degree program — a first of its kind in the nation, noted Cook.
“Co-locating our educational program with these successful local organizations will give our students a broad depth of experience and exposure to industry best practices,” stated SPSCC President Timothy Stokes, in announcing the partnership. “This great location will also allow us to build partnerships with manufacturers throughout the South Sound that will create a critical employment pipeline for our graduates.”
These are just a few of the initiatives underway as the city works to revitalize its brewery district. But that’s not all that’s brewing in Tumwater.
The Washington National Guard recently broke ground on the Thurston County Readiness Center in the city. The center is expected to be completed sometime in the fall of 2020. Once constructed, the nearly 75,000-square-foot space could house up to 700 Guardsmen during an activation.
“When it’s all said and done, our soldiers will have a state-of-the art facility to train and deploy out of, and our neighbors will have a modern facility to use as a community center and a home base during disasters,” stated Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the Adjutant General, Washington National Guard, in announcing the news.
Meanwhile, the former meeting hall in Tumwater, more commonly known as the Old Chambers Prairie Grange, has been given new life. The building, located at the corner of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard, is now a bustling Starbucks.
“That (Starbucks) has just been a hit. It’s kind of hard to even find a place to park to go into it,” Carlson said.
“Opening that Starbucks is really emblematic of how people think about Tumwater. … There’s a lot of people who have moved here, but there’s a lot of people who have grown up here. And when you talk to new residents, everybody says the same thing, ‘Tumwater just feels like home,’” said Cook. “So, going forward, we hope to have more projects that have that same energy around them. That feel like home just like that Starbucks at the Grange.”