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Hundred-year-old bottles of Tacoma beer found under a stairwell, local brewers intend to drink it

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on July 19, 2013 at 11:15 am | No Comments »
July 22, 2013 10:57 am
Photo courtesy of Pacific Brewing and Malting.
Photo courtesy of Pacific Brewing and Malting.

Wine and Scotch – two things that age well.

But does beer?

The likely answer is a big, fat no. Most beers aren’t meant to age at all, let alone age for nearly a century before consuming. But Tacoma brewer Steve Navarro, one of the owners of the new Pacific Brewing and Malting, will find out soon enough what level of skunk they’ll encounter when they crack open a bottle of hundred-year-old Tacoma brand beer that was recently discovered in a stairwell of a California hotel.

What makes the discovery of unopened bottles  significant is the story of the company that made the brew. Pacific Brewing and Malting will be Tacoma’s newest craft brewery when it opens downtown later this year, but the new company is an homage to a brewery of the same name that operated a century ago in Tacoma. By the early 1900s, Pacific was the second-largest beer producer in Washington with its two beer lines – Pacific and Tacoma.

Pacific Brewing and Malting – the original – was displaced to California after Washington Prohibition began in 1916 and then that bottler was shuttled, shifted, sold and name changed. It’s a fascinating story – one I can’t do justice in a short blog post, but read this book if you’re curious (we allegedly had a copy in the newsroom at one time, according to resident historian Pete Callaghan).

Here’s where the story of the old Tacoma beer bottles under the stairwell began.  The Pacific Brewing owners were contacted about a month ago by workers remodeling the American Exchange Hotel.  They said they were clearing a stairwell when they found the unopened bottles of Tacoma beer. What makes the find so remarkable to Navarro and crew is that they’ve found cans of Pacific beer and even some labels, but they’ve never before found bottles of Tacoma branded beer – especially unopened bottles. They made a deal with the California hotel and bought them. Earlier this week, Navarro drove to pick up the bottles.

Said Navarro by phone, “I was shocked, actually, it was a pretty amazing find. We’ve been looking for old bits of history for awhile. For something like that to come around was pretty remarkable. Some of them (the bottles) had crooked necks, you could tell from the photos they were legit.”

What’s next for the brewer is opening a bottle and checking out what’s inside. What’s the likelihood that it will be quaffable? “Zero,” said Navarro. “It’s funny, I was holding it up to the light this morning. I could see floaties in it. Who the heck knows what those are?” joked Navarro. He’s expecting the brew to taste just awful. Then why would anyone drink such a thing? If you have to wonder that, you clearly don’t know any brewers. They’ll drink anything in the name of brew development.

Here’s something really industrious for a brewer: Yeast. Now that Navarro has his hands on an old bottle of Tacoma beer, he has the yeast, too. Said Navarro, “The fact that they were sitting in a wood crate in a stairwell, means they were undisturbed for close to 100 years. They were in a cool, dark place resting happily. We’re going to send a bottle to a lab and they’re going to see if they can isolate the yeast, find some viable yeast. If they do that, we might be able to culture it and use it in the future.”

An opening date for the new Pacific Brewing and Malting has not yet been set, but expect it to be brewing before the end of this year. If licensing goes well over the next few months, they may be able to serve at the Tacoma Craft Beer Festival, Sept. 7 at Cheney Stadium. Read more about Pacific Brewing and Malting here.

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