Welcome back to Sip Northwest’s Beer Hall of Fame: a twice-monthly induction into a list of essential Northwest beers that have made their mark on the field and region.
Walk into any Northwest bar and within minutes you’ll hear that familiar sound: SHHHHTKKK! It’s the refrain of another Rainier tallboy opening up. The can cracked, the light beer ready to be sipped, cool and refreshing. It’s the ritual of so many bar-goers, game-attendees and concert-lovers. And, for a Beer Hall of Fame series that focused on craft beer from Alaska to Montana, it’s the perfect punctuation after a microbrew-filled year.
Rainier’s origin harkens back to 1878 Seattle, says Kurt Stream, a field marketing representative for the brewery and beer historian. In 1891, three local brewers combined their powers and created the Seattle Brewing and Malting Co., which put out the suds. The company then moved to San Francisco after Washington instituted Prohibition, but when that law was repealed, a man named Emil Sick was instrumental in bringing Rainier back home in 1935.
That year, the first Emerald City Rainier was brewed since Prohibition in Washington State. For many years after, Rainier Beer was made in both Seattle and in San Francisco and in 1953, Sick marked his cans with the iconic red “R” it has sported ever since. While the company experienced a boon in the 1970’s, Stream says consolidation and the rise of national, large-scale brewers slowed the brewery’s volume in the following decades.
Today, the beer is making a comeback in more than ironic hipster bars. “Rainier is now experiencing a resurgence from a whole new generation of Pacific Northwest beer drinkers,” Stream adds.
Despite Rainier closing its iconic Seattle brewery in 1999 — the classic Rainier Beer is brewed in Irwindale, California — Rainier has recently committed to getting back to its Washington roots, with projects like its Pale Mountain ale, in which the company leased space at Redhook Brewery‘s Woodinville location to make the beer that was released last year.
But wherever the consistent, light and refreshing beer is brewed, it’s certainly a Pacific Northwest staple. Currently found in eight states between the West Coast and Alaska, Rainier beer is a tried-and-true product that inexpensively quenches the thirsts of thousands of happy quaffers.