Fairly or unfairly, one beer looms over Seattle's beer history as large as the mountain for which it is named.
When the sun comes out in the Puget Sound area, Mount Rainier is visible for hundreds of miles around. That same sun – on any given Seattleite day – will cast its light on Capitol Hill hipsters, South Lake Union's Amazonians and the last remnants of Ballard's once-proud fishing fleet all quaffing the same light, golden beer.
It's a beer my grandfather drank after he got off work in Seattle after World War Two, one my ne'er do well father rolled out in kegs to the woods of Snohomish County as a rebellious teen in 1973, and one I drink in the dives of my Fremont neighborhood.
Rainier Beer has been produced almost continually in Seattle since 1878 when A.B. Rabbeson began producing it in his Seattle Brewery. The company was pushed out of Washington in 1916 thanks to a premature prohibition in the state. The Rainier brand then absconded to San Francisco and created non-alcoholic products until the 18th Amendment was repealed.
On returning to Washington, Rainier moved into its historic brewing location in Georgetown, adjacent to Interstate 5. Drivers heading north from Portland will have plenty of time to admire the iconic crimson “R” atop the old building – now a self-storage rental business – in Seattle's worsening traffic.
Drivers heading north from Portland will have plenty of time to admire the iconic crimson “R” atop the old building -- now a self-storage rental business -- in Seattle's worsening traffic.”
Beer-lovers looking to see the old brewery should check out Machine House Brewing next door. They will feel transported to Industrial Revolution-era Manchester, complete with cask ales, dart boards and towering smoke stack.
In the 1950s and 60s, Rainier went through a re-branding phase, adding its “Jubilee” cans as festive seasonal packaging. The company has brought back the holly-jolly cans in recent years as an attempt to reach some of that nostalgia. That’s a key word for the beer.
In the following decades, iconic marketing brought the brand to national prominence. In the Pacific Northwest lushes and teetotalers alike recall the famous and grating motorcycle ad which played in the 1980s.
While the brand is currently owned by (who else) Pabst Brewing Company after a series of sales in the late 1990s, the iconic italicized crimson “R” is about as common a sight in Seattle as the Mariners missing the playoffs.
The beer itself is a typical mass-produced adjunct lager. Without the storied history of Rainier beer in Washington, it wouldn't be thought of in the crowded beer scene. That said, it's a decent light beer, almost always the cheapest beer at any (and every) bar in the state. For $4.50 or less almost everywhere on draft and less for tallboys or bottles, it's hard to find a beer that breaks the bank less in Seattle.
It pours golden, has a slight bite with a fruity taste. The quickly-dissipating white head and minimal lacing don’t speak well of it in craft arenas, but that’s hardly the point. The aroma has some grassiness and a slight sweetness from light malts, but there isn't a lot going on here. The beer is very sweet, with some banana and apricot fruitiness. It feels like carbonated water, but that's not surprising.
The flavor is decent for the style, but if you're drinking Rainier on a night out, you are either broke or pretending to be. It's cheap, better than the Buds, and remains a Washington guilty pleasure, tied irrevocably to its history and people.