What I’m Working On: Bringing Brewing Back

Tumwater plans to ignite the local economy by drawing from its brewing past

interview by Catie Joyce-Bulay

Heidi Behrends Cerniwey, Tumwater’s assistant city administrator and brewery project manager, shares how the city is working to become a “center of excellence” for craft brewers, distillers and cidermakers.

What is Tumwater’s brewing history?

Tumwater is the original home of Olympia beer. The Olympia Brewing Company was the major private employer of the community for decades, so our identity was really built around … all of the generations of people that worked there.

Leopold Schmi was the founder of Olympia Beer. He started his brewing company in 1896 as Capital Brewing Company and rebranded in 1902. Our town really developed around the brewery.

How will the Olympia Brewery be brought back to life?

The high-level answer to that is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” It’s a historic property. The original brewery is part of the National Historic Register and the post-prohibition brewery is a huge industrial complex. Reusing historic and industrial complexes is a big challenge.

The property owner donated the six-story brewhouse tower to the city. This last year we put on a roof and window covering to stop erosion with primarily donated labor and services. We also received a state matching grant from the Heritage Capital Projects program that will help get a permanent roof on and complete brick work.

It’s been a long journey of us, breaking this up into pieces and then trying to leverage those pieces one little bit at a time. That’s really where the Craft Brewing and Distilling Center came from.

What is the vision for the Craft Brewing and Distilling Center?

The craft brewing movement is just growing by leaps and bounds in Washington. … The state just blossomed with distilleries since [thelaws changed in 2008] and craft cider has been another booming industry. We hired a consultant to study craft industries and identify how we can help them simultaneously grow and revitalize our community.

We’re working with our Washington State University extension program, the local economic development agency, South Puget Sound Community College, and our local brewers, distillers and cidermakers to make sure that we have a strong local industry. [The college] hired a director and they’ll have their first cohort this fall starting the brewing and distilling program.

What does the city hope to gain by becoming a craft-brewing hub for the region?

We truly hope to grow the industry for the state and beyond … and what we are looking for is a revitalized community. Communities reinvent themselves often, and this is an opportunity for us, one to hopefully redevelop our brewery, but also to develop a strong local economy. It’s that symbiotic relationship—we want to help grow our community while we help grow the industry.

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