SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

It's The Water
By Dave Kiffer


May 27, 2008

Ketchikan, Alaska - For some reason, the coming of the summer always reminds me of beer.

jpg Triangulate This, NAVSTAR! By Dave Kiffer

Which is odd, because I don't drink beer.

I don't drink much alcohol at all. Whenever I see my doctor, she asks "do you drink alcohol?" and I say "not really." To which she replies "it's okay to drink a little."

I know a lot of folks who would LOVE to hear that from their primary health care providers.

But - truth be told - I bet have about one glass of wine a month. And I don't think I've had a beer since last summer. I just never developed a taste for it. Obviously, I am not my father's son.

Anyway, I was thinking about beer the other day. I'm not sure why, other than sunny days just do that to me.

I was walking through a liquor store (really it's just a shortcut to the other stores in the mall!!!!) and I paused to look at all the brands of beer on the wall. Seemed like there was a gazillion choices. Lights, darks, pales, ales, lagers, stouts. How anyone can keep it straight, I don't know. It all just tastes like beer to me.

But it suddenly occurred to me what was missing. Growing up in Ketchikan, there were really only two words for beer. They were so ubiquitous that - in the local vernacular - they were synonymous for beer in general. You never said "I'm going to have a beer." You said "I'm going to have a Rainier." Or "I think I'll have an 'Oly.'"

Heck, one my father's friends even named his dog "Oly" and it wasn't a celebration of any Scandihoovian heritage either!

In the days before any mass marketed "Alaskan" brands, the locals pretty much made do with our Pacific Northwest brands "Olympia" and "Rainier."

Sure, there were cases of "Bud" here and there, and the occasional "Schlitz" but in general the "champagne" of beers in these parts were those Washington imports.

My father seemed to have a preference for "Oly" most days. And I do mean "most days" because he drank the stuff like water, especially when we were out commercial fishing.

"Oly" was an inexpensive brand and despite Dad's insistence that he drank beer "for the taste" it seemed that price was always a major factor in his purchases. I could tell when there was a sale on Rainier, because then it would replace Olympia for a week or so around the house.

Eventually, he would go back to "Oly" though because it usually was cheaper.

The only time Dad's "frugality" backfired was when he brought home a case of "Old Milwaukee" which was on sale.

It apparently was so bad that he couldn't even finish it. But even then he couldn't bear to pour it down the sink. He took about two thirds of it over to friend's boat and left on his hatch cover for a "present." It must have been real rot gut, for sure.

As I remember, the "friend" was happy to get it and proceeded to drink it up, only confirming my father's opinion that the old geezer had "no tongue left" after years of drinking.

Yes, my Dad certainly loved his "Oly" and he had his standards when it came to beer.

Sort of. At one point he got the bright idea to do some "home brew" because that would really save money. Suddenly the laundry room had two big plastic barrels and every flat surface in the house suddenly sprouted glass quart bottles.

For a few months, everything went fine and Dad enjoyed his home brew. And then one day he and his best friend Johnny got a little carried away.

They were transferring the "brew" from the vats to the bottles one Sunday morning. They always got together on Sunday morning's while my Mom was away at church.

The idea was to let the "brew" age in the bottles for some unspecified additional time for it to reach its "maximum" potential. But it was a rare warm spring day and - as they used a siphon hose to transfer the brew - they intercepted a bit. Then they intercepted a bit more and a bit more.

The upshot was that they were laying drunk and semi-disorderly on the kitchen floor when Mom got home from church. She was not amused.

Drinking so much of the "green" beer also made them both really, really, really sick. That was pretty much the end of the home brew era around our house.

So it was back to "Oly" and "Rainier" although my Dad did once express an interest in Coors but those were the days when it only traveled in refrigerated containers and never on barges (a brother who lived in California would occasionally bring Dad a six of Coors when he visited).

So how ubiquitous were Oly and Rainier when I was growing up?

In my sophomore year in high school, our band went on a several week tour of Washington and Oregon. One of the highlights of the tour was a stop at the Olympia brewery in Tumwater, south of Seattle. We gaped and gawked at the huge vats and made jokes about falling in and having to "drink our way" out. We also loaded up on T-shirts, posters, hats and giant inflatable beer bottles.

I'm sure that some kids parents were not amused about their offspring visiting a beer factory, but most probably didn't see anything wrong with it. Some kids went to Disneyland, Alaskan kids went to Tumwater.

What I remember most were the television commercials. Olympia's were pretty standard, pretty pictures of the woods and the tag line "It's the Water."

Fair enough. But the Rainier commercials were in a class by themselves in terms of out and out wackiness (always a good thing to a teenager).

One showed a couple out hiking when a bunch of "wild" Rainiers came charging down the path (large bottles with legs involved in the "Running of the Beers!"). The wife said "oh what a cute little herd of Rainiers." "They're called a six pack," replied the husband tersely.

A second commercial feature Mickey Rooney in a Mountie suit standing next to a really big woman. At the end, he poured the drink onto her cleavage.

Another commercial just had the sound of a motorcycle shifting gears in the distance, but the sound was actually "Raaaaaaaaaiiiiii-nierrrrrrrrrrrrrr-beeeeerrrrrrr!"

I also remembered of Rainier poster that was made up to look like the "National Beerographic."

Nothing "high concept" about those ads.

Anyway, Dad never thought much about those beer commercials anyway. He figured the reason "Rainier" cost more was because it was spending too much money making the commercials.

So whatever happened to Rainier and Oly?

Well, they got bought by bigger companies and eventually phased out despite the fact that had been both had been brewed into the Northwest since the late 1800s.

I have heard that Rainier (now owned by Pabst) is made as an "Ice" beer in some quantities, but that it's brewed in Texas of all places.

Heaven knows what brand my father would be drinking today if he was still alive. I doubt it would be any of those "designer" beers I see on the shelves.

He would probably be concerned about six packs costing $5 and up. He died when six packs were about a dollar and diesel was under 50 cents a gallon (and he thought that was bank-breaking high).

Maybe he would be trying home brew again. Maybe not. He had a pretty good memory for bad beer.

Maybe my weird spring beer nostalgia has something to with my father after all.

Perhaps, as the temperatures start to rise, my father's eternal thirst is popping into my consciousness in some weird "it's the water" sort of way.

He's letting me know that he would just love one more taste of the "good stuff."

If I could ask him, I'm sure he'd say the "sun is over the yardarm" somewhere.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2008

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