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Monday, January 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Hoist one for the last, true Oly

OLYMPIA's brewery opened for business in 1896, the same year The Seattle Times did. We take no comfort in outliving it.

After it closes this summer, the community will miss the jobs — some 400 of them, the largest group of private-sector jobs in Thurston County, which is otherwise dominated by government.

Olympia Beer will still exist. But it will not be made in Olympia, and if it uses the century-old motto, "It's the Water," people might wonder what water they're talking about. River water? It is unlikely to be the artesian water that Olympia long boasted of.

Like many brewers around the world, the Olympia Brewing Company was founded by a German and developed as a family enterprise. It became a Northwest institution.

A quarter-century ago, Olympia was one of the two big brewers in Western Washington, locked in a struggle with its arch rival, Rainier.

Rainier had sold to an out-of-town owner. In 1983, the heirs of Olympia's German founder made the same fateful move, and the Rainier and Olympia brands became mere baseball cards suitable for trading. Both names are now owned by Pabst, a company based in San Antonio, Texas.

The announcement of the closure of this state's most historic operating brewery was made by its new owner, SABMiller plc, a company based in Johannesburg and London.

In an ownership sense, Olympia stopped being a local beer a long time ago.

There is another part of the Olympia story. When Miller Brewing bought the plant in 1999, it planned a $10 million investment to increase capacity by one and a half times. That would have produced more waste water, requiring treatment. The brewery would have had to have built its own treatment plant and do it so that pollution did not increase in the Deschutes River. That was not impossible, but it would have cost a lot.

The state's insistence on no increase in pollution is one of the reasons the brewery plans to shut down. There were others: The plant was older and smaller than the optimum size. Still, the closure of a brewery that served generations with its product and its jobs is a reminder that a clean river is not free.

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