Arts and Entertainment

HOORAY BEER: Silver City celebrates 75 years of prohibition repealed

The old Silver Springs Brewery on the shores of Port Orchard, the inspiration for this week
The old Silver Springs Brewery on the shores of Port Orchard, the inspiration for this week's cover.
— image credit: Photo Courtesy/Kitsap Historical Museum

Silver City Brewery celebrates ‘Kitsap Beer’ marking the 75th year of prohibition repealed with a tribute malt liquor.

Even when you’ve brewed as many award-winning, crowd-pleasing beers as Silver City Brewmeister Don Spencer, it’s always good to be challenged.

Spencer, 43, has spent more than half his life (12 years at Silver City) deep in barley and hops, mashing and fermenting and experimenting, making beers of all stripes for fun and for friends, for family and patrons. A barrel of his beers brewed during his tenure at Silver City have brought home honors from the North American Beer Awards and the Great American Beer Festival among other accolades over the years.

His Fat Scotch Ale, Fat Bastard for short, won silver at the World Beer Cup in 2006.

Earlier this summer, Big Daddy’s ESB (named after the brewmeister, himself) brought home gold from the North American Beer Awards, in addition to a few other beers winning silver and bronze.

Spencer’s always looking forward to that next great beer.

And then Silver City General Manager Josh Klein asked him to think back. Klein had come up with the idea of resurrecting a 1930s-era Kitsap brewery, to celebrate 75 years of legally flowing beer, in conjunction with breweries across the country. (See www.75yearsofbeer.com)

To add a local touch, Klein wanted Spencer to brew a tribute to the Silver Springs Deluxe Malt Liquor — a beer of the Silver Springs Brewery from the shores of old Port Orchard, Kitsap’s first official post-prohibition brewery.

“So I’m channeling these brewers from the 1930s,” Spencer said with a laugh, leaning in with his fingers to his temples, feigning psychic.

THE GHOSTS OF SILVER SPRINGS’ PAST

Beer aside, the ghosts of Silver Springs’ past would likely be happy by the simple fact that it’s a born-and-raised Kitsap boy and Kitsap-based brewery toasting the tribute lager.

In 1934, construction on the old Kitsap brewery began with the founding saying: “If beer is to be drunk, then why not Kitsap beer!”

A newspaper article from early 1935 heralded the completion of “Kitsap’s Newest Industry” a “Completely Modern Brewery.” According to its record, the Kitsap Brewing Corporation, which provided for the brewery’s construction, was made up largely of Port Orchard and Bremerton businessmen, like treasurer and credited instigator Harry B. Howe and president of the corporation H.C. Matson.

The brewery itself was made of Kitsap lumber and mechanics, labored by Kitsap workers under the direction of a Bremerton foreman, A.E. Olson.

But evidently, the local beer wasn’t all the rage.

A 1949 newspaper article noted that Kitsap Beer wasn’t as well received as the manufacturers had hoped and the brewery was soon bought out by the Silver Springs Corporation of Seattle, under which it flourished. Employing an average staff of 25 workers, the Silver Springs brew, made of barley, hops, corn sugar, corn syrup and corn flakes, was shipped to distributors throughout the Pacific Northwest.

But by 1946, the controlling stock of the company had been bought by Columbia Breweries and its machinery soon moved to Tacoma, thus writing a “finis to the brewery era” in Port Orchard, as the 1949 Kitsap County News article concluded.

REMEMBERING THE DeLUXE, ENJOYING THE PRIVILEGE

Fifty years later, in 1996, Silver City’s owners decided to get into the brewpub business, employing Spencer and reviving the Brewery Era in the county along with Don Wyatt and the Hood Canal Brewery up north.

Curiously, both of these new breweries’ brewmeisters were former employees of the locally born, 90’s era soft drink brewery Thomas Kemper, famed for providing an alternative to beer at Oktoberfest. That’s interesting when you think where guys like Spencer and Wyatt might be today had prohibition taken with the majority of the American people all those years ago.

Perhaps soda and its sugar high would’ve replaced booze and its drunkenness, saloons and liquor stores switched for caffeine bars and soda shops. Instead of brewing a 6.5-percent alcohol, light-bodied, smooth-finishing, corn-and-hop-flavored DeLuxe Malt Liquor, Spencer might be whipping up a batch of vintage root beer.

In a world like that, Americans would probably drink even more $5 lattes than they do now.

But it seems that Americans, as a whole, could never give up their booze.

Klein laughed when I asked him if he thought we might be in danger of another national prohibition any time soon. (I’m midway through a beer right now).

Even during the prohibition era, many folks, including upstanding and important citizens simply couldn’t break the habit. Or maybe they could, they just didn’t want to. They’d break the law, supporting criminal brewing suppliers. But everyone knows being told no always tends to make things more enticing.

Amusingly, there was a loophole all along.

The 18th Amendment, which in effect enacted national prohibition, passed by Congress and enforced by the Volstead Act, forbid the illegal import, export, manufacture, and distribution of “intoxicating beverages,” but it didn’t exactly prohibit purchase or consumption.

Reading back over the histories, it seems almost a big political game of sorts — a real challenge between societies — rural vs. urban, good vs. bad. A generational riff between the old and the new wrapped around this evil elixir, fought in the halls (and lobbies) of Congress.

Political commentator and journalist of the era Walter Lippmann, prophetically noted in 1927: “The defense of the 18th Amendment has therefore become much more than a mere question of regulating the liquor traffic ... and the fall will bring down with it the dominion of the older civilization.”

And on Dec. 5, 1933, the 18th Amendment did fall, repealed by the passage of the 21st Amendment and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous remark: “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

The sentiment remains today as urban has all but conquered rural and cats like Wyatt and Spencer are employed as respectable law-abiding brewers, 75 years of beer later.

“We join with breweries, distributors, importers and beer lovers all over the U.S.,” Spencer said, “to celebrate and say that enjoying beer is a legal privilege.”

SILVER CITY CELEBRATES 75 Years of Beer Aug. 15-24 pouring all its traditional ales in addition to its tribute lager Silver Springs DeLuxe Malt Liquor. The shop will also feature old-school food items like Oyster Rockefeller, Alder Plan Salmon and Monte Cristo in addition to tribute displays and memorabilia from the Silver Springs Brewery and the Era of Prohibition. Info: www.silvercitybrewery.com or call (360) 698-5879.

DID YOU KNOW ... in 1915, Washington state voted to go dry, going into effect Jan. 1, 1916, four years before national prohibition.

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