Ah, Rainier Beer. Champagne of Montana. The logger’s lager. Archrival of Olympia. (Until both were slurped up by even Bigger Beer.) For nearly 140 years—dating back to before Washington was even a state—this mildly cornbread-y macro has permeated Pacific Northwest culture.
There’s Mickey Rooney as a Mountie, pouring the stuff into his wife’s cleavage. The self-made “Rainier Man.” The MFRs—“Mountain Fresh Rainiers”—hoofing it through some of ‘70s television’s weirdest commercials. And then, of course, there’s the motorcycle. (See below.)
Alas, the beloved brew hasn’t been made here since 2003—taking some of the fizz out of the regal R's Cascadian cachet. Until now, hopes new owner Pabst. Meet Pale Mountain Ale: a "post-Prohibition" style with Yakima Valley Fuggle and Cascade hops, representing Rainier's first new beer in 20 years. And unlike your Rainier tallboy, this beer is produced not in Irwindale, California, but back in Washington, at Woodinville's Redhook facility.
Pale Mountain Ale hits Oregon shelves next week, and Pabst plans to also distribute in Montana, Idaho, and Northern California. Reps hint that if it does well, more Rainier experiments could be in the hopper. Meanwhile, some Washingtonians are unsure how to feel about the brewery "homecoming." (Case in point, this from our sister publication Seattle Met.) Further complicating the reunion is price point: a six-pack of Pale Mountain Ale will retail for about $12. (Though Rainier reps are quick to point out that the six-pack is composed of 16-ounce "pounder" bottles, meaning you get the equivalent of eight standard bottles for that close-to-craft brew price.)
Close-to-craft—but not quite—is also how we'd describe the beer itself. Still present are certain subtle flavor notes of mass production: poorish head retention, a faintly metallic aftertaste. And yet, a leg up in quality from its predecessor, with a relatively round malt character, copper color, and legitimate hop bite. Nothing much to quibble with, little to overthink.
Maybe that's how they liked beer back in the Great Depression. Maybe, as Rainier field marketer Kurt Stream asserts in the promotional video below, "this IS the beer your great-grandfather drank." Maybe the old man didn't care to interrogate his booze. Now you're the thirsty one—and maybe you're a chip right off that old-growth block?