Rescuing an Archive

A few weeks back, I visited Matt Swihart’s orchards near Hood River—the ones he’s using to turn his brewery, Double Mountain, into a serious cidery. At some point during that visit, he told me a story that made my heart hurt. Here’s the first part, as Matt re-tells it:

“I was involved in the contract brewing operations at Full Sail when we made Henry Weinhard’s for the Miller Brewing Company. During that time, I worked closely with the brewmasters at Olympia, mainly Paul DeCou from Oly and Ray Kanzleiter from Miller. These guys were professional and it was a wonderful experience to match our production process at Full Sail with the Miller approach and flavor match the Henry’s brewed at both locations (I liked the Hood River version better, in my humble opinion). About that time, Miller decided to shut down the Oly plant as the city of Olympia was hitting them with some very large waste water bills. During that shut-down, I was spending a lot of time at the Olympia plant and, in talking with Paul, came to understand they were gutting a lot of equipment and history at the brewery—Miller had no interest in the Olympia history or its archive. There was a 100-year-old plus library of old brewing journals, magazines, research articles, technical journals, and brewing records all stored in that library. Paul was sorrowful that it was all slated for the dumpster as of some coming weekend. I asked if I could have the library if I came up and picked it up. He graciously accepted and I went up the next day with my old Toyota pick-up with a camper shell, and filled the entire truck with everything I could.

“I took everything back to Full Sail and slowly went through the journals and articles as I had time, but mostly it went into storage. When I left Full Sail in 2006, I felt the library should stay at Full Sail, since they had the history with Henry’s and I’m pretty sure they paid me while I was up there grabbing the library that day. They were the proper owners of the information, so I asked Jim Kelter, Full Sail's #1 brewing manager, if he would keep it in good care and he squirreled it away.”

The archive came up in conversation because of an event that happened after Matt left Full Sail—the brewery was acquired by a private equity company. He wasn’t sure what had become of the archive once he left, but was worried. The irony is that he saved the archive from a large corporation who had no interest in old material from a brewery it had acquired—only to give it to a brewery that was later acquired. This is exactly how things get lost. (Another heartbreaking example is Ballantine, the archives of which Pabst—which now owns the brand—can’t locate.)

By one of those weird incidents of serendipity, about a month later I was talking to Tiah Edmunson-Morton, the archivist at Oregon State’s Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives, and this story came up. Well, happy ending—she already had the Oly archive. Here’s Tiah’s account of how the material made it from Hood River to Corvallis:

“Kevin McCabe (Lab Supervisor at Full Sail) was the person who contacted me. We have MBAA District NW records and when the call went out to their members to donate things to OSU he got in contact about the Olympia materials. [In an email] he said: ‘When the old Oly plant closed, Full Sail gained access to their library. We recently came across a half pallet of some of those materials. They include annual data on beer production in the US, analytical data conducted on several beers from various producers, some old ASBC publications, etc. most dating to the 70’s.’ I think they just didn’t want it to be lost.”

While this is all at one level just a charming story, it would count as an interesting footnote except that the archive is, as Matt revealed, gigantic. It includes a wide range of technical magazines dating to just after Prohibition and going forward. This is something many people could use in their research. Here’s a description of the contents:

Notable items in this collection are annotations on many journals from brewery staff, English editions of the magazine Brauwelt, a 35-year run of the Wallerstein Laboratory Communication starting with the first issue from 1937 and ending in 1972, and a run of Danish language journals called the Brygmestern: The Scandinavian Brewers’ Review. The collection includes the American Brewer magazine (1957-1958, 1962-1988), the MBAA Technical Quarterly  (1964-2003), Brewers Digest (1961-1998), Beverage World (1975-1983), Wallerstein Laboratory Communications  (1937-1972), Journal of the Institute of Brewing (1948-1984), Journal of the ASBC  (1975-1997), American Society of Brewing Chemists: Proceedings  (1940-1974), The Institute of Brewing: Proceedings of annual conventions in Australia and New Zealand Section  (1970-1994), Brygmestern  (1972-1978), Brewers Almanac  (1955-1982), Modern Brewery Age  (1968-1995, 2006), American Breweriana  (1990-1994), Beer Cans and Brewery Collectables  (1994-1998), Beer Can Collectors News Report  (1981-1993), Brauwelt  (1985-1996), and BDI  (1972-1983).

It’s an extraordinary resource and one all writers and historians should be aware of—so spread the news. Thank God Matt had a sense of history and preservation, drove up and gathered that material, and rescued those boxes. (And thanks to Full Sail for donating it so everyone can use it.) They’d be in the landfill today if he hadn’t.