Olympia Brewing Co. letterhead c.1909


History of the Olympia Brewing Company
(1899-1911)

Olympia Brewery, Butte, MT. ca.1901
Olympia Brewery, ca.1901

On the 2nd of March, 1899, the Olympia Brewing Co. filed articles of incorporation with the Montana secretary of state. Silven Hughes, John N. Knoch and John C. Hogl, all of Butte, were the incorporators, with a capital of $10,000.

However, it appears that the Centennial Brewing Co. was a partner in organizing this new brewery. On the 9th of February, the  month prior to Olympia's establishment, the Butte Weekly Miner reported: 

"Louis P. Best and Henry Mueller of Butte spent Monday and Tuesday in town, looking over various sites for the location of the large brewery that Mr. Best is soon to erect in our city."

Mueller was president of the Centennial Brewing Co., and Best was vice-president. Louis Best was from the Best family of Milwaukee - owners of Pabst Brewing. Mueller and Best also established the Billings Brewing Co. at about the same time.

Upon completion of the Olympia brewery, Silven Hughes became manager, with J. N. Knoch and J. C. Hogl also named as officers of the company. The location of the plant was given as the W. side of Harrison Ave. nr. Silver Bow Creek.

On March 2nd, 1901 - two years to the day after incorporation - the Butte Weekly Miner reported:

"Yesterday a deal was consummated by which the interest of Silven Hughes in the Olympia Brewery was sold. Mr. Hughes owned a half interest, the balance being owned by the Centennial Brewery company. The purchasers of Mr. Hughes' interest are Gus Nickel and A. Seadorf. The consideration is said to have been $18,000."

The president of the re-organized company was Centennial's secretary/treasurer, Louis P. Best. However, it was Gustave Nickel, appointed vice-president and manager, who actually supervised the plant. Alfred Seadorf was named secretary/ treasurer of Olympia.

By now a street had been completed next to the plant and it was named Olympia Avenue. Their new address was now Harrison Ave. at NW corner of Olympia Ave.

Given the amount of competition there was for beerBeer ad in Butte c.1901
sales in the Smokey City, the soundness of the venture seemed questionable. This 1901 newspaper ad (right) shows that not only did they compete with the much larger Centennial plant, but also with numerous national brands. Besides agents for Milwaukee's Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz;  Butte had agent/bottlers for both Anheuser-Busch and W. J. Lemp of St. Louis. However, with Butte's population base of over 30,000 (including 6,000 thirsty miners) there must have been enough business to go around.

Louis Best's stint as Olympia's president was cut short when, on 29 Jan. 1902, he unexpectedly died after a mere 10 day illness. He was only 48.

Henry Mueller, Centennial's president, then assumed the position of president & treasurer of Olympia, with Julius A. Stirn, secretary. Nickel was still v-p and manager, but the brewing was under the watchful eye of Gustav Hodel¹ - a native of Baden, Germany. Gus had transferred from the Billings Brewing Company, which was also owned by Mueller. The young brewer had worked at the Silver Bow and Centennial breweries before earning his masterbrewer's credentials in early 1900. By 1904, Gus would return to Centennial to assume the position of plant superintendent.

During Gus' tenure he introduced a beer he called "Tannhauser" - a name familiar to the German population for whom it was being marketed. Tannhauser was the world famous opera written in 1845 by German composer, Richard Wagner.

Olympia Brg. Co. Tannhauser beer label from Butte

Hodel and Nickel supervised an expansion project in 1902, which doubled the plant's output to 50 barrels per day. The following year saw another a change in management. The Sept. 19, 1903, issue of the Anaconda Standard reported:

"J. V. Collins, who has been in the wholesale liquor business in Anaconda for a number of years, and whose brother, H. Frank Collins, has been associated with him for the past six months, has sold out his interests here and will move to Butte tomorrow. Mr. Collins has bought the Olympia brewery there, and expects to make the Smokey city his permanent place of  residence."

Collins & Co. Pabst agt. 1898 ad

The previous account made it sound that Collins' only business experience was as a wholesaler, however he did have brewing interests prior to taking over Olympia. A work published in 1903, titled One Hundred Years of Brewing, wrote of Henry Muntzer's Butte Brewing Company:

"He [Muntzer] continued in control of the business until 1899, when the Butte Brewing Company was organized, with J. V. Collins as president. Mr. Collins has been a resident of Butte since 1884, and has had long experience as seller of beer and liquors. He at once improved the brewery and increased its output, a brew-house being erected with a capacity of one hundred and twenty-five barrels per day."

In the March 30, 1911, obituary for James Collins, the Anaconda Standard confirmed that prior to his Liquor business, he partnered with M. Donahue to obtain interest in Muntzer's Butte Brewing Co., which he pursued for a number of years. The article continued:

"... he returned to Butte to take charge of the Olympia Brewing Co.
The plant that he took hold of was not the industry that it is today. With practically no business standing, and with an extremely inadequate plant, he started an uphill fight that few thought he could win. Year by year he improved the plant, and with the improvements the business brightened."

Assisting him in this endeavor was brewmaster, John Weidenfeller, who took the position vacated by Gustave Hodel (John's brother-in-law) upon Gus' return to Centennial. Weidenfeller was accompanied by his brother Joseph. The brothers had been brewers at the Centennial plant and came on-board when J. V. Collins took over. Another of the Weidenfeller brothers also came to work at Olympia. Their youngest brother, Adam, is listed in the 1909 Butte City Directory as the brewery's chief engineer.

As Collins' obit stated, under his stewardship the business "brightened" - but didn't indicate to what degree! He tried with a new beer for their non-Germanic patrons called "Exquisite" - with the "Most Delicious Piquant Flavor." The miners must have said: "What's a piquant?" And it was certainly wishful thinking to claim that their beer "has never been equaled in the West, nor surpassed in the East." However, they must have been doing well enough to warrant further expansion. As the 1909 ad (below) points out - the brewery installed a state-of-the-art bottling works.

Olympia's Exquisite Beer ad, c.1909
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          December 1909 newspaper ad

The souvenir referred to in the December '09 ad (above) was a chromolithographed art plate depicting a beautiful young woman, with "Compliments of the Olympia Brewing Company, Butte, Mont." on the reverse. These plates are often referred to as Vienna Art plates.

Olympia's Exquisite Beer labelOlympia's "Exquisite Brew" label (left) describes its beer as an "Andechser Lager". This refers to a style of lager made at Kloster Andechs, a monastery located SW of Munich. It was established in 1455 by Benedictine monks, and this cloister brewery is still in operation.

In 1939, Pabst introduced an Andeker Beer. They couldn't call it Andechser since the brand was still in use by the monks. The brand was soon dropped but was re-introduced in June of 1972, as their premium beer. It was discontinued in 1984.

Olympia's choice for the design of their "Exquisit Brew" followed the practice adopted by many brewers. In an effort to combat the dominance of Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser brand, they designed labels that mimicked the Budweiser label. What made Olympia's label a more deliberate attempt to deceive was the choice of "Exquisit" as the brand name, since Anheuser-Busch had an "Exquisite" brand of beer. Just a coincidence?

Anheuser-Busch's Exquisite Pilsner beer glass

Exquisit Brew mirror
 

In 1911, Centennial re-organized their company and merged with the Olympia Brewing Co. They then closed the Olympia plant.

This action, resulting in the sudden demise of the Olympia Brewing Company, seems to coincide with the death of the company's president, and driving force, James V. Collins. Like the sudden death of the company's first president, Louis Best, nearly 10 years prior, Collins succumbed on 29 March, 1911, after only a three days' illness. He was 49 - one year older than Best!

 

FOOTNOTE:

¹ Gus Hodel left Butte in late 1910, to purchase an interest in the Lewistown Brewing Co.  On 11 April, 1911, Hodel bought additional shares for $65,000 giving him controlling interest, and making him president and manager of the company. The brewery operated until 1938.

 
Article by

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Special thanks to John Weidenfeller's grand-daughter, Marlene, for the letterhead and photo of the Brewery.
     
  • To Jim Peter for the images of the "Exquisite" label, and the pocket mirror.
     
  • And to labelologist Bob Kay for the beautiful "Tannhaueser" label. More great labels can be found in his publication, US Beer Labels, Vol. 1 - The Western States. For this, or other volumes, go to - BobKayBeerLabels.com

 

For any comments, additions, or corrections -
or for brewery collectibles you wish to sell - please
contact me: 

Brewery Gems - beer stein logo

All contents including images are copyright by BreweryGems.com
 and can not be used without permission from Brewery Gems.
Copyright © 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved.



BREWERIANA | BREWERY HISTORIES | SITE MAP | CONTACT