Spellmire Brewing Co. letterhead 
 Spellmire Brewing Company

and its successor:

Washington Brewing Co. (1913-1915)

West's Brewery Co. Ltd. LondonIn 1896, a 22 year old immigrant from England, by the name of Job Henry West, arrived in Seattle. He came from a family of brewers who operated in London's East End. In the 1830's, his grand-father, (and name-sake) Job Henry West purchased the Three Crowns Brewery on Hackney Road. He died in 1880, but his sons continued the business, and in 1895 the firm was registered as West & Co. Brewery, Ltd. The brewery was sold in 1930.

The young Job worked for his father and uncles, learning the brewing business in Britain, but rather than hope for a major role in the family business he sought new opportunities in America. Upon settling in Seattle, he discovered that the two local breweries, Hemrich Bros. and Seattle Brewing & Malting, weren't producing British style ales, stouts or porters, so he felt that this was a perfect business opportunity. He found financial backing and by 1899 he had established the Britannia Brewery, an ale & porter brewery on the west  side of Lake Union at Galer & Westlake Ave., doing business as West & Co.  However, his beer was either poorly made or not well promoted. On May 25th, 1900, the firm was declared insolvent and W. H. Armstrong was appointed receiver, tasked to operate the company until it could be liquidated.

American Brewing half-pint bottle, ca.1902On 15 March, 1901, West convinced Joseph May to purchase the brewery from the receiver, Armtrong. Then West and May, along with brewmaster, C. Schmidt, resumed operation as the Seattle Ale & Porter Co. This second attempt proved to be as futile as West's first try. His partner, May, lasted only four months then departed for the East. By November of 1902, West reluctantly sold the company to Theodore Z. Krutzner, who resumed operations as the American Brewing Co. (see half-pint bottle at left). This venture was under capitalized, and it failed as well, with Krutzner filing for bankruptcy on March of '03. The liquidation sale was nine months later on Dec. 17th.

Henry, as West preferred to be called, did not give up on the idea of bringing British style ale and porter to Seattle. When the Seattle Ale & Porter Co. was about to go under, Henry formed a partnership with two brothers, Edward D. and George H. Spellmire. On 29 November, 1902, the Seattle Daily Times reported: 

"The Spellman (sic)-West Brewing Company has secured a permit for a new brewery building at 1320 Almy Street to cost $2,500."

Photo of Spellmire's Union Brewery

Their Union Brewery was located on the east side of Lake Union and fronted on Almy St. near Eastlake Ave. Their joint venture operated as the Spellmire-West Brewing Co.  A red, white & blue shield with "Union Brewery" was used on their first label - shown below. There was also a pier near the rear of the brewery, which allowed product to be transported by boat and facilitated raw materials to arrive by water as well.

Spellmire-West's Pale Ale label, c.1905       Spellmire's Genuine Extra Stout label c.1908
Spellmire-West Pale Ale label, ca.1905                          Genuine Extra Stout label, ca. 1908

The Spellmire-West partnership struggled along for a number of years providing a niche product line, but never becoming a serious player in the Seattle brewing community. Sometime in late 1905, J. Henry West gave up on his hope of ever becoming a successful brewer and sold his share in the firm to the Spellmire brothers, who were more solvent - in that they had other business activities¹. Henry then moved to Oakland, California, where he became a steam fitter, and was so engaged as late as 1944.


Spellmier business card

Spellmire Brewing Company  

In November, 1905, the brothers removed West from the marquee, changing the name of the business to just the Spellmire Brewing Co.  They also dropped the name, Union Brewery in favor of the Spellmire Brewery. George was the company president, with Edward, secretary/treasurer. Later their younger brother, Adolph, joined the firm as a book-keeper/accountant.

The established product line of British style ales, porters and stouts was continued, but they also chose to add lager beer to their line-up.

Spellmire's President's Brew beer label, ca.1910
President's Brew lager beer label, ca.1910

The Spellmire brothers had a few problems with the liquor laws of the day. The ban on Sunday sales of alcohol had been adopted in Seattle, but that didn't dissuade everyone. On 19 Sept.,1910, the Seattle Daily Times reported:

"Acting on a letter from the Rev. Dr. M, A. Matthews, who had learned from a woman parishioner that her husband was spending all his wages at the place on Sundays, the police raided the Spellmire Brewery where a large party of men were found drinking beer. H. B. Spellmire², the manager of the brewery, and Fred Barnes, bartender, were among those gathered in by the police and taken to headquarters. Eight others were taken along in the patrol wagon. Spellmire is to be charged with selling liquor without a license."

Apparently the Spellmires regarded these legalities as a mere nuisance, since a similar raid by the police had occurred eight months prior.

The company's new "President's Brew" lager beer (label - above) became their flagship brand, yet they didn't abandon the production of ale, stout and porter. The brothers also added a malt beverage called "Spellmire's Malt" that was sold as a health tonic through pharmacies. It claimed: "Blood Making and Nutritious - Contains Not More Than 5% Alcohol."

In addition to, or perhaps in place of the "Spellmire's Malt," was another malt extract called "Washington Malt." It may have been the acceptance of this product that prompted the brothers to change the name of the company.

Washington Malt label
Washington Malt Tonic label

Washington Brewing Co.

In 1913, for reasons yet to be determined, the Spellmire brothers changed the name of the company to the Washington Brewing Company. By now they may have discontinued the production of ale, stout and porter, given the success of their "Pale Lager."

On 17 May, 1914, the Spellmire brothers introduced a new product called "Weisburger" lager. They announced the new beer with a half-page ad in the Seattle Daily Times.

Weisburger Beer ad May 1914
Washington Brewery "Weisburger" ad, ca.1914

The outlook for the brewing business in Seattle was bright, and while still minor players the Spellmire brothers were doing alright. Except they still had to deal with the pesky police. In 1914, the July 14th issue of the Seattle Daily Times reported on a repeat offense by the Brewery:

"Chief of Police Austin E. Griffiths yesterday afternoon filed a second complaint against the Washington Brewing Company, holding that the concern should not have either a retail or wholesale liquor license for the reason that it is within two miles of the grounds of the University of Washington. Two weeks ago the complaint was that beer had been sold in less than three gallons."

All of these liquor restrictions, passed by pressure from the Prohibitionist, became moot when four months later the voters approved state-wide Prohibition. The law was to take effect on January 1, 1916, giving the liquor manufacturers a year to deplete their inventories and close their plants.

The Spellmire brothers didn't need that much time to sell their stock, and by April of 1915, they were selling all of their furnishings and fixed assets. In Sept., 1918 Edward and George were in Williams, Arizona, growing cotton, and by 1920, were running a department store in Williams for the Babbitt Bros. Mercantile Co. The brothers married the Coyle sisters of Cincinnati, and so the two families stayed close together. They did not return to the brewing business when Prohibition was repealed.


Spellmire Breweriana

There aren't many collectibles from the Spellmire brewing companies that have been found. Due to the size of these ventures, and their limited advertising budgets, it's doubtful that many were produced. The only two know by the author, other than the beer labels, are both from the Washington Brewing years of 1913-1915. One is a 13" beer tray with "Washington Pale Lager - Washington Brewing company, Seattle U.S.A." around the inside rim (barely legible), with an image of president Washington in the center (below-right). The other is a 4" tall, ¼ liter,  stoneware beer stein - also with the image of Washington (below-left).

Washington Pale Lager beer stein - image
"Washington Pale Lager" - beer stein, ca.1913

Washington Pale Lager beer tray - image
 "Washington Pale Lager" - 13" beer tray, ca.1913


Weisburger Lager Beer label ca.1914
"Weisburger Lager Beer" label, ca.1914


¹ The Spellmire brothers also owned the Central Wet Wash Laundry, and one of their drivers was a young Dave Beck, who would later become a force in the Teamster's Union that shut down the Northwest Brewing Co. in Tacoma and Walla Walla in 1936, and ran Peter Marinoff out of the state.

² The family has no H. B. Spellmire, so as newspapers are prone to do - they got it wrong!

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  • A special thank you to Ken Spellmire for scans of the labels from his family's brewery.
  • To Bob Giroux, great-grandson of George H. Spellmire, for the brewery's business card.
  • To Bob Spellmire for the photo of the family brewery.
  • To James Spellmire for the Spellmire Brewing Co. letterhead at the top of the page, the Genuine Extra Stout label, and the great Weisburger Lager beer label.
  • And to Michael Magnussen for the image of the beer tray.

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