TACOMA, Wash. — If you go into a local bar, there's a good chance you'll see someone drinking from a can of Rainier beer. A series of ad campaigns that share the same anti-establishment humor as Saturday Night Live have made Rainier famous. Now a trio of Tacoma filmmakers are making a documentary about the ads.
For decades Rainier outsold Budweiser, Miller, and every other brand in our area, and it's all thanks to the off-beat ads dreamt up in the early 70's by Terry Heckler and his Seattle ad agency.
"The Rainier commercials pretty much changed how beer advertising was done," Robby Peterson said.
"Not only were they funny," his brother Justin added, "but they kind of captured Northwest culture".
At their Tacoma bar, the Peterson brothers have a mini-museum dedicated to all things Rainier, including a TV that played lo-fi versions of Rainier commercials found on YouTube.
"And we were like where is the original film for this?" Justin said.
"We kept thinking it's got to be out there," added his brother Robby. "Somewhere. We'll find it. Nobody would throw away this iconic history".
The brothers teamed up with director Isaac Olsen who — by total chance — discovered all the footage, including outtakes, at the Washington State Historical Society, less than a mile and a half from the bar.
"That was the big break," Olsen said. "We have miles of outtakes. You want Mickey Rooney outtakes? You came to the right place."
Mickey Rooney, whose film career spanned nine decades, appeared in five Rainier Beer campaigns.
"The rumor was that he was in a kind of career lull so he was paid $500 plus a Ford station wagon," Olsen said. "And that turned out to be true."
To get access to the footage, the documentary team promised the historical society they would digitize everything to 4K. The difference is astonishing.
"The agreement we came to with them, that is the only reason the project is a reality," Olsen said.
Olsen and the brothers hope to have the documentary finished by 2024, the 50th anniversary of the first ad. They've launched a Kickstarter campaign to get some financial help.
They say it's been a lot of fun spending hours going through the footage.
"You could just tell by watching the commercials that they had a good time coming up with the ideas," Justin said. "And they probably had a really good time filming them."
"Whatever the special ingredient was," Olsen said, "it's had lasting power."
Rainier Beer celebrates its legacy at a free outdoor festival called R-Day starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24 at the original Rainier Brewery in Georgetown. The address is 5813 Airport Way S., Seattle, WA 98108. Expect fun things to do and music from Travis Thompson, Naked Giants, and True Loves featuring Shaina Shepherd.
We introduced the story from the Mountain Room at the Old Rainier Brewery up the road at 3100 Airport Way S., Seattle, WA 98134. It's now called The Factory Luxe. They still pour Rainier beer there. Bands, comedians and other performers can be seen on the stage.