What’s the deal with Olympia’s Water?

“It’s the water,” was the simplistic tagline of Olympia Beer, when it was still brewed in Tumwater. But what exactly does that mean? Isn’t water just … water?

Back in the late 1800s, Olympia Brewing set up shop at Tumwater Falls, capitalizing on the fresh flowing, several-thousand-year-old groundwater that runs under Olympia. That’s where the tagline “it’s the water” came from.

If you want to give it a try, there’s a pipe in a park in the middle of downtown where you can bottle your own water. If you want to taste the hoppy version of it, there’s still a locally brewed beer that takes advantage of the spring water. At McMenamins Spar on Fourth Avenue, the Spartesien Ale is brewed with water from a well that’s bubbling beneath the restaurant.

The water isn’t treated with chemicals, and it’s about 3,330 years old.

“This means we don’t have to add anything to counteract the off flavors that can arise from the treated city water,” said brewer Brian Lawrence. “I’m not saying the water is necessarily better, but you are getting a beer that tastes like it is designed to taste, made with only water, barley, hops, and yeast.”

It’s not just the Spar that’s brewing with the water; Magic Kombucha is making its effervescent drink with Olympia’s water, too.

“The water flowing out of that pipe fell as rain in the foothills (thousands of) years ago or so, well before human pollution.”

“The water flowing out of that pipe fell as rain in the foothills (thousands of) years ago or so, well before human pollution. It’s like tasting what the Earth was like before we messed it all up,” said Magic’s Rachel Carns.

Kombucha is a bubbly, sweet-and-sour fermented beverage made with what’s called SCOBY — a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.

“I am convinced that what makes Magic Kombucha not only so delicious, but so truly alive, is that we use this, the purest, most deeply local water source available,” said Carns.

Those not brewing anything can still pick up the water for a quick drink or a take-home bottle by going to the downtown Artesian Well and Commons. The pipe on Fourth Avenue is the primary source of water for many Olympians; it pumps out 10 gallons per minute.

The Artesian Well and Commons in downtown is more than just a pipe to many, however.

“It’s a source of pride to many Olympians,” said Paul Simmons, the city’s parks and recreation director.

The park opened in 2014 and has become a community center, a place where youth meet to play basketball. The Downtown Ambassadors meet with the street-dependent to not just shoot hoops, but also to provide access to social services.

Like many public spaces, that can bring both good and bad, but there are programs dedicated to improving the park and bringing in things like live music and food, especially during summer months.

“We’re working toward a space that is safe and welcoming for all,” Simmons said.

When You Go

Artesian Well and Commons:
415 Fourth Ave., Olympia.
Open from dawn to dusk daily.

The Spar
114 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia.

Magic Kombucha
Available around Olympia at the Olympia Food Co-op, Little General Store, Quality Burrito, Obsidian, and other restaurants and specialty stores. Look for the green bottle.

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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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