Port, Great Western Malting work together to preserve pieces of Pacific Northwest brewing history
From rich hefeweizen to inventive ales to crisp, clear pilsner, the American beer industry has been experiencing a renaissance over the past few decades. While craft brewing may seem like a young business, it has a long history in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, for the last 80 years Vancouver has been home to the oldest malting company west of the Mississippi River: Great Western Malting.
GWM has been a fixture in our community and a Port of Vancouver USA tenant since 1934. The company produces malt – germinated, dried and roasted cereal grains – for use in brewing, distilling and food processing.
The company chose our community because of its excellent location between barley farmers in Eastern Washington and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The abundance of clean water and great access to river and rail at the Port of Vancouver helped GWM gain an advantage over more established malters in the Midwest and East Coast.
GWM built its facility on the east end of what is now the port’s Terminal 2 in 1935. Within four years, the company was providing malt for nearly all Pacific Northwest breweries and most breweries in the Western U.S. It was also a large mid-century employer in Clark County. Over the decades, GWM rolled with the times and changes in the industry, and today it provides malts for international customers, leading national breweries and local craft brewers in the Portland metro area.
In 2007, the Port of Vancouver began reconstructing its rail corridor to improve congestion and provide modern, efficient rail transportation. One-hundred-year-old railroad tracks needed to be moved, and the new alignment took the tracks directly through GWM’s facility. By this time, the buildings had been deemed historically significant to the community. Washington State’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) had several requirements of the port and GWM before the old facility could be demolished.
The two partners worked together to preserve some pieces of the past while bringing port and industrial facilities into the 21st century. GWM preserved iconic artwork, furniture, structural wood, carvings and light fixtures from its beautiful 1947 tap room and used them to construct and furnish the tap room in its new state-of-the-art malting facility.
Wanting to share some of this wonderful history with the community, the port created an interpretive exhibit with equipment from GWM’s original drum house – the part of the plant in which the malt was germinated and roasted. The drum house in Vancouver featured some of the last existing Depression-era equipment built by the Galland-Henning Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Working with local companies, including M & M Powder Coating LLC and Pacific Machine and Development Inc., the port restored the equipment and put it on display in an informational kiosk at Vancouver’s Amtrak station, 1301 West 11th Street.
The Port of Vancouver USA extends its thanks to our many partners in this effort: Great Western Malting, the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, DAHP, Washington State Department of Transportation, Burlington Northern Railway, and of course, the many port staff who worked so hard to coordinate, plan and build the kiosk.