|Bottling #13 was sold very briefly in 1978|
They noticed that the big brands had largely ignored certain parts of the market. Instead of fighting a losing battle for a shrinking share of the industrial lager segment, the Wessingers opted to go after a different market. The result was Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve.
Private Reserve was marketed as a super premium beer based on a nineteenth century recipe and brewed with malted barley, hops and water. This was clearly a shot at the adjunct-heavy lagers of the day. Private Reserve was a huge success and revived Blitz-Weinhard.
Make no mistake. The original Private Reserve was a good beer, certainly a lot better than Bud, Coors, Miller and any of the other crap lagers. Some have even argued Private Reserve was Portland's original craft beer. And maybe it was. Each bottling was numbered and they blew well past 100 before they eventually stopped using numbers.
The concept of a premium product that would go after the big brands at their weakest point would be used by future craft brewers. When Kurt Widmer was researching the idea of starting a brewery, he saw the growing import segment as his niche. It made sense and it worked. But Blitz had already tested the formula.
For Blitz-Weinhard, Private Reserve turned out to be a shining moment in a sea of despair. The Wessingers saw an increasingly difficult financial road ahead and eventually sold the company, which they continued to manage, to Pabst in 1979. As most people around these parts know, the brewery went through several more buyouts before the lights went out for good in 1999.
After the old brewery was closed, the brands went their separate ways. Most of the middling brands were sold to Pabst. The premium brands, which by then included Private Reserve, Blue Boar Light Irish Style Ale and Private Reserve Dark, went to Miller. Stroh, which owned the property at the end, sold it to a developer for a king's ransom.
In my mind, Weinhard's premium beers were a shadow their former selves long before production moved, first to the old Olympia plant in Tumwater, then to Full Sail in Hood River and more recently to a plant in some unknown location. Miller is apparently intent on distributing the beers to a wider audience...what's left of them, anyway. Oh well.