The Fort Spokane Brewery

Beer for the Soldiers

Before the Spanish-American War, soldiers stationed at Fort Spokane relied on one man to lift their spirits; a German brewer who made the Fort his home.

Just a few decades before the prohibition of alcohol, soldiers stationed at Fort Spokane were thirsty for libations and one man, Bernard Bockemeuhl, decided to take on the job. To the lonely, isolated soldiers stationed at Fort Spokane during the Spanish-American war, he must have been a welcome addition.

Bernard Bockemuehl was an industrious brewer from Germany who made a name for himself in a large brewery in Milwaukee. In the late 1870s, he moved to Eastern Washington and opened a successful brewery in the rich fertile region of the Palouse. The Bockemuehl Brewery of Rockford, Washington Territory was ”a business that proved so successful” he was soon offered “any location in Spokane Falls” to open a new brewery. Bockemuehl told his wife, he wanted “to locate where the soldiers were,” so they packed up and moved north to Fort Spokane.

Alongside his family, Bernard secured a piece of farm property in Miles, Washington, near the military base at Fort Spokane. He called it the The Fort Spokane Brewery and until the Fort closed in 1898, Bockemuehl was the primary supplier of alcohol for troops who were stationed there

The brewer constructed several buildings on the site, a few of which are still standing today. In those days, “there was a law that you couldn’t bottle in the same building you made the beer.” So, the brewer built a “bottling department across the road and closer to the house." There was also a malt house, a kiln and a granary, where Bockemuehl kept the beloved “blue barley” he used for his beers. Foundation marks can still be found where the brewery once stood.

Bockemuehl found many creative ways to get beer to the troops. There was a tunnel dug 100 feet deep into a hillside to store kegs. He even had “a sled carved for himself so he wouldn’t have to walk down to the brewery.” He would just “step out the front door, get on his own personal sled and coast down the hill.” Later, “one of the brewery hands” would “pull the sled back up the hill." The industrious brewer even taught his horse, Coaley, to deliver beer without a driver. The horse would “pull the buckboard to Ft. Spokane. The soldiers would unload it, and Coaley would turn around and bring the empty buckboards back to Granddad."

The fort closed in 1898 and with its closure, the soldiers left. The brewery remained afloat until 1906 when a fire destroyed the building. Bockemuehl never rebuilt and died just two years later.

In 1988, over 100 years after the Bockemuehl rode his sled down the hill to bring beer to the soldiers, his great-grandson helped open the Fort Spokane Brewery in Downtown Spokane. The brewery operated until 2000 when business got tough. The brewery was located at 401 West Spokane Falls Boulevard, in a building that has since been demolished.