South Sound News

Stolen century-old beer bottles finally returned to Tacoma brewery

When someone contacted Steve Navarro in 2013 to tell him they had found unopened, full bottles of the Tacoma brand beer from the original Pacific Brewing and Malting, he snatched up the bottles for $1,000. 

TACOMA, Wash. — Five months ago,

a box with six century-old beer bottles still full of Tacoma-brand beer.

“I thought they were gone forever,” Navarro, co-owner of Tacoma’s Pacific Brewing and Malting, said Monday.

In an act that Navarro calls “a small miracle,” a good Samaritan returned five of the bottles Saturday.

What led to the return of those bottles is a tale Navarro said “proves there are kind people in this world.”

Back in 2013, Navarro bought the bottles for $1,000 from someone who found unopened bottles of Tacoma-brand beer under a stairwell at an Oregon hotel. Finding historic beer bottles filled with their original contents is incredibly rare. The bottles were from the Pacific brand of Tacoma beer. Navarro’s nearly 3-year-old brewery is named with a nod to that historic brewery that operated pre-Prohibition in downtown Tacoma.

In November, Navarro was moving the bottles and had stashed them in a Deschutes beer box when his truck window was broken and the box taken.

He was convinced someone had stolen them for drinking, not realizing their worth or how awful the century-old beer inside the bottles would taste. Unlike Scotch and wine, beer does not age well.

For months, he searched trash bins in downtown Tacoma. He scoured flea markets and local vintage and antique stores. He monitored website auctions.

“Every now and then, I would get a lead from somebody, but nothing has turned up. I would get leads, but nothing ever panned out, until it did on Thursday.”

That’s when he received a text message from a number he didn’t recognize. The text mentioned the bottles. Navarro was skeptical at first, but when the person on the end of that text sent Navarro pictures of the bottles, he had a strong hunch those bottles were his.

Navarro said the good Samaritan, who is a collector, told him, “They were at the swap meet in Tacoma a few weeks ago. She thought they were great and the person who sold them wanted $100 apiece. … She ended up buying all five for $300. She could tell they were old and she thought they might be worth money, so she started researching on the internet. She came across the news story. In her mind, she went, ‘ohhh, (expletive)!’ She had no idea they could be stolen. When she found out, she told me, she was sick to her stomach.”

Navarro invited her down to the brewery and she arrived Saturday with the bottles. The good Samaritan asked to remain anonymous, which Navarro agreed to do.

As soon as he saw the bottles, he knew they were his. The rusty caps were the same and the contents were obviously original to the bottle.

“One of them had a defect of the glass,” Navarro said. “A couple of the bottles had nicks and chips. I’m confident these are my five bottles.”

He said the good Samaritan did not ask for money and wanted to return the bottles out of a sense of duty “to do the right thing,” but Navarro did what brewers always do: He gave her free beer. He plied her with a case of Pacific Brewing and Malting beer, a growler and glassware. Ultimately, he talked her into accepting the $300 she had paid for the bottles.

“She didn’t ask for anything. She could’ve held them hostage and asked for a thousand bucks to get them back. But she didn’t do anything like that. She’s an honest, nice person,” he said.

“I told her, ‘You’ve reinstilled my faith in our community and the people here.’ I’m still shocked. I can’t believe they were out there and not dumped somewhere.”