In November, Jodi Paquin and Stephen Baksay were quaffing suds with another married couple, local podiatrists Christine Meis and Mark Simchuk, at the Josephine County Fairgrounds Winter Brewfest when one of them said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we had our own brewery?"
Eight months later, Climate City Brewing is nearing reality, at a most appropriate location: the historic Brewery building on Southwest G Street in downtown Grants Pass.
"We all like beer," explained Paquin. "This is the first building we looked at."
The two couples are now business partners and hope to be serving house-brewed beers by November.
A glass wall facing G Street will showcase the giant tanks and barrels for the brewing process. The food will be upscale pub fare.
The long-term goal is to distribute the product regionally.
"We're getting Grants Pass into the craft brew industry," Simchuk said. "It's perfect timing for it. We're trying to bring the big city, craft beer pub-style restaurant, from Bend, Portland and Eugene, down to Grants Pass."
They settled on the Climate City name, referring to the iconic arched sign over Sixth Street, after holding a contest on Facebook. The original name last winter was Chinook Brewing.
A week ago the foursome were knocking down walls and ripping out carpet inside this brick building built over a century ago, at a site where beer was first brewed back in 1886.
Most people today remember "The Brewery" as the popular restaurant that operated from 1975 to 2010. Baksay, a physical therapist, had a patient tell him recently about meeting her husband there over dinner.
The building reeks of history, with ancient bottles and crates still around from the restaurant days, along with old photos.
It's personal, too. The Brewery was Jodi Paquin's father's favorite place to eat. Phil Paquin, a community leader for years, died in 2013.
"I used to go to prom and Mardi Gras here," said Paquin, recalling her days at Grants Pass High School. "And my dad was definitely my inspiration for this."
After the initial idea, Paquin and Baksay toured Portland for inspiration, and the foot doctors hoofed it to California breweries.
The momentum built, and the partners hired Eric McElroy, formerly of 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, as general manager and chef. They also recruited brewer Jeff Horn from the Weston, Mo., Brewing Company. He arrives in September.
Baksay said with fine food and beer, the hope is to keep some Grants Pass people from traveling to the numerous brewpubs in Medford and Ashland.
Meis said restoration of the building was another huge factor in the whole process.
"It should be restored to the way it was," she said.
The deal with the bank closed last week, Paquin said. She said they won't open the doors until they have four beers brewed and ready to serve, hopefully by November.
Paquin prefers IPAs, an increasingly popular craft brew in Oregon that features ample hops, the pungent pinecone-like flower that puts the bitter in beer. IPA is short for India Pale Ale.
"Our brewer knows Oregon is a hoppy state. He's working on his recipes now," Paquin said.
Patrons will walk in the same entrance they did in the restaurant days, and the outside space adjacent to Gilbert Creek will feature seating with hops growing nearby on posts, a gas firepit and lights strung overhead.
Inside the old stairwell where barrels of beer used to roll out, a dumbwaiter will carry bales of hops along with finished brews, in full view of patrons, Paquin said.
The foursome has worked with the Josephine County Historical Society to get the original look of the building, and hope to include plenty of historical photos.
"It's going to have an old, industrial feel," Paquin said.
They also want it to be family friendly, with games and books for children and adults.
The rich history of the place began almost 130 years ago.
The Jan. 21, 1887, Oregon Observer reported that proprietors William Neurath and Mr. Strickler (no first name given) drilled an artesian well 30 feet underground, along Gilbert Creek.
"We tested the water and pronounce it excellent. The brewery is about to commence operations, and Mr. Strickler says they will make a pure article of beer."
It was known as both the Rogue River Brewery and the Grants Pass Brewery. A sign still in place says "Rogue River Brewery, 1886."
In March 1892, George Walters was proprietor, selling "the best glass of beer in the city," the Observer said. Schooners were 5 cents, quarts were 15 cents and a dozen bottles sold for a buck.
"During the beer years, five men were employed in the local establishment, and numerous quantities of malt and barley were bought from farmers in this vicinity," reported the Grants Pass Daily Courier in 1933.
The brewery lasted only five years in its first run. It was an apple packing plant when fire destroyed the building in January of 1902.
Eugene and Marie Kienlin, who emigrated from Germany to Minnesota, then to Grants Pass in 1886, built a new brick building on the site and began brewing again, with a new brewmeister from Germany.
Eugene Kienlin died in 1904, but Marie kept on chugging. The heavy-set woman was known for her parrots, which would often sit on her shoulder outside in her garden on the east side of the brewery.
During Prohibition, which started in 1920, Marie survived by selling groceries, baked goods, candy, cigarettes and other odds and ends.
Marie Kienlin died in 1934, shortly after the end of Prohibition.
In 1940, Robert C. Martin and Grace Martin bought the building from Kienlin's estate for $2,000. Their family, including daughter Bernie Martin Beck of Grants Pass, would own the building into the next century.
Robert Martin ran Martin Brothers Transfer and Storage, a moving company, and for about a decade the old brewery building became a warehouse for the business. After Martin Ñ who was later mayor of Grants Pass for three separate terms Ñ sold the trucking business, the building was occupied by an art gallery, a swap shop, an upholstery shop and a couple of other businesses.
The restaurant era began in 1975 when Bob and Linda Leonhardt restored the building, and Rob Androy and his partnership took over the business in 1985, operating The Brewery until 2010.