It all started innocently enough, back in the days when Jerry Grant was a graduate student. He loved beer and figured he could save some money brewing his own.
Growing his own: Determined to take control of supply issues, Jerry Grant, is raising his own hops on land he owns in rural La Grande. This year he started 1,000 plants in four varieties — Cascade, Centennial, Nugget and Willamette. - Observer photos/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
“I thought it would be fun. I could make good beer cheaper than I could buy it,” said Grant, managing member and head brewer at the soon-to-open Mt. Emily Ale House in downtown La Grande.
In the building at 1202 Adams Ave. that in other times housed a bank, a jewelry store and a lending corporation, Grant is hard at work creating La Grande’s one and only brew pub. He plans to open this fall, following months of planning and hard work.
Contractors have ripped the very guts out of the place and are constructing a new, two-floor interior. When complete, the 9,300-square-foot building will be home to Grant’s brewing operation, plus a bar and lounge, walk-in cooler, kitchen, dining area and a space upstairs for social gatherings and live entertainment.
“I’ve been working on this over a year and a half,” Grant said. “Right now it’s scary and overwhelming, but I know it won’t be like that once I’m open.”
Grant brewed his first beer in 1992, just as the microbrewery craze was beginning to sweep the nation. Beer-making was a hobby for him at first and it never got in the way of his studies or his career as a fisheries biologist.
But hobbies sometimes become passions and lead to new careers. He felt an irresistible pull and he eventually gave in.
The Minnesota-born Grant was working in Union County for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife when he decided to follow his dream.
He had some specific goals in mind from the start.
“I knew when I went to UC-Davis I was going to pursue brewing as an occupation,” he said.
“The chance to buy this building (in La Grande) came up, and I decided I was going to do a production brewery.”
Not only that, he planned to grow his own hops, on four-tenths of an acre of land he owns in rural La Grande. The reason? Hops are selling at a premium and Grant wanted to have as much control as possible over supply issues.
This year he started 1,000 plants in four varieties — Cascade, Centennial, Nugget and Willamette. The crop is a very healthy one.
“This is a perfect climate for hops. They’re a cold-hardy plant. The snow we had this June didn’t faze them a bit,” Grant said. He said he hopes the grow will supply 50 percent to 75 percent of what he needs to stay in business.
In preparation for opening his ale house, Grant obtained a brew-pub license that allows him to sell brew over the bar, brew in growlers to go, and brew wholesale. He plans eventually to offer brew to go in bottles and cans.
The license also allows him to sell food. Gourmet pizza will top a menu that will also include hot sandwiches, hamburgers, salads and appetizers.
Blueprint for Success: Jerry Grant explains some of the design features of the Mt. Emily Ale House, soon to open at 1202 Adams Ave. - Observer photos/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
Grant has already hired a kitchen manager and is in the process of assembling a staff that will include seven full-time employees and a couple of part-timers.
He declined to reveal how much money he has invested in the project, though he did say it is being paid for with his own money plus bank financing.
He said he is grateful for support the community has shown him, including the fact that he was offered his building at a price he could afford.
Looking ahead, he envisions a highly successful enterprise, one that benefits not only himself but all of the community by drawing in travelers from out of town.
He doesn’t know exactly when he will be open for business, though he is shooting for sometime this fall.
As far as he’s concerned, it can’t happen soon enough.
‘I’m just really looking forward to getting open and brewing some beer,” he said.