By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Not a day has gone by in the last two years where somebody didn’t ask Jerome Grant about what was happening in the old restaurant perched above the water in Depoe Bay.
Construction doesn’t go unnoticed in this town of about 1,400 people, particularly not on a building that once housed the community’s beloved hangout. The Spouting Horn was shuttered in late 2014 after the owner decided to retire. But the nearly century-old building didn’t stay on the market for long. As soon as Grant saw the “For Sale” sign, he jumped at the opportunity. Not only would he end up restoring the historic property, he’s also injected the city with renewed enthusiasm by installing a brewery.
It’s no wonder, then, the questions kept coming.
“When they found out what we were doing with it, they were just thankful that we didn’t tear it down,” Grant said. “And then for the last year it’s been, ‘When is it going to open?’”
The answer to that came in early December when The Horn Public House & Brewery, its name a nod to the previous occupant, hosted locals for a few invitation-only soft openings. The general public debut followed later that week. And while the brewery hasn’t started production just yet — the auger is set to arrive this month and federal paperwork was pending as of press time — there’s much to admire in the revamped space.
When the project began, Grant actually wasn’t sure he was going to preserve the building, which has been everything from a sandwich shop in the 1920s to a Coast Guard barracks during World War II. Years of neglect, though, almost doomed the restoration.
“We just tried to make the decision of what we wanted to do: save the building or not,” Grant recounted. “After I put on the new roof, then we were committed to the project — started cleaning out everything. All hundreds-of-thousands-of-pounds of everything.”
And that “everything” included unsalvageable equipment, dusty furniture and even a bit of history. While pulling up the kitchen floor, Grant stumbled across a newspaper from the 1930s. That little piece from the past didn’t make it into the finished restaurant, but other more valuable items did. For instance, if you peek under the bar the redwood paneling should look familiar to anyone who patronized The Spouting Horn when it was open. The strips used to hang on the walls and were gathered on the beach by the family of owners — Grant figures it must’ve been in the 1960s — after they got word that a lumber barge overturned.
A mix of new and old shapes the interior: smooth planks that once lined the floor of a bowling alley now have a second life holding pints of beer on Grant’s tables and upstairs bar while the ground-level countertop, crafted especially for the pub, is a slab of Oregon bigleaf maple with grain mimicking tiger stripes. Every handpicked feature is a point of pride for Grant, who will lead you room to room in the sprawling 7,500-square-foot space with the zest of a new homeowner. And then there’s the view. On a busy summer day, it’ll be tough to come by a window seat overlooking “The World’s Smallest Harbor,” where seal heads bob up and down in the choppy waves, their slick bodies darting among charter boat traffic that passes under the neoclassical arch bridge.
The setting alone helps set The Horn apart from the scores of other breweries located across the state. But Grant said the ambition of his brewer will be another distinction. Chris Jennings, who also writes Oregon Beer Growler’s Homebrew Hints column, left his position as Alameda Brewing’s cellar master to take the new role late last year.
“And he’s really confident in his ability to brew a variety of beers,” Grant said, “and I’m going to give him free rein back there. When I said, ‘Oh, I’d like to just have four handles for our own beer out of the 12,’ he said, ‘Why not 10 or 11?’”
Grant’s response to that: “‘Oh, I like the way you think, Chris!’”
Jennings’ journey to head brewer is a story that’ll surely be the envy of every home cook out there, because that’s where he started and gained most of his experience.
“I don’t have any formal training,” he described. “Self-taught, as it were. I’ve probably read every brewing book that’s ever been printed.”
And he made time to apply that knowledge. In 2010 alone, for example, Jennings said he produced 700 gallons of beer, 10 gallons at a time as he helped run Brew Brothers, his family’s homebrewing supply shop in Hillsboro. They later opened Three Mugs Brewing Company in the same storefront, where Jennings began brewing commercial batches. He sold his portion of the business to his brother when Alameda brought him on. And while he was learning new things working for another brewery, he also lost the autonomy and creative freedom he was used to. Once The Horn’s equipment is finally all in place, which couldn’t happen a moment too soon for Jennings, he’s eager to develop his own recipes once again.
“I’m going to get back to the experimenting I liked to do when I was brewing at Three Mugs, because that’s all it has ever been for me is experimentation,” Jennings said.
He also feels vindicated, to a certain sense, by the promotion after experiencing some disdain for his lack of brewing credentials. Jennings didn’t just interview for the Depoe Bay job; he was put through a series of math and science questions selected by brewery consultant Marc Martin from the UC Davis brewing program — questions that Jennings would go on to easily answer and pass the test. That’s the side of brewing, he contends, almost anyone can learn in the classroom or the brewhouse. But the key to becoming a great brewer can’t be taught.
“Brewing is like cooking to me,” Jennings explained, “or like art of any kind. You either got it or you don’t. Sure, you can go to school for it, but if you don’t have it you’re going to be good at it to a point. And then you’re never going to get past that point because you don’t have the capability to move past that point in your head.”
Though confident in his capabilities, that doesn’t mean the new responsibility comes without pressure. When asked about one thought that’s been on his mind since being named head brewer, Jennings’ response was, “Don’t fuck up,” which he followed with a big laugh. To avoid doing just that, he’s been researching the town’s palate — asking locals what they like to drink and surveying which kegs tend to drain at area bars. To start, he expects a lineup of five stable styles and five taps where he’ll let his imagination shape the offerings. One unique idea he’s already considering is a gose with a salt content that mirrors the neighboring bay.
As residents await the first beers from Jennings’ Practical Fusion system, Grant and his wife and co-owner Clary are getting accustomed to operating a restaurant in its infancy. The pair have owned the venerable Gracie’s Sea Hag since 2006, but taking over a decades-old establishment isn’t quite as challenging as founding one.
“And we just kind of kept [the Sea Hag] going. It was flawless in turnover of ownership,” Clary Grant described. “But this is totally different, because it’s like…”
“This is ground up,” Jerome Grant added.
But if anyone in Depoe Bay is equipped for such a massive undertaking, it’s this couple. They actually met at the Sea Hag when she was a bartender and he was a customer in “love at first sight” who over tipped for two weeks in an attempt to get her attention. They furthered their stake in the community when Jerome Grant began to pursue roles in public office. Some races he won, some he lost. But his commitment to the well-being of Depoe Bay and the belief that a resolute voice can make a difference never wavered. Now with The Horn, the Grants have revived what urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg affectionately called “that place on the corner” or “the third place,” a public realm for civic engagement and casual socializing that exists between work and home.
“It’s like an anchor, a source of pride. It’s that especially for a small community that, you know, we do have some identity here with the commercial fishing, but that’s past,” Jerome Grant said. “I feel like they think Depoe Bay is actually going to produce something that people can take with them.”
Only time will tell, but this public servant may end up having a more profound impact on the community in his latest position as the local publican.
The Horn Public House and Brewery
[a] 110 Oregon Coast Highway, Depoe Bay
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.