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Pioneers flocked to rowdy breweries

After a hard day mining, men could head to City Brewery in Jacksonville for a beer and a turn on the pommel horses.

German immigrant Viet Schutz, one of Southern Oregon’s first brewers, built his three-story business in the 1850s — not long after the discovery of gold turned Jacksonville into a boomtown.

With brewing on the first floor, the second floor was devoted to a German-style gymnasium with medicine balls, pommel horses and fencing. The space could also double as a hall for masquerade balls, weddings and rollerskating.

Author Phil Busse tells the story of Schutz and other innovative brewers — from the past to the present day — in his new book “Southern Oregon Beer: A Pioneering History.”

“What is great about Southern Oregon beer history is that it coincides with bigger changes that were happening,” he said. “So in 1851, gold is discovered in Jacksonville. At that same instant, a million Germans are flocking into America.”

Busse will talk about the history of local brewing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Four Daughters Irish Pub, 126 E. Main St., Medford. The free talk is part of the First Tuesday Pub Talks series.

After a failed social revolution, idealistic Germans fled to America, bringing along traditions like kindergarten, gyms and beer halls in the 1800s.

Schutz played the bass drum in Jacksonville’s town band and served as Jackson County’s coroner.

Busse said he was delighted to find such a colorful character while researching his book.

“He is an angel, and he is a devil — and those are the best types of characters,” Busse said.

While Schutz helped residents improve their physical health with his gym, he also carried a chip on his shoulder, possibly because of his diminutive size. He was always willing to take on bigger men, and his beer hall was sometimes home to raucous fights.

“He was noticeably short and a few of the historical records point out that he was a lot like a bantam rooster,” Busse said.

Another colorful brewer from Southern Oregon’s past is Marie Kienlen.

A flamboyant French woman, Kienlen ran away from Minnesota with another woman’s husband. The pair eventually settled in Grants Pass and became brewers.

Fires that frequently raged through Western towns were a blessing and a curse for them. They bought a city block along G Street after a fire laid waste to the buildings, but then the brewery they built on the street was later heavily damaged by fire.

They rebuilt with sturdy brick, creating a lasting building that became home to a brewery again when Climate City Brewery opened in 2014.

Kienlan earned a diploma from the New York Brewer Association.

“She was a bit zany,” Busse said. “She was well-known for walking around Grants Pass with parrots on her shoulders.”

Local boys liked to swear at the parrots in hopes they could teach the birds bad words. Kienlan would run them off.

Boys also fetched buckets of beer for a quarter each, ostensibly to take home to their parents or to workers. Sometimes they would just drink the beer themselves.

Busse said construction of railroad lines across America was the beginning of the end of a golden age for local breweries, especially after beer magnates began shipping their products across the country in insulated railroad cars.

In the 1873, America was home to 4,131 breweries, he said.

That number plummeted after brands like Budweiser and Coors — beers originally crafted by German immigrants — spread into towns and cities around the country.

National Prohibition put the nail in the coffin for legal brewing from 1920 to 1933.

In recent decades, the craft beer revival has boosted the brewery business. In 2015, the number of breweries in American surpassed the previous high water mark set back in 1873, Busse said.

His book chronicles not only early pioneer brewers, but the men and women who have revitalized the industry today.

“We are starting to come back to that idea we had in the late 19th century of liking, loving and supporting our local breweries,” Busse said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

German immigrant Viet Schutz, shown here with his wife, founded a brewery in Jacksonville that was also home to a gym. Southern Oregon Historical Society photo #13028.