Beer + coffee: Talk about love that was brewing

The Oregonian Staff

Astoria businesswoman Zetty McKay hasn't yet had a pint of Coffee Girl Imperial Stout, the beer her husband named after her and brewed in honor of their quicksilver romance and Las Vegas elopement last spring.

She has to wait for their new daughter to arrive first.

"We didn't waste any time," she said. "Our little girl is due next month and we celebrate our anniversary in April." And they will celebrate it in a typically Oregon manner, with a deep black imperial stout brewed by husband Chris Nemlowill at his Fort George Brewery & Public House, and barrel conditioned on five pounds of espresso beans from McKay's Coffee Girl coffee shop on Astoria's Pier 39.

"I had a couple of sips of Coffee Girl and I told him it was the best beer I ever had," she said. "I think it's really romantic that my coffee is part of his beer."

When she finally has a pint of her own later this year, she'll probably be ready for a beer. She and Nemlowill, both 29, went to the same high school in Astoria but never really talked until McKay and a girlfriend walked into Nemlowill's new pub in Astoria last April, and she spotted him doing paperwork at the bar. She started to chat him up, then stopped. "I said, 'I hate it when people bother me when I'm doing payroll, so I'll leave you alone.' He said something like, 'No, don't do that, don't leave me alone. . . .' "

"She asked me to come out to Pier 39 and maybe have a beer," Nemlowill said, "and I couldn't pass that up: a beautiful woman asking me to have beers at the place with the best view in town."

Next stop: Las Vegas and the Little White Wedding Chapel, although they didn't know it for another week or so.

"We hit it off right away," Nemlowill said, "because we're both in the same spot in our lives -- she's got a new coffee shop that's been open just a year and I've got a new brewery and pub." Nemlowill opened Fort George in March 2007 with brewer/partner Jack Harris.

It's just as well that Harris is also a great brewer, because Nemlowill was thinking of asking for a little time away from the new pub. "Zetty and I dated and hung out for a few days and it was like a honeymoon," he said. "I found myself thinking, 'I need to run off and marry this girl or I'll regret it forever.' "

Which is how he soon found himself with two Mason jars of India Pale Ale in his pockets, walking with McKay along the path to North Head Lighthouse near Ilwaco, Wash.
"I was hoping for the rain to break, but I finally said, 'C'mon, we need to take a little trip.' And then, as we were walking up the path, the rain broke, the sun came out and I went down on my knee and proposed to her. And then we sat there and drank the beers and watched the ocean."

It was nearly check-in time at that suite at The Venetian in Las Vegas.

"But we finally decided we should tell a few people," Nemlowill said, "so I got some friends together and said, 'I've got something to tell you and you can try to talk me out of it, but you won't be able to.'

C'mon, there's the limo to the Little White Chapel. . . .

"They had a drive-up window," McKay said, "and if we wanted, we could've been married by an Elvis impersonator, but we decided to go a little more traditional and get married in the chapel by a minister. It was magic."

Then they went back to Astoria, where it was manic.

"The whole town knew we'd eloped,"said McKay. "I think it's in the minutes of one of the City Council meetings. When it comes to small-town gossip, there's making waves, and then there's making a tsunami like we did."

John Foyston: 503-294-5976; johnfoyston@news.oregonian.com

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