A little while back we heard about yet another Portland brewery about to open its beers to the public. The brewery I am referring to is Mt. Tabor Brewing. Fittingly, MTB got its start on the eastern hillside of the statuesque Southeast PDX butte. Founded by friends and Oregon natives Brian Maher and Eric Surface, MTB treated us to sneak peak of some of their delicious forthcoming brews.
The brewery originally was set up to be located in a partitioned garage work space beside Maher’s home. According to Maher, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) was a breeze to work with and fully approved the endeavor. The Tobacco and Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the U.S. Treasury was a different story. After several modifications that costed precious time and resources, Mt. Tabor moved their operations to the Montavilla Neighborhood at 78th Avenue and SE Stark Street. Here, in a TTB approved converted storage space, Maher and Surface hope to began production for their nanobrewery sometime in March 2010.
Maher says that the operation is still in “phase one” and views “phase two” as the stage when the brewery can move into a bigger space. He looks forward to “phase three” when Mt. Tabor will be a certified brewpub. Right now in the first phase, MTB has the ability to produce up to two-barrel batches and are shooting for the second phase to allow for something in the ballpark of ten-barrel batches. Despite the trials and tribulation many small breweries face, the two friends are quite optimistic. “The reason we got into this in the first place is to do what we love.” says Maher. “Even if we never get out of phase one, we can likely break even five years from now.” Like other nanobreweries in a similar situation, Maher and Surface maintain non-brewing day jobs that allow for weekend brewing sessions. They have been inspired and encouraged by established area breweries and judging from my first impression of their ales, success should not be hard to obtain. “We’re lucky. We’ve been treated so nicely by different breweries like H.U.B., Laurelwood, and Lucky Lab that it’s hard to pinpoint one particular source of influence of inspiration” says Surface. “We just brew the type of beers we like to drink and keep in mind what Joe Blow likes as well.”
Maher and Surface both have family associated with brewing. Maher’s father was a homebrewer in the ’80s and ’90s and Surface’s dad made wine. Says Maher “I didn’t know much at the time my father was brewing, but when I graduated from college he gave me a brewing set up. I didn’t touch it for a while, but at a point I got really into it.” Surface says “I started brewing five-gallons at a time in the old school bucket system. We’ve come a long way since then.”
So what exactly are the roles or duties of these two gentlemen? Maher proclaims he is the “owner/beer taster” and Surface says he is the “brewer/beer pimp.” Fair enough. Both are self taught brewers who admit, like many others, to learning early on from the writings of Dr. Charlie Papazian. Further, they also credit a portion of their knowledge and growth to the Oregon Brew Crew and the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). “We loosely follow BJCP guidelines for the beers we make,” says Maher “but we try to push the limits.”
So what do the Mt. Tabor fellows brew?
My friend Ezra and I arrived at Maher’s home, where a spectacular view of Mount Hood to the east loomed over the horizon as the sun was about to set. Inside, we were greeted with three pale ales. the first was a brightly hopped, bitter using Sarache Ace, piquant Japanese hop, the second was vibrantly hopped Amarillos and the third was a lagered rendition of the second. All three were delicious, crisp, and citusy with a nice carbonation level and technically unflawed.
Following the trifecta of pale ales was a dynamic porter dubbed Qwest Porter. Dry-hopped with Cascades, this porter was uniquely scented with a verdantly leafy sapor. A clean 6.3% ABV brew with hints of chocolate bitterness, and a rich chewy mouthfeel and lush, profuse finish. I honestly have to say this is one of the best Porters I’ve had in a while. These guys knocked it out of the park with this one!
Remaining on the dark path, our next pour was Mount Tabor’s Little Bull Stout. A smaller interpretation of their Siberian Bull Russian Imperial Stout, Little Bull formed a well-retained gray-tan head you’d equate with professionalism. Again, the adoration for hops was omnipotent. Lots of bittering hops danced on the tongue to complement a leading cast of hearty dark malts. 5.5% ABV, this stout can hold its own with any in town, and when it comes to the finish, a sharp yet ornate amalgumation of hoppiness and roastiness teamed up eloquently. After we met Little Bull, we were introduced to the Siberian Bull. This 8.5% ABV heavyweight is named for fictional character Ivan Drago. Known as the “Siberian Bull,” Drago is the antagonistic Russian boxer in Rocky IV. Prominent alcohol notes rise from the nose as the Bull warms up in the rink. Employing the touch of candied sugar, there is also a mild underlying earthiness, almost smokiness, in this brew alongside several rows of dark roasted malt complexity. This warming, beer offers a roundhouse of flavor with each sip that says “I must break you.”
Other recipes that Mt. Tabor’s brewers have been tooling with include a Märzen and Belgian Blonde Ale. The Märzen beer was sampled from a bottle and consisted of creamy vienna malts poise a light brown-amber translucent body with a thick off-white head. Not my favorite of the beers, but true to style nonetheless. The Belgian Blonde, labeled Sister of Streetfighter was a snappy, yeast-driven golden beer akin to a Belgian trippel. Not my favorite of the lot, but definitely worth a few glasses.
Maher and Surface also plan on featuring their very hoppy Asylum Street India Pale Ale, a reference to Portland’s Hawthorne Boulevard, and a Tabor Special Bitter as a part of their readily available line-up of brews. These beers were fermenting and not available to sample upon my visit.
I very much look forward to enjoying future offerings from Mt. Tabor Brewing, and wish them all the best in their undertaking. When available, make sure to try them and support your local brewery.
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