Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub in Tigard, OR has been purchased by Cooper Mountain Ale Works who plans to reopen the restaurant soon.
Cooper Mountain Ale Works (CMAW) is a Beaverton, Oregon nano brewery founded by tech pros turned homebrewers Dan Antal, Chris Sjolin, and Aaron Fastenow. Along with their wives Miriam Pike and Christine Sjolin, and new partner and operations manager Eli Smith, they have purchased the 13 year-old Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub southwest of Portland.
“I honestly doubt there has been a group of founders with our level of passion coupled with broad capability to execute foolish enough to take on a project like this,” says Cooper Mountain Ale Works co-founder and head brewer Chris Sjolin. “We cooperate, coordinate, and dream so well together. It’s going to be an incredible next step on our journey.”
Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub has been a staple of the southwest Portland craft brewing scene since 2007 with an assortment of veteran brewers at the helm over the years. Recently, Max’s owner Marvin Bowen decided it was time to retire and privately had put the brewpub up for sale, though it remained in operation until late March of this year.
Max’s used to host regular Oregon Brew Crew competitions and was the original location of the Nano Beer Fest that debuted in 2009 and is now held at John’s Marketplace. Cooper Mountain Ale Works debuted their first commercial beers at the Nano Fest at Max’s in 2016. While the Tigard brewpub has been quietly humming along for a very long time, it had dropped off the radar of many in the craft brewing scene and developed a reputation primarily as a locals joint. The Max’s 10bbl brewhouse has hosted many great brewers over the years, and was the original location where Rosenstadt Brewery’s beers were made. The on-site pub is a family friendly establishment with a dining room, bar, banquet room, with inside seating for 170 and a vibrant patio that seats another 80. The brewpub will be a major step up for Cooper Mountain which currently operates out of one of the founders garages in Beaverton.
Cooper Mountain Ale Works story began in 2014 under the name Progress Brewing Company before they were licensed as a commercial operation. CMAW was started when Chris Sjolin and his wife discovered monastic Belgian ales and nano brewing while in Belgium.
“We met a brewer whose Tripel was revelatory for me – it was from a little place called Brouwerij Stokhove, made on a 1BBL system in a guy’s garage, and only sold from 2-4pm on Saturdays,” recalls Sjolin. “We brought a treasure trove of special bottles back for our friends, and had a wonderful night of tasting our direct imported beers. I was hooked.”
As were the friends Sjolin and his wife shared those Belgian beers with, together they went on to form the homebrewing operation that would become Cooper Mountain. With a few bucks in his pocket, Sjolin and his friend Dan Antal purchased a 55 gallon mash tun and 40 gallon kettle from Stout Tanks and Kettles in Tigard and made their first batch of beer. Sjolin’s old college buddy Aaron Fastenow was the first of them to really get serious about homebrewing. Their first brew, a Belgian-style Wit, was rushed out for a friend’s baby shower and was rough around the edges but left them thirsting for more. They kept brewing and getting better, but were hampered by plastic fermenters and no temperature control.
At some point Dan Antal and his father obtained a 1bbl fermenter and brite tank and shortly thereafter they brewed their first Belgian-style Tripel. And as Sjolin tells it, that Tripel blew their expectations out of the water and the following beers continued in a progression that made them want to go commercial with their hobby.
In June of 2016 Cooper Mountain Ale Works filed a TTB application to become a legal commercial operation, a year later they were selling beer. Over the following three years Cooper Mountain built a following in the SW Portland/Beaverton/Tigard-area, large enough for them to upgrade to a 3bbl brewhouse operated out of a 2 car garage.
Sjolin will act as the head brewer of Cooper Mountain/Max’s with Aaron Fastenow acting as head of QA and R & D. As a team, they are passionate about European culture and the beers that come ouf of Belgium, Germany and the UK, more-so then the currently popular American styles.
“We love hops, but tend to use them as part of a more balanced approach, seeking to let the malt and yeast have their rays of sunshine as well,” says Sjolin. His inspiration extends to local breweries like pFriem and explorations of new combinations of malts, herbs, spices, and hops. Some Cooper Mountain Ale Works examples of this include a Ginger Saison, Jasmine Green Tea Golden, and a Chai spiced Brown Ale that won the People’s Choice award at last year’s Nano Brewfest.
“IPAs (and now the Hazy varietal) are a dime a dozen in this town, but a good malty Red or Brown, a balanced Amber, a basic Stout, are all things that people really love and have trouble finding.”
With the purchase of Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub, the Cooper Mountain Ale Works team adds new partner Eli Smith to the fold. Sjolin and Antal met Smith when they all worked together at Act-On Software in 2015 and were regulars at Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub.
“I introduced our crew of miscreants to the Max’s Wednesday Lunch Special back when burgers were still $1.50,” recalls Sjolin. “We went nearly every week for the following 3 years. They were good times.”
Eli Smith comes onboard with a history in food and drink, and a love for bartending and brunch. With Smith’s knowledge of the food scene, he recruited incoming executive chef Dale Holmes to refresh the brewpub menu into something fresher and more beer friendly. The CMAW team is nearly as passionate about the food program as they are about the beer.
“We believe there is no reason that a beer and food pairing event can’t draw the same crowd as Wine often does, for a fraction of the price,” says Sjolin.
Moving from tech guys to restauranteurs has Sjolin and his CMAW team fired up about the pairing possibilities. They won’t completely abandon some of the hits from Max’s old menu, but they plan to pair it down and nudge it more from American diner food into European-centric and beer friendly items. And that plan includes brunch service with items like Belgian Liege-style waffles and crepes, and Hot Scotchies!
And with the step up in capacity to a 10bbl brewhouse, Sjolin wants to offer up the Max’s/CPAW brewery to fellow nano brewers for contract brewing and collaborations.
“These people are our friends as well as peers, and rather than see them as competitors, we want to elevate the region as a whole,” says Sjolin.
Cooper Mountain is currently working on permits and staffing up Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub for a possible reopening as soon as June 15th. For now, Max’s Fanno Creek will still carry the old name but may quickly transition it into Cooper Mountain Ale Works. Many of the existing Max’s beers will continue to be brewed alongside CPAW beers.
“Last year we were the 248th largest brewery in Oregon, out of 265, while Max’s was 168th, and over 10x our production,” says Sjolin. “In time we will crack the top 100, but we’ll do it by re-introducing people to their taste buds and giving them an opportunity to explore delicacy and balance, while promoting high quality food that you can taste while you are enjoying your beer.”
Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub, 12562 SW Main Street Tigard, Oregon 97223 503.624.9400
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.