Max’s Fanno Creek Brew Pub has long been a popular spot to grab a beer. Chris Sjolin hopes that, soon, people will be visiting the downtown Tigard establishment for the beer, specifically beer crafted by Cooper Mountain Ale Works.
Sjolin and his partners at Cooper Mountain – which operates out of a garage in Beaverton – completed the purchase of Max’s in June and reopened the brew pub later that month.
Guided by the motto “craft lives here,” the new owners are making some big changes at the 13-year-old restaurant.
To start, they hired a new executive chef, a sous chef and a pastry chef. And they’ve committed to making as much as possible in-house – from the pizza dough and sauces to the syrups used in the new craft cocktail menu that the Cooper Mountain crew has introduced at Max’s. They’re updating the menu, adding charcuterie plates, burgers made from beef ground in-house and weekend brunch items, such as from-scratch Belgian waffles, Brittany style crepes with house-made ricotta, and sausage and biscuits.
Also, a name change is coming in the near future. Sjolin said “Cooper Mountain Public House” has gained favor among the owners, which include Sjolin and his wife, Christine, Dan Antal, Aaron Fastenow and Eli Smith.
“There’s a lot of potential to make it a more upscale place, to provide a place in the community for young families who care about the quality of their food, but also need a place where they can take their children,” said Sjolin, who has two young children. “We’ve put together a menu and put together an environment where your kids can be right there and still have a good time with the whole family together.”
And, of course, there’s the beer. In a region awash with IPAs, Cooper Mountain focuses on European styles. On tap at Max’s are Cooper Mountain’s dubbel, tripel and dark strong, all Belgian varieties, as well as an English-style extra special bitter, red and brown ales and a chocolate stout. There is IPA on tap, too. And while macrobrews won’t be available, Sjolin is brewing what he calls a “Bud Light replacement.”
While beer is a big part of the venture, the new owners are also looking to appeal to non-beer drinkers with the new lineup of cocktails, local wines and plans to start offering craft sodas.
“I want to attract beer drinkers. I want to have great beers so that they want to come here,” Sjolin said. “But they have friends who don’t like beer or can’t drink beer because of gluten or whatever – and gluten-free beer’s kind of crappy. So I’d rather them have something they like, rather than try to force them into my vision of what I think a drinking session is.”
Most of the team behind Cooper Mountain works in the tech industry, which is how they met. They used to go to Max’s every Wednesday for a $1.50 burger special – a tradition that they kept up for some three years with an ever-expanding group.
Around the same time, they were getting deeper into homebrewing. In 2014, Chris and Christine Sjolin traveled to Belgium for a wedding. During the trip, they took some brewery tours and attended the Bruges Beer Festival.
“At the Bruges beer festival, we ended up talking to a guy who made one beer,” Sjolin recalled. “They had essentially a one-barrel brew system. They were allowed to sell beer under their license on Saturdays from noon to four out of a garage. And they made this one fantastic beer. It was so good. And we were just like: We could do that. Why wouldn’t we do that?”
Upon returning to Oregon, the group began building out their brewing system. In December of 2014, they made their first Belgium-style tripel.
“That was our first attempt at that kind of thing, and it just blew our minds that we were able to do that in a garage,” Sjolin said. “That was the time when we’re, like, this is probably a real thing. We’re probably doing a brewery.”
In 2017, Cooper Mountain completed the application process to become a commercial brewing operation. Soon, they were selling beer to several tap rooms in the Portland area and toying with the idea of opening a tap room of their own.
Sjolin was chatting about that idea with his wife’s boss during a holiday party and mentioned that Max’s was for sale.
“He said, ‘why don’t you just call. It doesn’t cost you anything to just call,” Sjolin said. “And the next day I called.”
Recently laid off from his software engineer job Nike, Sjolin has now taken on the role of brewmaster for Cooper Mountain. He also oversees day-to-day operations at the restaurant.
“The thing that we’re doing here isn’t brewing beer. The thing that we’re doing here is what we call, ‘craft lives here.’ Anything that is done in this building will be craft. Anything sold in this building will be craft. It will be built by a human being with their hands,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to have this real connection – being able to say that, not only did I bring you the beer, but I made it. So whatever you want to know, I can tell you that stuff. And that’s really the thing that’s kind of driving all this, but also being proud of the food that’s coming out if the kitchen, being proud of walking through here with a couple of cocktails because they’re fantastic.”