Beer is fun. If you’re not having fun making beer or drinking beer, you’re doing it wrong.” These wise words were spoken by Ben Dobler, head brewer at Mt. Tabor Brewing, after a lengthy beer tutorial and tasting session. Dobler came onboard at Mt. Tabor in March, after 20 years in various roles at Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., now Craft Brew Alliance. From his humble beginnings in the cellar cleaning tanks, Dobler rose through the ranks at CBA, participating in production brewing, domestic and international brand support and managing the company’s innovation and production development. Those twenty years were fulfilling on a multitude of levels, but somewhere along the way Dobler realized that he had become so busy managing others that he hadn’t brewed a barrel of beer in months. This fact was unsettling, and Dobler began to question exactly what he was doing with his career.
At nearly the same time, Eric Surface was facing his own big life decision. Surface started Mt. Tabor Brewing back in 2007 with a group of friends who plain and simply loved beer. They loved to drink it, and it turned out that they also loved to get together and make it. “Back in those early days, it was a great way for a bunch of busy guys to see each other. Brewing became an excuse for us to hang out.” After some months of social brewing and drinking, it became apparent that Surface and one other buddy were spending many waking hours thinking about brewing itself, the craft of creating the desired flavor and color. The friends became deeply invested in the process, and started producing what one associate calls, “freakin’ great beer.” The other members of the group remain supportive drinkers of Mt. Tabor’s, but didn’t wish to take their involvement to the next level. Surface and original partner Brian Maher were game though, and soon contacts in the restaurant world said that if the guys would legitimize their brand and brewing process, their beer had a place to be sold.
Surface was working full time in construction sales, and his job required him to travel frequently all over the country. “I’d be out on the road all week, come home, and brew beer all weekend,” he said. This hectic pace only increased as Mt. Tabor went from being in two restaurants to six, then twelve. In October of 2011, Maher had to step back, and Surface transitioned operations to Vancouver, opening a tasting room downtown, where beer lovers, supporters, and friends could congregate on Thursday and Friday evenings. Mt. Tabor’s fan base grew. Surface’s plate was full with his primary job, a young family to support, and a growing brewery, but he continued to maintain all fronts.
In 2013, Surface stood at the crossroads of his career path. “My job was downsized and I had to decide what was next. My wife, Amy, was the one to ask if I could make the ‘beer thing’ work out.” He decided to go for it. For the next two-and-a-half years he continued to grow operations, and his team. He had a craft brewer from Texas join Mt. Tabor, but in February of this year his brewer needed to move back home. The first call Surface made was to Dobler. They had attended the same high school, and “Ben was always someone that I could reach out to when I would get stuck on a problem or needed help getting around something that was stumping me along the way,” says Surface. He contacted Ben, having no idea that their paths would cross at such a pivotal time of life for each man.
Dobler likens his transition from Widmer to Mt. Tabor to moving from a spacious home to a tiny house, but says the change has fostered a new level of growth and excitement in his life. “At CBA a huge part of my job was to formalize the process of how you take an idea and bring it to life on a large scale,” says Dobler. This skill dovetails beautifully with the needs of Mt. Tabor Brewing at this point in time. He is no longer missing the hands on aspect of craft brewing, and has brought his own skill set and knowledge to an expanding business with a strong customer base and massive growth on the horizon. “I love the multi-tasking required and find it a fun challenge,” he says. Dobler has focused his efforts on perfecting four of the brewery’s most popular offerings. The Lamp Post Lager is a light, flavorful domestic brew that I found to be somewhat addicting. Powell Butte is a classic northwest pale ale with a slight tropical twist. Mt. Tabor’s Asylum Avenue IPA takes its name from Hawthorne Boulevard’s original moniker, and the beer’s fans are crazy about its tropical citrus hop aroma and flavor. Their base menu is complete with the Ash Street Amber, a malt forward amber ale with hints of citrus in the aroma and flavor. There are plans in the works for a seasonal brew as well as an India Red.
Mt. Tabor has transitioned operations back to southeast Portland where they have leased a 6000- square-foot space at 124 SE 11th Avenue. They are brewing a fifteen-barrel system, with plans and space to expand. A tasting room will be open to the public in August. Mt. Tabor Brewing will also be opening a second brewing operation and restaurant in Felida later this year.
Mt. Tabor Brewing has a solid foundation in a love for beer. “For us, it’s beer first,” says Surface. “Beer started all of this for us, and we want to keep our focus on really good beer in a great environment.” That philosophy continues to permeate the culture at Mt. Tabor Brewing. It is also interesting to note that both leaders of the business are men who have chosen to let their passion for beer guide their paths, and combined that love with plenty of hard work. Historically, passion and hard work are a tried and true recipe for success. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Mt. Tabor Brewing.