By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Michael Kora has been planning on opening his own brewery for years. So when it came time to get real and meet with an architect, he knew exactly what he wanted. “I wanted to design a place where people would want to hang out,” he said.
That was the beginning of the comfortable, neighborhood-gathering place — Montavilla Brew Works.
A lifetime ago and halfway across the country, Kora was a professional musician -- a drummer -- and a homebrewer in his hometown of Detroit. He moved to Portland in 2006 with the dream of one day having his own place.
“It just made more sense to come here where the craft beer saturation was high,” he said. He planned to work for a brewery.
Instead, he started at Ponzi Winery. The job was anything but glamorous. Kora worked on the harvest crew from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for three months. “They wanted a hearty, Midwest guy with plenty of upper-body strength,” he said.
“I had fun punching down grapes,” said Kora. “And the crew was great. They loved beer, so I would bring in my homebrews for them to try after hours.”
Once the harvest was over, Dick Ponzi asked Kora about his plans. Kora told him about his brewery idea and Dick sent him over to talk with Karl Ockert at BridgePort Brewing Company.
He started working at BridgePort, soaking up anything and everything he could about brewing. Although he was working in the warehouse and other areas, he routinely took in his homebrews. “Those guys would analyze them for me, run them through their tests,” said Kora. “I asked questions constantly.”
He also started scaling up his recipes and brewing at the Green Dragon Bistro & Pub. Several of those experimental recipes proved popular and ended up on Montavilla’s taps, including the Simarillo IPA.
“I experimented with different barleywine recipes for five or six years. It helped me get my hands on bigger gravity beers. It was fun and challenging at the same time,” said Kora.
When he and his wife Melissa moved to Portland, they landed in the Montavilla neighborhood where they have been ever since. The neighborhood has blossomed in recent years and Kora wanted to start his brewery there.
A deserted concrete building at the corner of Southeast Stark Street and 78th Avenue was the spot he picked. “This place had nothing but an incredible location,” said Kora. The only original part of the old auto garage is the shell.
After two years and a new roof, new windows, new floor and new cold and dry storage fixtures, only then could construction of the taproom and installation of brewing equipment begin. That started in October of 2014 and was finished in June 2015. Opening day was July 17, last summer. “I didn’t want to open on a holiday and I wanted to avoid the Oregon Brewers Festival,” said Kora.
The interior of Montavilla Brew Works feels warm and cozy on a wet, dark Portland afternoon. There are exposed wooden beams and assorted seating arrangements, including a couple of larger picnic tables and high tops, with the bar running the length of the back wall. However, the brewing system is the scene stealer — exposed, yet separated from the customers in the front corner of the room. The building’s rollup garage doors are perfect for opening up the place on a warm day, and the outside area can seat as many people as the inside space.
“This is a neighborhood place, a part of the community. I wanted the name to be about the neighborhood,” said Kora.
Some of his beers reflect certain aspects of the neighborhood, like the Bipartisan Porter, named after the nearby Bipartisan Cafe, and the Stark Street Amber Ale. Since opening, Kora has brewed his Stick and Frame Blonde Ale three times. “It’s one of my favorites with a nice hop aroma to it,” Kora said. Even though several of his buddies advised him against it, suggesting he might want to start with a beer that he could fudge a little, he made up his mind to have it be No. 1. “It was a home run out of the gate. People know it all around town.” The Red Krush Red Ale is another of his popular hoppy brews.
Kora originally planned on using a 7-barrel brewing system, figuring he could turn over the beer faster and he could gauge the neighborhood response more quickly. Everyone advised him to get as big a system as he could manage. He decided on an all-new, 10-barrel system that’s working out well. Right now, he brews about once a week. In addition to the brewery’s regular lineup, he’s made a couple of one-offs, several pale ales, five or six IPAs, some lagers, a Dortmunder and a bock, and he’s working on a Helles that he’s pretty excited about. For summer, he will brew a pilsner.
“We don’t spend a lot on advertising or promotions. We’re mostly a word-of-mouth place, a neighborhood brewery where people come in and enjoy being together.”
Upcoming plans include special beer releases, monthly events and participation in Zwickelmania. Once summer rolls around, he’ll start brewery tours and open the patio. Also plan on a first-year-of-business celebration.
Montavilla Brew Works does not serve food, but there are several nearby restaurants and pizza places and guests are welcome to bring food. However, children are not allowed in the brewery.
Montavilla Brew Works
[a] 7805 SE Stark. St., Portland
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Six years ago the craft beer world was considerably different than it is today. Six years ago technology was considerably different than it is today. Both were less sophisticated, still children with unexplored potential.
That's when Kerry Finsand had the idea to put technology to work to create a product that would help craft beer drinkers find specific beers on tap. As a craft beer consumer himself, he was tired of calling places or finding outdated information on websites and felt he could create something that would make his life and the lives of other craft beer consumers easier.
During that time he had been a regular attendee at Beer and Blog events at the Green Dragon. They were geared toward the technology crowd, and Kerry found three like-minded individuals who were interested in working on something he describes as "a fun side thing." With shared interests of craft beer and technology, Kerry, Ken Baer, Kevin Scaldeferri and Scott Wray created Taplister. Less than a year later their product, one that allowed consumers to both look up beers and submit beers into the searchable database, was ready to be launched. Kerry drew upon his experience working at Groupon and similar companies marketing their products to implement marketing for Taplister. A kickoff party was held at EastBurn, Taplister's first account, followed by a significant presence at that year's Oregon Brewers Festival. They secured a booth at the festival, hiring friends who were paid in beer tokens, to get the word out about what Taplister was and why it should appeal to the craft beer community. Following the festival, they brought on a group of Taplister ambassadors to visit establishments and ensure tap lists were up to date.
Fast forward two years and Taplister, now far more than the side project it had started as, was expanding to Seattle and beyond. This was also a time of restructuring for the group of four that had started the company.
Scott and Kevin were the first to leave Taplister and not long after that Kerry became sole owner when he bought out Ken. With the full weight of the company on his shoulders Kerry kicked Taplister into high gear, raising $100,000 to help fund the young company. That success was followed by acceptance into local business accelerator Upstart Labs, a now-closed entity that focused on early-stage development of technology companies. That opportunity provided Kerry with hands-on mentorship and business experience to draw upon. The initial money raised was then supplemented by Kerry's efforts that raised an additional $150,000, the majority of which went toward developing the technology to support his vision of Taplister. With things getting considerably more serious, Kerry left his full-time position to focus on Taplister.
Taplister founder Kerry Finsand kicked the business into high gear after becoming sole owner, but eventually found he needed a team with the knowledge to complement his. The search for help grew frustrating and Taplister actually shut down for a period of time. It’s now been revived with Finsand taking on the role of consultant. Photo courtesy of Taplister
Kerry eventually found that he needed a team of individuals who had skillsets to complement his. He worked with multiple people, but had difficulty finding those with the right mix of skills and passion. A bit frustrated and needing a break from devoting all of his time to the company, Kerry made the decision to shut down Taplister in the summer of 2014. The announcement brought forth multiple people who wanted to help out or even buy Taplister in order to keep it around. The unexpected positive response was heartening and prompted Kerry to reconsider the future of the company. It was important to him that Taplister remain a Portland-owned business, therefore he wanted to find someone who was more skilled in running the business side of the company he had created.
Enter Mark Meyer, a man who grew and ran a company for 22 years before selling it. His background was in computers, and after he sold his company he began working with the beer industry on the equipment and software side of things. He found the industry to be full of "nice, fun people," so when the Taplister shutdown was announced he was quick to contact Kerry. Not long after that, Mark purchased Taplister with Kerry remaining involved as a consultant. Then it was time for Mark to get down to business to figure out how to resurrect and improve Taplister.
The first step was to rebuild the entire platform, retaining the same functionality but improving its performance and adding new features. Beyond that, Mark focused on getting feedback from customers. Mark is proud to hear people say, "You give really, really good service," and it's something that is of the utmost importance for him to continue. He knows that listening to potential customer feedback is key improving and expanding Taplister.
The world in which Taplister exists faces increasing competition all the time, so finding the right niche, doing a superior job of filling that niche and working with customers to help them understand the power the platform provides when it's fully utilized is key to both customer and consumer satisfaction. Customers, like EastBurn, have four levels of engagement to choose from that range from the most basic, free listing of their establishment and tap list (The Six Pack) to a full package of capabilities (The Keg), which includes digital beer boards on-site, pushing information to social media accounts and even transferring digital beer listings into easily printed, hardcopy menus. Keeping tap lists up to date benefits Taplister's customers by allowing craft beer drinkers to find locations that have beers they are looking for, a win-win for both parties.
It has now been a year since Mark took the reins at Taplister. He's pleased with what has been accomplished to date, but not ready to rest on his laurels. For the last year, he's primarily focused on educating customers and being responsive to their needs. As he moves into the second year with Taplister, he'll take a closer look at the craft beer drinker side of the equation. There will continue to be challenges — figuring out how to better manage the listing of collaboration beers, keeping up with the new beers that craft brewers seem to be constantly be rolling out and finding ways to use the vast amount of analytical data they’ve amassed. But as a veteran businessman, Mark is excited by the challenges and looks forward to the future of Taplister.
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: