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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Dec. 9, 2023

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Longtime friends brew up business at Fortside

Prairie High School grads to hold grand opening for Fortside Brewing this week

By , Columbian Staff Writer
5 Photos
Fortside Brewing Company co-owners Mark Doleski, left, and Mike DiFabio chat in their Vancouver tasting room. The two men, former classmates at Prairie High School, are preparing for Fortside’s grand opening celebration that begins Thursday.
Fortside Brewing Company co-owners Mark Doleski, left, and Mike DiFabio chat in their Vancouver tasting room. The two men, former classmates at Prairie High School, are preparing for Fortside’s grand opening celebration that begins Thursday. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Michael DiFabio and Mark Doleski want to educate Clark County on craft beer, and they’re starting off with a vocabulary lesson.

Don’t worry if the word “zythological” is unfamiliar, though. It’s a made up word.

“It just means being crazy about beer,” said DiFabio, 38, adding that the word is a takeoff from zythos, a blend of hops, and zythology, the study of beer and beer making.

DiFabio and Doleski, 38, are looking to make Clark County a bit more “zythological” with their new brewery, Fortside Brewing Company, 2200 N.E. Andresen Road, Vancouver.

“We both grew up here, and that’s partly where the name comes from,” DiFabio said. “We want to strengthen beer culture on the fort side of the bridge.”

If you go

What: Fortside Brewing Company grand opening celebration

When:4 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Where:Fortside Brewing Company, 2200 N.E. Andresen Road, Vancouver

Contact: 360-524-4692, info@fortsidebeer.com or fortsidebrewing.com

The 4,000-square-foot production brewery had a soft opening in May, and sells its beer to 22 different retailers around Clark County. Fortside also has a tasting room, which is open 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday. It offers a continually changing menu of beers, including brown ales, pale ales, IPAs, imperials and guest taps.

DiFabio said they try to use local companies — such as the Country Malt Group and Brewers Supply Group, both based in Vancouver — for their ingredients.

“We want to get people to drink great local beer,” DiFabio said. “We want to get local business to support each other. It’s important for retailers to sell local beer, and I think the public is getting more interested in supporting local companies and products. That’s how Portland developed such a great (beer culture). Now they’re spreading all over.”

While Fortside doesn’t have food, guests are allowed to bring food to the tasting room. Doleski said they invite local food carts and stands to Fortside regularly, including The Nomad, a Vancouver hot dog stand, and Ingrid’s Goodstreetfood, a Mediterranean food truck. The two men plan to open the tasting room on Wednesdays soon and bring in a food truck offering pizza.

But first, Fortside is celebrating it’s grand opening Thursday through Saturday. On Thursday and Friday, The Nomad will be on hand cooking up a special menu for the event. The tasting room will offer fresh hop randall IPA, beer floats, pretzels and prize giveaways. Guests will be able to tour the brewery. On Saturday, the tasting room will offer bratwurst, along with the randall IPA, beer floats, pretzels, prize giveaways and brewery tour. Roots/Americana duo Homesick will perform in the tasting room Saturday night. DiFabio and Doleski are also asking guests to bring a nonperishable food item to donate to the social services agency Share. The event is called Couve-toberfest, something DiFabio hopes to expand in the future to an annual festival with other local brewers.

It was a trip to Munich, Germany, for Oktoberfest back in 2006 that set DiFabio on a path toward opening his own brewery.

“I liked beer, but that really made beer into this cultural thing I hadn’t experienced before,” said DiFabio, who was traveling with Doleski and both mens’ wives.

At the time, Doleski lived in London working as a commodities trader. He and DiFabio had remained friends from their years as classmates and skiing buddies at Prairie High School, even though they’d attended different colleges and had lived in different cities after college. Each was the best man at the other’s wedding.

They first started talking about opening a brewery about four or five years ago, when both started home brewing. DiFabio was working in wholesale equipment sales in the Northwest at the time. Doleski was living in Chicago. He tried to get DiFabio to move there to open their brewery, but DiFabio was set on being part of the up-and-coming beer culture in their hometown.

“It made more sense to come back home,” Doleski said. “It was a good opportunity for me to move back to where I grew up, work with my friend and have my own company. Plus, it was nice to move somewhere with a job lined up.”

The two got money to open the brewery from a group of eight investors, all high school and college friends and all Clark County residents. Then DiFabio and Doleski spent about nine months putting everything together, from plumbing to painting to laying cement to constructing the large equipment needed to brew their beer.

“It was pretty much just the two of us for most it,” Doleski said. “Well, us and our forklift.”

Much like ingredients for the beer itself, DiFabio and Doleski looked to Clark County when decorating the brewery. The wall in the tasting room is lined with wood that came from a deck Doleski took down when he remodeled the home he’d bought in to Vancouver. The bar is built partly with wood from a tree that grew in Brush Prairie.

The duo’s celebration of Clark County and beer stretches to the menu. Two of the brewery’s most popular options on tap are the Zythological Pale Ale and Couve A’licious Ale, a brown ale.

“Beer culture is on the rise here,” DiFabio said. “We’re starting to show that Vancouver can have its own market.”

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Columbian Staff Writer