Homebrewing beer was a hobby of Alex Zielke’s, and after realizing his former biotech job just wasn’t for him, he decided to quit and take his hobby “to the next level.” So he did what any beer enthusiast would do: move to Berlin and get certified as a brewmaster.
OK, so that’s not what your typical beer fan does, and upon returning to the U.S., Zielke decided to go back to school, enrolling in Babson’s MBA program. There, he met Alex Rabe and Ian Chester, and began sharing his passion for beer with them. After about six months of practicing homebrewing, it dawned on them, “There’s something to this. This is fun. Why don’t we start a brewery?” says Zielke.
“We’re in business school. Let’s be strategic about how to do this thing right,” says Rabe of their initial thoughts on turning their beer hobby into a business. “Once we started looking at the numbers on growth, we saw that Boston was pretty attractive,” he adds, noting that Massachusetts only has around 50 breweries compared to states like Washington, which have about 140.
The market was ripe, and the trio said “screw it” to internships, spending the summer of 2011 brewing and trying to come up with a name for their new venture. They landed on Portico Brewing Company, paying tribute to Rabe’s architectural schooling. In the world of architecture, portico is an entryway, and they thought the name spoke to the unassuming nature of their craft beers, which Rabe describes as “accessible to the everyday guy or girl who drinks PBR and wants to try craft.”
Realizing they wouldn’t be able to just come up with $2 million out of thin air to open their own brewery, they decided to look for space in an existing local brewery. Watch City Brewing Co. in Waltham took them in as contract brewers in February of this year, and by April, Portico had their very first batch of beer.
In the months since, the trio has brewed six batches and crafted three different beers. Portico is on draught at about 20 bars in the Boston area, including Bukowski Tavern, Lower Depths, Tip Tap Room and Cambridge Common. Pop into one of the locations, and you’ll recognize Portico immediately. The beer tap handles pay homage to architecture with a black and white design that’s very minimalist. “[It] makes sense for how we brew…makes sense for the way we want our brand to look,” says Rabe.
The team is currently heads down in the sales process, making the rounds to local bars and trying to get as many people as possible to taste their beers. Contrary to popular belief, however, there’s more to running a brewery than just hanging out and testing beer all day.
“We’re pretty poor,” says Rabe. “We’re really just scraping it right now.”
For the remainder of the year, they plan to continue to contract brew, get on tap in more restaurants and bars in the area, and hopefully begin bottling their creations.
Until then, check out Portico at one of these locations, and view these photos below to get a glimpse into their work.